In response to citizen complaints about a sidewalk project through the Autumnwood neighborhood, the city of Charlotte has eliminated an unpopular section of sidewalk proposed for Autumnwood Lane.
According to an April 19 letter to the Autumnwood Neighborhood Association from Project Manager Cary Chereshkoff, the city will offer a more flexible approach working with remaining sidewalks proposed by the plan.
The letter invites residents, particularly property owners who are directly affected, to a 6:30 p.m. May 3 meeting at Newell Presbyterian Church to discuss the sidewalks, which are part of the Newell-South Neighborhood Improvement Project.
Chereshkoff is with the city's Department of Engineering and Project Management, which is managing the Newell-South project.
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In addition to eliminating the sidewalk along Autumnwood Lane, the letter also pledges flexibility, on a case by case basis, for sidewalks still in the plan, for example altering planting strip widths, meandering sidewalks to save trees, eliminating handrails and improving driveway functionality.
The letter states that remaining proposed sidewalks on Owen Boulevard, Creekstone Place, Blue Rock Drive and Rockland Drive within Autumnwood provide "an integral connection from the Toby Creek Greenway to the future BLE Transit Corridor. Staff recommends keeping these proposed sidewalks in the plans."
The letter states that if these sidewalks are not included, a future phase of the Toby Creek Greenway will not be built.
The Newell-South area is one of 173 "Neighborhood Statistical Areas" determined by the city for use in its Quality of Life Study.
The Newell-South area combines Autumnwood, with a patchwork of industrial warehouses along North Tryon and Orr Road, residences off Tryon and Old Concord Road, a scenic natural area of green space along upper Toby Creek and at least one working farm.
Although Neighborhood Improvement Projects in other parts of the city have focused on a wide variety of neighborhood improvements, the Newell-South project is almost exclusively a sidewalk project.
The Newell-South project offers improved pedestrian access to North Tryon Street just north of Pull-A-Part Auto Parts, but does not link Autumnwood to UNC Charlotte and Newell's historic center at Rocky River Road and Old Concord Road, as proposed in the 2002 Newell Small Area Plan.
The project also calls for eight-foot planting strips and five-foot sidewalks carved out of suburban front yards, chopping down mature trees and erecting 10- to 12-foot retaining walls.
At an April 12 Autumnwood neighborhood meeting held before Chereshkoff's letter arrived, Bill Jett, chairman of Autumnwood's newly formed sidewalk committee, expressed fears that the rural feel of the neighborhood will be compromised. He and his wife, Betty, have lived in Autumnwood for 26 years.
At the meeting, residents said the city was trying to force sidewalks on the area despite some public opposition.
"We can have all the discussion you want, but if they push this through, you'll have an armed uprising," said Susan Hartzell of Autumnwood.
Autumnwood residents are not united in opposition to the sidewalk plan. At the meeting, a woman living on Owen Boulevard said she would like a sidewalk in her front yard so her granddaughter can safely ride her tricycle there. Cut-through traffic from Tryon Street now makes that too dangerous.
The discussion showed that neighbors on both sides agreed on many points. Opponents were quick to say they support sidewalks and greenways; they just want them to be sensibly designed to fit the neighborhood.
Supporters agreed the planting strips and wide sidewalks demanded by the Neighborhood Improvement Project plan are excessive.
John Neilson, Autumnwood association president, is a biking enthusiast who has long worked for a greenway along Toby Creek to connect Autumnwood to UNCC for bikes and pedestrians. He would like to see better coordination of the greenway with the sidewalk proposed along Rockland Drive.
The Autumnwood sidewalk committee, which includes both sidewalk supporters and critics, is currently working on a response to Chereshkoff's letter.