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Charlotte City Council approves rezoning for low-income apartments

The Charlotte City Council approved a rezoning Tuesday night that will allow 70 low-income apartments at Weddington Road, which would be the first subsidized housing in the city’s far southern neighborhoods.

More than 300 people packed the council chamber, with most urging council members to vote against the rezoning requested by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, a nonprofit developer.

The rezoning was a significant test of the city’s goal of dispersing affordable housing throughout the city and not allowing it to be concentrated in some neighborhoods. Two other recent attempts to build low-income housing in south Charlotte – in the Ballantyne area and in Arysley – had been thwarted.

Council members approved the rezoning 9-2. Republicans Kenny Smith and Ed Driggs voted no. Because neighbors filed a protest petition, the rezoning needed nine votes to pass.

Mayor Patrick Cannon, who was allowed to vote because there was a protest petition, voted for the rezoning. Cannon, a Democrat who grew up in public housing in Charlotte, did not address the issue from the dais.

Democratic at-large council member David Howard, who works for the Housing Partnership, was recused from the vote.

“There will never be a perfect situation for developments like this,” said Democrat Michael Barnes, the mayor pro tem who has long advocated for dispersing subsidized housing.

He said he supported the rezoning in part because the housing partnership had a “strong” reputation for managing apartments.

The Housing Partnership said the apartments at Weddington Road are needed for employees who already work at businesses in far southeast Charlotte. Currently, there are no such units in the area, council District 7.

Many neighbors oppose the project. At a public hearing in December, nearly 300 people packed the council chambers, saying the project is unsuitable for the area. Many carried signs saying “Weddington Road Says No to the Rezone.”

Among their concerns: The local road network wouldn’t be able to absorb new cars. There aren’t sidewalks in the area. And a nearby charter school, Socrates Academy, is worried that its parking lot would be overrun by cars of people visiting the apartment complex.

“I’m not opposed to workforce housing,” said Mike Karris, whose children attend the school. “But I don’t think this is the right place for it. (The proposed complex) had only 110 parking spots for 70 units. Where are they going to park?”

Smith, who represents District 6, said the 7.2-acre site at Simfield Church Road near Matthews is wrong for apartments. It had been zoned for a day care.

“We have lost sight that this is a land-use issue,” Smith said. “It’s a poor site.”

A 2009 state law prohibits city officials from considering income levels when voting on a rezoning that would support affordable housing.

For the most part Tuesday, the discussion skirted the issue of having low-income residents living on the site. But at-large Democrat Claire Fallon did bring up the issue directly.

“These are the people who service you,” said Fallon while addressing the audience. “Maybe if we paid them differently, they wouldn’t need help.”

Almost all the apartments would be for what the city calls “workforce housing” aimed at families of four earning up to $38,500 a year, which is 60 percent of the area’s median income.

Seven apartments would be for families of four earning 30 percent of the median income, which is $19,250.

For the residents earning 60 percent of median income, the housing partnership said the rents would range from $700 to $900 a month for two- and three-bedroom apartments. The cheaper two- and three-bedroom apartments would be between $450 and $650 a month.

Evelyn Mills, who lives off of Monroe Road, came to the meeting in support of the Housing Partnership.

She said she felt the opposition to the project was “based on fear.”

Bringing low-income housing to middle class and affluent areas has been difficult.

• In February 2010, the Charlotte Housing Authority decided against pursuing a plan to build 86 low-income apartments at Providence Road West and Johnston Road after hundreds of residents protested.

• In fall 2010, the Housing Partnership attempted to build 90 subsidized apartments in the Ayrsley community in southwest Charlotte. Neighbors also opposed that project, which needed a waiver because it was within a half-mile of another subsidized development, Summerfield. Council members rejected the waiver.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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