Long-delayed redevelopment plans for 17 acres in uptown’s Second Ward hit another potential snag Monday when the City Council delayed a vote on approving revised agreements with the county and Charlotte Housing Authority.
Instead, council members voted to send to committee two agreements around the proposed Brooklyn Village development: One to extend the county’s deadline to sell Marshall Park to a developer and another to revise the project’s affordable housing guarantees.
The county obtained Marshall Park as part of a land swap with the city in exchange for the land where BB&T Ballpark now sits. The original 2007 agreement gave Charlotte the right to take back the park at no cost if the county failed to sell the land by Dec. 31, 2019. The new agreement extends that to 2029.
“I don’t think we’re informed about this enough to extend this another 10 years,” Council member Braxton Winston said. “There are a lot of questions I have.”
The $683 million Brooklyn Village includes plans for apartments, condos, offices, shops and restaurants, hotel rooms and open space. Plans for the site date back more than a decade, and in 2016 the county selected BK Partners to lead the redevelopment, though no land sale has been finalized.
Council member Larken Egleston said Monday he is worried about the implications of not renewing the agreements.
“I don’t want this to be something that brands the city as people who try to renegotiate things after they have made an agreement,” he said, adding that he is concerned about the impact on city-county relations.
But Winston said the council should consider whether giving up large swaths of Marshall Park is still in the city’s best interest. The plan calls for the park to shrink from 5.5 acres to 1.6 acres.
“We are in a county that is dead last for public park space,” he said. “We have made a commitment on this council to building better neighborhoods. That includes all of those amenities, including open space and park lands.”
Affordable housing consideration
The second agreement with the housing authority revises the affordable housing in the project, increasing the number of units set aside for vouchers from 30 to 35 and lowering the income thresholds from up to 80% area median income to up to 60%.
The plans call for 1,243 residential units, at least 114 of which will be affordable for those meeting the requirements.
Mecklenburg County commissioners approved similar agreements in June.
Pam Wideman, the city’s housing director, told council members that the development would continue regardless of whether they approve the agreements. But it may not include Marshall Park and could change the number of affordable housing units, Wideman said.
The council’s deferral comes days after the project’s developer said it could take up to 16 years before the project is complete. Development team BK Partners said last week in an update to email subscribers that it could be as late as the first quarter of 2023 before the firms close on the first piece of land on the site.
But that’s a “worst-case scenario” timeline, said Monte Ritchey, president of local development firm Conformity Corp., part of BK Partners. He anticipates that the sale will close in late 2020 or early 2021.
The proposed site includes Marshall Park, the former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education building and Bob Walton Plaza. Last year, the county approved the master redevelopment agreement that lays out the requirements for the project.
The site was once home to the African American neighborhood of Brooklyn, which was torn down in the 1960s and ’70s under the urban renewal program.
Newly elected county commissioners have questioned in recent months whether the county got a good deal when it agreed to sell BK Partners the land for $33.7 million. A group of civil rights and religious leaders have also asked for “restorative justice” measures for residents displaced from the Brooklyn neighborhood or their descendants.
Winston said Monday that the council has an obligation of due diligence, given the city’s active role in urban renewal that displaced thousands of black residents decades ago.
“This is our responsibility. This should be our burden,” he said. “We should take special interest in this project because we created this mess in the first place.”
BK Partners consists of Conformity Corp. and the Peebles Corporation, led by prominent African American real estate mogul Don Peebles.
In last week’s email update, the firms said they are conducting a review of the site and are working with local officials to formalize a set of agreements on the project.
After that, BK Partners said it will work to rezone the site, obtain land development approvals and review plans with the county, which could take up to 18 months.
Once the city, county and land development staff have approved the site plan, the developers will have 18 months to purchase the land for the first phase.
“We’re as frustrated as anyone that we haven’t closed yet,” Ritchey said. “We’re doing everything we can to get the deal to a place where we can actually start.”
Once that sale is finalized, BK Partners said the project will take about 10 to 12 years to complete, with the first phase expected to be finished in about five years.
County Commissioner Susan Harden, who has raised concerns about the project, said earlier on Monday she’s disappointed that the development is still years down the road. She said the need for affordable housing can’t wait that long.
“I think it points to the difficulty in looking to complex development projects as a solution to any immediate problems,” she said.