How will new roads handle traffic from the River District, and what will the development’s environmental impact be?
Those were the primary questions from Charlotte City Council on Monday, as they heard about the massive project that promises to transform one of the last major undeveloped tracts of Mecklenburg County into a bustling business and residential district filled with offices, apartments, houses and shops.
The development would be the city’s biggest master-planned project since Ballantyne started reshaping thousands of acres in south Charlotte more than 20 years ago. The River District covers nearly 1,400 acres west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport – land that’s now mostly vacant.
That will change if City Council approves the plan by Charlotte-based developers Lincoln Harris and Crescent Communities. The River District, which would likely take 20 to 30 years to build out, would include up to 8 million square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 1,000 hotel rooms, 2,350 apartments, 600 attached houses or townhouses, 1,700 single-family detached houses, 200 retirement units and about 550 acres of open space, including a public park on the river.
“This stands to be a project that can really take off” and radically shape the west side of the city, said council member Kenny Smith.
The development would be broken into districts, with much of the single-family residential development in the northwest part of the site, near the river, and denser “gateway,” “town center” and “employment” districts with more offices, shops, restaurants, apartments and hotel rooms.
“We recognize the scale of this,” said interim Planning Director Ed McKinney, who compared the overall impact to Ballantyne and SouthPark, both of which carved huge new developments from fields, forested land and pastures.
Construction of the development will clear hundreds of acres that are mostly forested now.
“The thought of all that’s going to have to happen with this property for this development tears at my core,” said council member John Autry, who said he also understood the reasons behind the development. The developers have pledged to monitor erosion and implement more aggressive erosion control measures to safeguard streams.
Estimated daily vehicle trips under River District plan when it’s fully built out. That’s more than double the 46,000 estimated daily trips if the land was developed as it’s currently zoned, with houses and warehouse space.
Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, said he believes the safeguards the developers have pledged to put in place to protect water quality will shield the area’s vulnerable streams and coves.
“Lake Wylie has had a lot of projects that have not been done right, and water quality in a lot of those coves has issues,” said Perkins. “I do have confidence in this project.”
Roger Diedrich of the Sierra Club criticized the plans, however, which he said would cause environmental harm and encourage sprawl. He compared the River District to the “edge city” of Tysons Corner, outside Washington, D.C., in Virginia, “a nightmare of congestion.”
“This is a 1980s concept that you are now starting all over again,” said Diedrich. “(The River District) will have no history and no soul.”
Square feet of office space
Square feet of shops and restaurants
Attached houses or townhouses
Single-family detached houses
The size of the infrastructure city staff estimates the site will need points to the enormous scope of the project: streets to handle 120,000 car trips per day, 23 miles of water main, 19 miles of sewer main, treatment for 1.9 million gallons per day of wastewater, 30 new police officers and support staff to patrol the area and school facilities for just over 3,000 new students.
Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles said the plan should take public transit into account, beyond preliminary ideas about including a transit center.
“How are we going to do this with transit?” asked Lyles. “If every one of those trips is in a car, we’ve failed in our mass transit plan. … I don’t think we want to have cars as our overall intent.”
The plans currently call for an extended and expanded West Boulevard, an expanded West Boulevard/I-485 interchange and a network of roads running through the site to distribute auto, bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
“What will make this work is a robust network of local streets,” said Mike Davis of the Charlotte Department of Transportation.
Charlotte City Council will vote on the project at an upcoming meeting, possibly as soon as next month. City staff is recommending they approve the plan. Council member Patsy Kinsey said she was skeptical of the size of the master plan and voting on it all in one chunk.
“I'd certainly rather eat this elephant one bite at a time,” she said.