After decades of resistance from residents, the first signs of a long-expected residential boom are beginning to rise from the ground in Charlotte’s Cherry neighborhood.
Three projects are underway – all of them clusters of four to seven single-family homes priced from $400,000 to $500,000, with several built on what had been vacant land. “There was nothing here but kudzu and trees and raccoons and opossums,” said one developer, Tim McCollum.
It’s no secret why Cherry is an attractive neighborhood for developers. It has been for decades and is even more desirable now.
It’s just on the edge of uptown; near both of Charlotte’s major hospitals and Central Piedmont Community College; in the midst of high-end neighborhoods Myers Park, Dilworth and Elizabeth; and across Kings Drive from the popular Metropolitan mixed-use development.
But it has a distinctive history, too, and its residents have fought for decades to try to preserve Cherry’s character as a self-contained neighborhood for the African-American working class, dominated by small, affordable brick bungalows. But a neighborhood community organization that bought more than 100 homes in the 1970s slowly allowed them to decay. The city eventually tore dozens of them down, and even now, vacant lots are scattered throughout Cherry.
Residents now seem resigned to the inevitability of expensive two-story homes rising on Cherry, Baxter and Torrence streets. But they want to preserve at least some of the neighborhood’s history through a city Local Historic District designation. The Cherry Neighborhood Association board recently began the process of applying for the designation, which would protect some of Cherry’s historic properties and impose design and other criteria on new homes.
“We know we’re within a mile of downtown. We know you can see the skyline, and you can walk to Trader Joe’s. We know we’re on a prime spot,” said association board member Felicia Giles, laughing, during a recent board meeting. Giles, 49, grew up in Cherry and bought a house on Baxter Street a decade ago.
“But you can ask for a little respect, I guess, to preserve some of what’s here. Charlotte is bad about tearing down everything it puts up. So we’re just trying to hold on to a little bit of history.”
‘I’m just trying to build some houses’
The three sets of homes underway:
• Cherrytown Bungalows: Seven two-story, four-bedroom homes, ranging from 1,800 to 2,700 square feet, at Waco and Ellison streets. The developer is McCollum and his company, Revolve Residential.
• The Heights: Four two-story, Colonial-style homes, ranging from 3,700 to 4,700 square feet, on the 1900 block of Luther Street near Queens Road. The developer is Matt Ewers and his company, Grandfather Homes.
• An unnamed collection of seven homes in the 2,000- to 2,500-square-foot range, on the 600 block of Cherry Street, 700 block of Baldwin Avenue and 600 block of South Torrence Street. The developer is Kyle Short and his company, Rainier Builders.
McCollum met with members of the Neighborhood Association and tried to make his homes, while far larger than most of Cherry’s housing stock, conform to its history. He added porches and, he said, resisted the urge to build as large as he could on the 100-by-50-foot lots.
“Honoring the historic nature of the neighborhood is definitely on my mind,” McCollum said. “I know some people are going to look at these houses and say, ‘Oh, they’re huge.’ But the truth is, we could’ve made them bigger …
“I’m not trying to price people out of the neighborhood. I’m just trying to build some houses here.”
‘Where people want to be’
As it did just about everywhere, the collapse of the housing market in 2008 blocked most homebuyers from scooping up Cherry properties. But there was a resurgence in 2013.
“Cherry is definitely one of the up-and-coming places where people want to be,” said Cynthia Worthy, a real estate broker who frequently does business in Cherry and is the listed agent for two properties for sale in the neighborhood. “There’s just so much happening in that area.”
Of the three developments, two – The Heights and Rainier Builders’ homes – are on the outer edges of Cherry and oriented to what’s sprung up around it: the Metropolitan for the Rainier project and Myers Park for The Heights.
Neighborhood leaders say they can live with that if a historic designation can preserve what they refer to as “the Square” – the area surrounding the Cherry Neighborhood Park, formerly Morgan Park, established in the 1920s along with the old Morgan School building across Torrence Street. The building, erected in 1925, now houses a charter school.
It’s a physical reminder of the days when Cherry was a self-reliant, self-contained community with the park as the epicenter, said Neighborhood Association board member and longtime resident Ruthie Hamlin. She and her husband, J.T., own the Baldwin Street building that holds Cherry’s little commercial strip: a barber shop, a small market, a laundromat and Queen City Wings.
“We want to keep the neighborhood – well, not as we know it, but as a historic neighborhood,” Hamlin said. “Just don’t come in here and build 10 times higher than what’s around you.”
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