A mixed-use development that would replace an aging SouthPark office building with apartments, shops and restaurants has made a powerful opponent: The area’s namesake mall.
It’s an interesting reversal of typical trends: The surrounding neighborhoods are in favor of the development, while SouthPark mall’s owners – major developers themselves – are fighting the plan.
ZOM Development is seeking to build 246 apartments in a six-story building on Barclay Downs Drive at Bulfinch Road, along with a parking deck and 15,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. That’s down from an earlier request for 266 units. The site is next to the mall and adjacent to its parking lots.
SouthPark mall owner Simon Property Group is opposed to the development because of concerns about traffic. The Charlotte Department of Transportation estimates the plan would generate about 3,715 daily vehicle trips, nearly six times more than the current office building.
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In addition to being the area’s namesake, SouthPark is a major economic force: The 1.6 million square-foot mall pays about $6.5 million in property taxes and generates more than $40 million worth of sales taxes each year.
“We believe (this project) is detrimental to the mall,” said Christopher Kouri, an attorney representing the mall’s owners. “Beyond our own interest, we also believe this is not in the best interest of the overall SouthPark area, and moving forward on this development misses an opportunity for a better development.”
He said there is already “gridlock at the holidays” and building congestion in SouthPark, where about 2,400 new apartments are under development. The mall’s owners said they would be OK with a development 1/2 or 1/3 the density of ZOM’s proposal.
“We have inadequate infrastructure,” he said, and access to the mall will be hurt. “The building itself will essentially be a six-story wall blocking off the mall from Barclay Downs...Residents and guests will park at the mall, using limited space that mall tenants pay for.”
The developers contend that they are building in a dense area, not adjacent to residential areas or single-family houses, and that the project’s size is appropriate. They said they’re surprised by the opposition from the mall.
“We’re talking about a location that’s in the heart of SouthPark. It’s not on the edge,” said Jeff Brown, a land use attorney representing the developers. He said the project represents a “raising of the design bar” with high-quality architecture, ground-floor design and open spaces accessible to pedestrians.
The developers have committed to putting $225,000 into a fund to build sidewalks on Barclay Downs.
“We don’t believe the scale of this project is out of kilter with other projects around this community,” said Brown. “We’ve worked very hard with the community.”
Hilary Larsen, chair of the Barclay Downs Homeowners Association’s rezoning committee, said they’ve worked closely with the developers and support the project.
“We think this is a really well-designed architectural project,” said Larsen. The project will help transform the “back door” of the mall and the area into a more appealing and active area.
Kenny Smith, a City Council member who represents the district, said he thought some of the mall representatives’ points were “disingenuous.” He also called the proposed sidewalk “the most damn important thing in my neighborhood,” explaining that more than 100 children walk to school along the street, which is a major and congested thoroughfare.
Other council members said they’re skeptical of the development’s size and its lack of inclusion of affordable housing.
“What bothers me about this building is that it is one big chunk...” said Julie Eiselt, who asked why the developers didn’t look at using the city’s “density bonus” incentive to include more units, some of them affordable.
Darryl Hemminger, ZOM’s vice president of development, said the numbers wouldn’t work for the Barclay Downs site.
“In this location, at these land prices...these would be the most expensive on-site affordable housing components we could imagine,” said Hemminger. He said the apartments would cost $300,000 per unit to build and wouldn’t generate enough revenue to cover the cost. “That’s a crazy way to try and solve that problem.”
Charlotte city staff are recommending City Council approve the project. They’re set to vote at an upcoming meeting, possibly as soon as next month.