Will people walk to planned University City development with apartments, organic grocer?

The site at W. Mallard Creek Church Road.
The site at W. Mallard Creek Church Road.

A pair of developers are seeking to build 310 apartments, a grocery store, shops and a 200-room hotel in University City, a deal they say will help make the largely auto-dependent area easier to walk around.

But some Charlotte City Council members were skeptical at a hearing Monday night that many people in the area would actually take advantage of the opportunity to walk there.

The 37-acre site, now called The Village at Research Park, is at the intersection of Mallard Creek Church Road and Senator Royall Drive, near Interstate 85. The site is in the midst of office parks in the University Research Park area and adjacent to the first phase of the development, the 312-unit Alexander Village apartments.

“I’ve never seen anybody walk across the street there,” said Council member Claire Fallon. “You ever see the traffic there, how it whizzes by?”

The developers say that’s because for the most part, there hasn’t been a destination to draw pedestrians.

“The biggest thing is somewhere to walk to,” said Keith MacVean, a land use attorney representing Crescent Communities and Crosland Southeast. “Hopefully the people on the other side of the road will want to come visit.”

The plan would include “an organic grocer heavily focused on organic vegetables and foods,” said MacVean, as well as shops and restaurants with a “wellness” focus.

Council member Greg Phipps said an earlier version of the plan he had seen was “more vibrant.”

“Will that really be enough to attract people?” he asked.

The rezoning plan faces another challenge. City staff said they’re concerned that the site plan sets the main buildings back from surroundings road, creating a less pedestrian-friendly environment and more unpleasant parking lots for people to cross.

“We really don’t feel that it is meeting the plan recommendation of a more compact, urban form,” said Laura Harmon, a planning staff member. “We think the commercial component is now largely auto-oriented.”

City staff isn’t recommending City Council vote to approve the rezoning request in its current form, but Harmon said they would if their concerns are addressed. The owner of Alexander Village – an adjacent apartment complex also developed by Crescent and sold in December – is also concerned about the added density and how it might impact the existing apartments, a representative said.

City Council will vote on the plan at an upcoming meeting.

An updated plan calls for four buildings oriented towards the main streets accessing the sites. The biggest single part of the development, a grocery store, would comprise the bulk of the retail development. Crosland Southeast is partnering with Crescent to handle the retail part of the development. In addition to the grocer, the retail could include a coffee shop, small stores and restaurants. MacVean said the development will help change University Research Park by adding a mix of uses and more places for people to live.

“It brings additional residential units to University Research Park,” said Keith MacVean, a land use attorney representing the developers. There are “multi-use trails” planned for Mallard Creek Church Road and Senator Royall Drive to connect to the greenway in the area.

MacVean said people would be able to walk along sidewalks and streets to the retail, and wouldn’t have to walk through parking lots.

“The vision is to create a healthy, active outdoor center,” said MacVean. “We’ll continue to work with staff to make sure we address their concerns.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo