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Can planners transform booming SouthPark into a walkable area? We’ll see

Afternoon traffic at 4:40PM at the intersection of Fairview and Sharon Road at South Park on Jan 12, 2016.
Afternoon traffic at 4:40PM at the intersection of Fairview and Sharon Road at South Park on Jan 12, 2016. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

With a torrent of new apartments, office buildings and shops rushing toward SouthPark, city leaders are bringing in outside help to craft a new plan to guide growth.

Charlotte City Council this week approved a $125,000 contract with the Urban Land Institute to hire national experts to evaluate the area.

At the heart of the study is a question that affects anyone who lives, works or shops in the SouthPark area: Can planners and developers turn SouthPark from an auto-centric, suburban area into a more dense, urban district, where people get around by biking, walking and taking public transportation?

[Related: 6 ways to turn SouthPark into a great urban neighborhood.]

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Belk SouthPark Mark Hames mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Much of SouthPark is built on suburban bones, with cul de sacs and neighborhood streets that funnel traffic to a few main arteries. The area can be congested even during off-peak times, with major intersections such as Fairview and Sharon roads clogged for commuters, residents and shoppers alike. And there aren’t any concrete plans to bring more mass transit to alleviate traffic.

Now, just think about all of the development –and associated traffic — coming to the area:

Crescent SouthPark: 321 apartments on Carnegie Blvd., now leasing

Encore at SouthPark: 280 apartments at Morrison and Barclay Downs

Capitol Towers: Two 10-story office buildings on Congress Street

Morgan Bond apartments: 367 apartments at Sharon Road and Sharon Township Lane

Colony apartments: 990 apartments, 250,000 square feet of office space, 300,000 square feet of retail and a 225-room hotel at Sharon Parkway and Colony Road.

Sharon United Methodist Church: 450 residential units, 175-room hotel, 170,000 square feet of offices, shops and more on Sharon Road.

Garden Inn/Homewood Suites hotel: A total of 270 hotel rooms behind Sharon Corners Shopping Center.

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Topping out ceremony of The Encore SouthPark in March 2015. Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Most of the developments would change single-use properties into more integrated, walkable areas. The success could hinge on whether residents are willing to get out of their cars and embrace walking and other ways to get around.

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said the plan won’t get down to block-by-block prescriptions for every property in SouthPark, but will focus on the overall vision and larger recommendations.

“Maybe a few of them are deemed to be a little bit on the wild side,” said Kimble. “That’s fine, the city gets to talk about which ones are appropriate in our minds to implement.”

Kimble said the city is seeking $165,000 from private companies in SouthPark to offset the cost of the ULI study and provide seed money to help implement some of the early recommendations. One company has pledged $10,000 so far, he said. The city is also asking Mecklenburg County for $30,000. In the end, Kimble said the city will end up paying about $60,000.

SouthPark has changed dramatically since the mall opened in 1970. What’s next for the booming area? We’ll see.

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“Whatever comes there is likely to be denser, bigger than what is there now,” said Charlotte City Council member Kenny Smith, who grew up in SouthPark and represents the area.

Photos: Robert Lahser/Charlotte Observer; Mark Hames/Charlotte Observer; Davie Hinshaw/Charlotte Observer

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