Residents weigh in on revitalizing Independence

City leaders and eastside residents met Thursday in what turned out to be a brainstorming session on how best to bring the beleaguered Independence corridor back to life.

Last April, the Charlotte City Council approved a $400,000 study aimed at revitalizing the area, which has seen many of its businesses close and its neighborhoods fall into disrepair. Last month, about 500 residents gathered for the first of three scheduled meetings.

Thursday's meeting, at the First Baptist Church on Davidson Street, was set aside for residents willing to invest their time to help the city come up with a plan for fixing the area.

For a little more than an hour, about 70 people gathered into small groups and argued about retail development, development nodes and creating greenways. At the end of the meeting, they shared their decisions with their fellow residents and members of Glatting Jackson, the consulting firm hired by the city.

“This kind of feedback is important to us,” said Tom Warshauer, Charlotte's economic development manager. “We drive through the neighborhoods, but we don't live there. There are a lot of things that we just don't know.”

In 1989, N.C. DOT widened a segment of Independence up to Sharon Amity Road. The boulevard had been a busy thoroughfare with six lanes of traffic and thriving businesses.

The new road featured an impassable median and no stoplights, making it hard for customers to get to certain businesses. As a result, that section of freeway today has few companies hanging on.

The problems Independence experienced spread throughout the area and eventually forced city leaders to begin thinking of ways to bring the area back to life.

Consultants will work on the plan up until the new year, turning it over to the council sometime in February. Leaders could take up to six months to review the plan and decide whether to pass it. The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 7.

Warshauer said having public involvement in the final plan would go a long way toward ensuring council approval. But for eastside residents, who have long felt ignored by the city, the approach signals a willingness by leaders to finally address the problems.

“This has been a long, long time coming,” said Ed Garber, head of the Eastside Political Action Committee. “We have not, up to this point, had our say in the future of the eastside. This is our chance and I think that's good.”