Development

Behind the surprise defeat of the VanLandingham Estate plan

Exterior of the VanLandingham Estate. Billy Maddalon, owner of the VanLandingham Estate, wanted a zoning change so 19 townhouses and a neighborhood pool could be built on the property. He says the property hasn't made a profit since he bought it in 1999.
Exterior of the VanLandingham Estate. Billy Maddalon, owner of the VanLandingham Estate, wanted a zoning change so 19 townhouses and a neighborhood pool could be built on the property. He says the property hasn't made a profit since he bought it in 1999. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

At first glance, the proposal by the owner of the VanLandingham Estate to add 19 townhouses and a swim club to the historic Plaza Midwood property had a lot going in its favor.

The owner, Billy Maddalon, was close friends and political allies with Patsy Kinsey, a Democrat on the City Council who represents the area. The Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association supported the plan, as did the city’s zoning commission.

Maddalon had reduced the number of townhouses planned from 30 and relocated the swim club away from the edge of the property at the corner of The Plaza and Belvedere Avenue. He’d agreed to lease off-site parking spots to help deal with overflow vehicles.

And although some neighbors worried about traffic, that is by far the most common issue with rezoning requests in Charlotte. Most of those are approved anyway.

That’s what made the plan’s defeat surprising. After 14 months of wrangling over the plans, the City Council voted the project down Monday, 8-4, with Kinsey leading the opposition. She said she couldn’t bring herself to support a swim club on the site.

“I didn’t expect it quite like this,” Phil Gussman, president of the Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association, said Tuesday. “I don’t know how you spend 14 months looking at an issue that multiple other groups and boards looked at and eventually agreed with, and still don’t understand.”

Now, the 102-year-old inn’s future is uncertain. Maddalon has said the VanLandingham Estate is unprofitable, expensive to keep up and saddled with $1 million worth of debt.

“This is purely a commercial operation that loses its keister every year,” Maddalon said earlier this year. He has received offers for the property of up to $4.5 million but said he worried about what would become of the estate.

Although the VanLandingham Estate is a historic landmark in Mecklenburg County, that doesn’t prevent it from ever being torn down. Maddalon couldn’t be reached for more information Tuesday.

Kinsey said Monday that her decision was a “struggle” in part because of her long friendship with the Maddalon family – Billy Maddalon’s grandmother taught her in Sunday school.

“My conscience is not comfortable with a pool in that location,” she said at the meeting.

On Wednesday, Kinsey said the rezoning petition would have failed even if had voted for it. She said City Council was opposed to the pool on the site, and offered to support the project shortly before the meeting Monday if it was reduced to just the townhouses.

“It was late afternoon when we knew the votes weren’t there,” said Kinsey. “I called Mr. Maddalon’s agent and told him there was feeling among council members we could support the townhomes but not the pool.”

But she said Maddalon didn’t want to separate the townhouses and the pool into separate votes, leading the proposal to fail.

Because neighbors filed a protest petition against the project – something the N.C. General Assembly banned this year – the petition would have needed a nine-vote supermajority to pass. David Howard, an at-large City Council member, said he was voting with Kinsey because she represents the district. The other three at-large members also voted with Kinsey, adding a crucial total of four votes to the “no” column.

Gussman worries about what could happen on the site now. The 5-acre site could accommodate dozens of “McMansions” if it were sold.

“It kind of comes back in play,” Gussman said. “It’s probably more valuable without that old historic house on it.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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