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Topgolf is out, but developers still want to build on University City land off I-85

Orange and blue flags mark the location of unmarked slave graves just outside the cemetery behind Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church.
Orange and blue flags mark the location of unmarked slave graves just outside the cemetery behind Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church. akormann@charlotteobserver.com

Although Topgolf pulled out of a plan to build a major golf entertainment venue in University City the developers behind the plan are still seeking to build a major new project on the site.

They made their case Monday night at a hearing before Charlotte City Council.

Some residents of the nearby single-family neighborhoods still oppose the plan, which they say is too dense. They fear it will bring excessive traffic to the area, while the developers point to planned transportation improvements such as more turn lanes and new traffic signals that are part of the proposal.

The plan covers about 66 acres at the northwest corner of West Mallard Creek Church Road and Interstate 85. The plan from Charter Properties and Browder Group Real Estate would allow up to 395 apartments, a 110-room hotel and 160,000 square feet of shops and restaurants.

Topgolf had been planning to open its second Charlotte location there, but the company and developers pulled the plug on the site this summer after neighbors fearing traffic and noise protested. Topgolf is still looking for a second location in north Charlotte, perhaps in a proposed “entertainment district” that would be near the intersection of Ikea Boulevard and University City Boulevard, backing up to Interstate 85.

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Patrons watch their shots while taking part in an exclusive preview of Topgolf’s newest location in Charlotte on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Despite Topgolf leaving the site, some nearby neighborhood groups are still opposed to the development. The land is mostly vacant now, but an unmarked slave graveyard was found on the portion immediately adjacent to Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church. The developers have said they will ensure any plans don’t disturb the graves, and that they’ll work with the church to preserve and memorialize the site.

“A slave cemetery. ..has been located and delineated,” said John Carmichael, an attorney representing the developers, who have agreed to donate $10,000 to preserve and mark the graves. “The plan requires the preservation of the cemetery and protection of the cemetery.”

Gail Buff, one of the neighbors leading the opposition, sent City Council a message this week that said she and fellow residents are concerned about “insufficient buffers, building heights that impose on the privacy of our community, and lack of planning for the retail portion of their proposal.”

Traffic is sure to be a major concern. The site generates almost no traffic now as a vacant and wooded area. City planning staff estimate it would bring 21,500 daily vehicle trips if it’s developed as planned.

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Linda Majchrzak, another member of the opposition, said they were concerned there could be more slave graves on the site beyond those found by Charlotte historian Dan Morrill, whom the developers hired to investigate.

“One would expect there would be more respect for the dead,” she said.

Morrill said that he had located the graveyard and hadn’t been limited by the developers in his search.

“I was not asked to limit my investigation to a specific area,” he said.

Charlotte planning staff are recommending City Council approve the plan. Council is expected to vote on the proposal at a meeting next month.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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