Competing visions of how a new apartment building should fit in with its neighbors were on display this week at Charlotte City Council, where a plan to build hundreds of new apartments along the Blue Line Extension just north of uptown drew opposition.
At issue: Whether the new apartments that have sprung up around Charlotte cut off their neighbors or include them in the growth.
Some from the Optimist Park community, where a developer is seeking City Council approval to build a new building, said they worry about feeling like strangers in their own neighborhood as changes roll through.
The plan by Ohio-based developer NRP Group would allow 331 apartments on 3.5 acres bounded by Parkwood Avenue and Caldwell, Brevard and 21st streets. The site is adjacent to the planned Parkwood Station.
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James Atkinson, who lives in the area, said the project isn’t right for Optimist Park.
“I feel this building would set a precedent,” Atkinson said. “We feel that everything else around there is going to be apartment complexes.”
NRP Group recently opened a five-story apartment building called Loft 135 at South Church and West Morehead streets. That development includes 298 apartments.
Atkinson said he has seen that building and worries about the effect of isolating new residents from existing neighbors. Other neighbors echoed his sentiments.
“It’s enclosed and looks like a fortress, because everything is inside,” said Atkinson, who said a commercial development would work better in Optimist Park because nearby residents would have the chance to get jobs. “When we walk up and down the street, are we going to feel like outsiders, because all the activity is going to be inside?”
The Parkwood Station plan is part of a surge of new apartments planned for the northern leg of the Lynx light rail, where 1,900 new units are underway or announced.
City staff members said Monday that they are opposing the apartments because the new building doesn’t have any space on the ground floor for shops, restaurants and other nonresidential uses. The city’s plans for development around Blue Line stops call for a mix of uses so that vibrant areas can develop.
“Parkwood was specifically identified as, what we called in that plan, a retail street,” said interim Planning Director Ed McKinney. “We currently do not recommend this petition.”
John Carmichael, an attorney representing NRP Group, said a revised site plan includes flexible ground-floor space that could be used for retail or office space. McKinney said staff would review those changes, and except for the retail issue, the proposed dense development is consistent with the city’s plans for the area.
“It’s bothersome to me that we don’t know more about the emphasis of having retail in that space,” said Julie Eiselt, a Democratic at-large council member.
Atkinson told City Council he supports adding retail to the plan.
“With the implementation of retail, it would give us the sense that there’s going to be some type of social connection to the neighborhood,” he said.
Council member Patsy Kinsey, a Democrat, said she likes the design of the proposed apartments, which she said is different from “big-box, huge, ugly apartment buildings.”
The light-rail extension is set to open in late summer 2017. Of course, it’s not just the light-rail line that’s seeing development: Charlotte is in the midst of a record apartment boom, with about 12,300 units under construction and 13,500 planned.