City Council member says proposed apartments look like ‘a barracks’

A rendering of the planned University Executive Park apartments by ATAPCO.
A rendering of the planned University Executive Park apartments by ATAPCO.

A plan to build 280 new apartments in University City drew the ire of some Charlotte City Council members Monday night, one of whom complained the proposed building looks like “a barracks.”

The city’s record-setting apartment market has drawn complaints before from City Council members and urban designers who say too many of the buildings look similar and follow the same blocky design, especially in rapidly growing areas like South End. But Monday’s zoning hearing was an especially harsh condemnation of a proposed project.

“Can’t we get some architecture in this place that is pleasing to the eye?” asked council member Claire Fallon. “It has no character...People have to live here. It’s like Soviet architecture.”

It wasn’t the first time Fallon raised similar objections to a new apartment building. In April, she said of a planned apartment building at Seventh and Caswell streets in Elizabeth, “Can we find some architects in this town that don’t design buildings to look like a factory or a barracks?” The project was ultimately approved, with extensive design modifications.

In University City, Baltimore-based ATAPCO is behind the new apartments. The company owns the adjoining office buildings as well. In addition to the 280 apartments, the building would include at least 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

The 4.5-acre site, currently home to two office buildings, is on University Park Drive, just south of North Tryon and W.T. Harris Boulevard, along the Blue Line light rail extension and across from a station that’s set to open in August 2017.

The building would be a five-story “Texas doughnut,” according to the developers. That’s a mid-rise apartment design that features residential units wrapped around an interior parking deck. Charlotte planning staff are recommending City Council approve the rezoning plan, upon resolution of some minor outstanding issues.

City Council will vote on the project at a meeting in the next few months. On Monday, Council member Julie Eiselt also said she is concerned about the design.

“I feel like everything we’re building up there is just massive buildings,” she said. “I’m struggling with the density of this, the visibility of it, and kind of the lack of character when we continue to build these massive buildings.”

After Greg Phipps, the council member who represents the area, pointed out that the site is meant for high-density development to complement the light rail nearby, Eiselt said she was still troubled.

“Density when you have a product that’s really nice is one thing,” said Eiselt. “Density when you have building materials that look like they’re going to maybe make it 10 years and start looking pretty shoddy after that is another.”

She said the city should have paid more attention to design in the apartment-building boom that transformed South End: “Someone should have been a little better steward of the materials that went into that buildings.”

John Carmichael, a land use attorney representing the developer, told City Council that the development will fit in well with the surrounding area and matches the city’s area plan calling for high-density, transit-oriented development along the Blue Line next to transit stations. Council member Kenny Smith echoed his comments.

“It’s 20 feet from the station stop. I think this is the type of development we want,” said Smith. Council member Phipps agreed.

“This station area is recommended for more intense development here,” said Phipps.

“But it could be pleasing to the eye,” countered Fallon.

Said Phipps: “I guess pleasing to the eye is in the eye of the beholder.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo