Development

Cherry gentrification, rezonings stir new worries

Concerns over gentrification are accelerating in the Cherry community.
Concerns over gentrification are accelerating in the Cherry community. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

For a long time, it’s been the same story in gentrifying neighborhoods such as Cherry: residents vs. developers.

Now, in Cherry, the dynamic has shifted: Groups of residents are fighting each other.

The Charlotte City Council is set to vote Monday on a half-dozen rezoning proposals that would bring more affordable-housing units and more density to the rapidly growing neighborhood southeast of uptown.

Opposing residents have squared off at the council’s last two rezoning meetings, with longtime residents speaking in support of new affordable housing, which they say will help them stay in Cherry. Groups of mostly newer residents have come out against the proposed apartments and rentals, which they worry would wreck Cherry’s single-family neighborhood character.

“We need affordable housing. Most of our houses have been torn down,” Doris Dennis, who supports the proposed development, told me. New houses have sprung up all around her on Baldwin Street, many of them large, upscale homes that sell for more than $600,000. Upscale builder Saussy Burbank is building 43 such homes in the neighborhood.

“I’ve been in here 70 years, and they came in our community,” said Dennis. “I knew these people,” she said of her displaced neighbors. “I had supper in these people’s houses. Be fair. Put something else over here. We have a few people that want to come back.”

But Barbara Rainey, a 60-year resident of Cherry, put it simply at a recent City Council meeting. “Not everyone in or outside of the neighborhood is on the same page.”

Newer residents say they’re not opposed to affordable housing, and don’t want to push their neighbors out. But they say proposed developments, such as a 30-unit, three-building complex by Laurel Street Residential on Baxter Street, are just too big.

“I’m a firm believer in affordable housing. What I am opposed to is the density this project will potentially bring to the neighborhood,” Jason Harris told council members during an earlier hearing. He said the single-family neighborhood was a major consideration when he relocated to Welker Street from Matthews two years ago. “It’s something that my partner and I looked at many, many times before deciding to move in.”

Another proposal by the Charlotte Housing Authority would bring 281 rentals, including a 200-unit, five-story building, to several parcels that are currently home to the low-slung Tall Oaks apartment houses. CHA’s chief executive called the plans “anti-gentrification” because they would be reserved for low-income and working-class families.

Cherry has been the site of contentious rezoning fights before. The Cherry Community Organization, a nonprofit organization that owned much of the land and houses, sold some of its land to developer Stoney Sellars, who had it rezoned in 2007. Sellars built a 42-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors in Cherry, and is developing much of the rest of the land.

Some Cherry residents believe Sellars’ company bought the land at a below-market price and that it didn’t build enough affordable housing. Sellars, however, said the purchase price was fair. He showed the Observer an agreement with the organization that required him to build 38 affordable units, which he exceeded with the apartment complex.

Established in 1891 as a neighborhood for African-Americans, the area has long been a close-knit community with many long-term residents. But as more and more new residents move in, the neighborhood’s makeup has shifted.

Now, newer residents say the long-term Cherry dwellers don’t represent their views.

“Our input has not been asked for,” said Kristen Moyer during a council meeting last month. She and her husband bought a house on Luther Street last year. “The Cherry leadership team does not speak for all of Cherry, but primarily for the longer-term residents. There are many new homeowners in the neighborhood, and the interests of all need to be considered.”

This week, she said she was withdrawing her protest against one of the CHA rezonings, after the authority agreed to put in a privacy hedge and relocate a parking lot. But she said she and her husband are still concerned about the increased density in the neighborhood.

“We’re not against low-income (housing),” she told me. “We didn’t realize that there would be so many multifamily units put in ... It just changes the whole feel of the neighborhood.”

Council member David Howard said an unhealthy dynamic has taken root in Cherry.

“The dynamic is just disturbing,” Howard said during last month’s zoning meeting. “I wish both sides would talk more.”

Council member Al Austin told me that the situation in Cherry – with groups of residents opposed to each other, instead of opposing a developer – is unusual for a gentrifying area.

“It’s a very weird situation,” Austin said. “I have seen this community just evolve to something it never was before.”

Austin said he expects such discussions and disagreements to continue as close-in neighborhoods such as Wesley Heights, Wilmore and NoDa see more growth.

“This will continue in other communities,” he said. “These communities that are really close to downtown are viable and trendy. How do you manage that?”

For her part, Dennis said she doesn’t resent anyone for moving to Cherry.

“We always said one day, everybody’s going to want to get close, because they can walk uptown,” she said. “I knew that was coming years ago.”

Ely writes about growth and development at charlotteobserver.com/business. Follow him on Twitter at @ESPortillo. Send him news tips and feedback at elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5041.

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