In latest fight over Charlotte growth, this neighborhood is suing to stop a developer

The former Martha Washington Apartment Homes, where a new townhouse development called Elizabeth Glen is being challenged by neighbors who say it’s too dense.
The former Martha Washington Apartment Homes, where a new townhouse development called Elizabeth Glen is being challenged by neighbors who say it’s too dense.

How dense is too dense, and should rules from decades ago constrain growth in a city changing as fast as Charlotte?

Those are the questions at issue in a lawsuit over an upscale townhouse development in the Elizabeth neighborhood. It’s the latest fight over development in an area that’s booming, where the forces of growth are bumping up against established neighborhoods with many long-time homeowners.

Paul Shipley, president of the Elizabeth Community Association, said the area has been grappling with a big influx of new construction in recent years, as developers look to build apartments and townhouses in the area barely over a mile outside of uptown.

The group filed suit last week against Pulte Homes, the developer behind 124 new townhouses planned at Kenmore and Dotger avenues.

The townhouses are under construction on the former site of the Martha Washington Apartment Homes, 82 privately owned rentals that dated to 1940. Rent there averaged well under $1,000 a month, with some as low as $500 or $600 a month.

“The neighborhood certainly doesn’t like the plan,” he said. The Pulte houses, built under the John Wieland Homes upscale brand, would be tightly clustered onto the site, violating deed restrictions that date back 80 years against subdividing lots that small, Shipley said.

The former site of the Martha Washington Apartment Homes. Ely Portillo

The Martha Washington Apartment Homes before they were demolished. Ely Portillo

Pulte bought the apartments this year for $9.8 million and demolished them. The townhouses at Elizabeth Glen will start in the high $400,000s and go up to the $600,000s, Pulte has said.

The first townhouses are expected to be complete in fall 2019, and earth-movers are already busy clearing and grading the 10-acre site. Many of the large trees have been cut down, though others remain on the property’s interior.

The lawsuit alleges that Pulte’s plan to subdivide the land into 124 lots will violate deed restrictions dating to 1938. Those restrictions, which the lawsuit said remain “in full force and effect,” forbid the subdivision of the property into lots with frontage narrower than 50 feet and forbid residences constructed closer than 35 feet to the front and 7 feet to the side property lines.

The lawsuit says the neighborhood association is seeking a judgment that the restrictions are enforceable and should be followed, and prohibiting Pulte from building anything there that violates those restrictions.

A Pulte spokeswoman said in a statement that the company is hopeful it can reach an agreement with neighbors.

“At this time, we are working to address the concerns brought forward by the Elizabeth Community Association,” said Macey Kessler. “We are optimistic that we will be able to reach a mutually beneficial agreement soon. Our top priority is to continue to make a positive impact in the communities where we build.”

Shipley said a development that follows the patterns of the surrounding neighborhood on its edges but has a denser layout in its interior could work.

“The stuff that touches the neighborhood ... that should be compatible,” he said. “To us, that’s a reasonable compromise to allow them the density they’re looking for.”

Growing pains

Other skirmishes about new developments — specifically taller, denser developments — have broken out recently in Elizabeth and the surrounding neighborhoods.

It’s a reflection of the tension between strong demand from people who want to live close to the city’s center — encouraging denser developments — and residents who are already there and don’t want to see the fabric of their neighborhoods change.

Less than a mile away, at Seventh Street and Caswell Road, a developer’s plans to demolish the former Jackalope Jacks building and construct 200 apartments, plus more retail, ran into a buzz saw of neighborhood opposition. The developer, Faison, eventually won approval from City Council for a scaled-down plan with 100 apartments, later reduced to 47.

The site was cleared, but it remains empty, which Faison executives attributed to rising construction costs that make it infeasible to build now.

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Nearby, a 20-story office tower and 240-room hotel won approval this year on a block bounded by Third and Fourth streets, between Baldwin Avenue and Queens Road. The 299-foot tower drew opposition from the Elizabeth, Myers Park and Cherry neighborhoods, where people said they feared it would set the stage for more tall, dense buildings outside of uptown.

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Portillo: 704-358-5041