When Larry Huelsman moved to a house off Carmel Road near what’s now Ballantyne in 1984, he had to convince his surprised boss that there was anything besides farmland that far south.
“He literally drove out there and looked,” said Huelsman, who now works in financial services at Ballantyne Corporate Park.
Decades later, Charlotte’s southern reaches have been transformed into some of the quickest growing – and increasingly congested – parts of the city. And from Ballantyne Corporate Park east to Providence Road near Interstate 485, a new wave of denser, more urban developments is changing the face of what’s mostly been a suburban, spread-out wedge of Charlotte.
And that explosive growth is making some people wary.
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“As we see more and more urbanization and density coming to south Charlotte, there are concerns how that will affect the suburban quality of life that exists here now,” said Ray Eschert. He leads the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, an informal civics group that hosts regular talks from local leaders. “Our city leaders need to better appreciate that each area of the city offers their own charm.”
Eschert and others are laying the groundwork for a new group, tentatively called South Charlotte Partners, to advocate for more roads, infrastructure spending and better planning for the overall impact of new developments. The effort is still in its early stages, with Eschert and others contacting neighborhood associations, businesses and developers to gauge interest and see what are the biggest areas of concern.
The planned group is the latest example of how communities throughout Charlotte are seeking ways to deal with the influx of new development sweeping the city. Business and community leaders kicked off a similar effort last year in SouthPark, trying to find a unified voice to bring together developers, neighborhoods and planners to advocate for the area.
In south Charlotte, Eschert said he hopes bringing people together can slow the influx of dense new developments so roads can catch up.
“If we’re smart now, and we can develop some kind of advocacy, we can say enough is enough in this area,” said Eschert. “We’ll accept something, but there’s a limit.”
Eschert said the group will seek to work with developers to get needed infrastructure improvements to make their plans work, not simply oppose every project that comes up.
“We can’t fight developers on every single issue,” he said.
‘Shock waves’ of development
It’s not the first time south Charlotte residents have expressed some frustration with the area’s breakneck growth and perceived lack of infrastructure investments. In 2012, public discussion about splitting Ballantyne and its surrounding neighborhoods away from Charlotte bubbled up, though the effort didn’t go anywhere.
Ed Driggs, the Charlotte City Council member who represents the area, said he knows residents are concerned about the increasing burden on infrastructure, especially roads. On Providence just south of I-485, a trio of new developments featuring hundreds of houses, apartments, new office buildings, grocery stores, shops and restaurants are expected to bring about 59,000 new vehicle trips every day, putting more stress on thoroughfares such as Ardrey Kell Road.
Driggs said a new advocacy group could help concentrate discussion on south Charlotte’s issues.
“I’m all for it,” said Driggs. He said the “shock waves” from major new developments aren’t being adequately considered.
There are plenty of question marks about South Charlotte Partners: How would developers interested in doing more building work with neighborhoods who often want to see new projects stopped? Would the group work with communities in neighboring South Carolina, which send thousands of workers north to Charlotte in their cars every day? And, perhaps most importantly, who would pay for the group’s work?
Charlotte currently has two taxpayer-funded groups that promote growth and planning in specific areas: Charlotte Center City Partners (uptown, areas just to its west and South End) and University City Partners. Both are funded through a supplemental property tax levied on properties in the area.
Driggs said he wouldn’t support such a tax on south Charlotte properties to fund the new group, and Eschert isn’t pursuing that strategy. But not having a dedicated funding stream would deprive the group of Center City Partners’ and University City Partners’ biggest advantage – a full-time staff.
“I’m concerned about the time commitments of very busy people,” said Driggs. “It takes a lot of lobbying and hours of work to take an idea and push it through to execution.”
Huelsman, who has been involved with the Ballantyne Breakfast Club and follows local issues closely, said he hopes the new group can help alert people in the community about new developments under consideration. As it is now, Huelsman said neighbors who don’t live immediately next to a site that’s being developed don’t find out about it until construction is underway.
“What I think South Charlotte Partners can do is have some people on there who have a commitment to paying attention and standing up and getting people involved,” he said. He also hopes the group can pressure the city for investments such as more sidewalks, an issue he said he’s tried to push but hasn’t gotten much traction.
“There’s got to be an ongoing advocacy and dialogue to support the infrastructure if we’re going to have a livable sustainable community,” he said.
Hilary Larsen, of the Barclay Downs Homeowners Association, has been involved with the SouthPark group’s efforts to get organized. She said one of the biggest benefits is a more holistic approach to planning in a rapidly growing area.
“Rather than looking at things piecemeal, we’re looking at that entire area. How does it fit into this bigger jigsaw puzzle?” she said. “We’re changing the conversations when there are meetings with developers.”