Development

Big new developments can come with big new costs for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Doors are opened on a new set of mobile classrooms while they are being installed at University Meadows Elementary School.
Doors are opened on a new set of mobile classrooms while they are being installed at University Meadows Elementary School. Staff Photographer

When developers lay out their plans for new communities, roads and traffic usually receive the bulk of public concern and attention from neighbors. But schools also see an impact, as new housing brings new students to areas that might already be overcrowded.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff have pegged the estimated capital cost of providing facilities for new students from the River District, a planned mega-development between Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the Catawba River, at $65.9 million.

That’s based on a formula that assumes 1,586 new elementary school students, 580 new middle school students and 772 new high school students from the River District – for a total of nearly 3,000 new students. You can see some of the details of how CMS worked out the calculations online at www.rezoning.org – it involves computing an “average student yield per unit” of “0.5392 (single family)” and “0.7225 (multifamily).”

The River District planned by Lincoln Harris and Crescent Communities would transform more than 1,300 acres of wooded properties into a mixed-use community the size of Ballantyne. Plans call for 4,000 apartments and single-family homes, 500,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and retail space and 8 million square feet of office space.

The developers have said they’re talking with CMS about how to manage the impact, and plans for the development could include a new school. And new developments generate new property and sales taxes, which can help pay for some schools. Still, it’s clear that CMS will be watching the rezoning process closely. From comments by CMS staff about the development, filed in conjunction with the rezoning:

“Adequacy of existing school capacity in this area is a significant problem. We are particularly concerned about rezoning cases where school utilization exceeds 100% since the proposed development will exacerbate this situation. Approval of this petition will increase overcrowding and/or reliance upon mobile classrooms at the schools listed below,” CMS staff wrote. The affected schools will include Berryhill Pre K-8, West Mecklenburg High School, Berewick Elementary, Kennedy Middle and Olympic High School.

Although Charlotte City Council hears and votes on rezoning requests, it’s CMS that decides where and when to build new schools. And although Mayor Jennifer Roberts and other City Council members have called more attention to the projected impact on schools, the processes of zoning approval and adding new school capacity aren’t explicitly linked.

CMS estimates that Rea Farms, a mixed-use development Lincoln Harris is creating at a defunct golf course near Providence Road and Interstate 485, will bring in 298 new students, at a capital cost of almost $6.6 million for new facilities. Lincoln Harris is looking at adding a K-8 school.

These numbers are based on formulas and estimates, and there’s no guarantee the numbers won’t be less – or more – than forecast. That’s one thing that makes this type of planning tricky.

Still, with those caveats, do you think school planning and development planning should be more closely linked? And how might that work? Let me know – send me an email or give me a call.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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