An inconvenient controversy

Charlotte City Council will decide today whether to overturn the mayor's veto of plans to buy a convenience store at the edge of the Belmont neighborhood.

The council voted 7-3 last month to buy an option on the Parkwood Food Mart at the corner of Parkwood Avenue and Pegram Street. Supporters, who want to purchase the store for about $472,000, say replacing it with new businesses would improve the community.

But Mayor Pat McCrory argued that the money should not be spent in a neighborhood that already is attracting private investment. The Belmont neighborhood has long been a working-class community, but home values there have skyrocketed in recent years as investors are drawn to quaint bungalows and proximity to the city. The per-square-foot sale value of homes increased 122 percent between July 2005 and December 2007, according to a city study. Some homes sell for more than $200,000.

A minimum of seven council votes would override McCrory's veto. Six of the initial supporters said they plan to attend tonight's meeting: Republicans Edwin Peacock and John Lassiter, as well as Democrats James Mitchell, Nancy Carter, Anthony Foxx and Michael Barnes.

Democrat Susan Burgess said she would be out of town. But Democrat Patsy Kinsey, who was absent last month, supported the proposal in a committee vote. She said she planned to attend the meeting.

The store purchase is a scaled-down version of a proposal last year that McCrory also vetoed. It called for the city to spend $1.1 million buying a number of corner stores that speckle the Belmont neighborhood. Police have said that the stores contribute to crime and loitering.

In Belmont, some residents cheered the city's plans to invest in their community. They said they would welcome any new business that doesn't sell alcohol and draw people who drop trash in their yards.

Teresa Reid, who lives at the corner of Belmont Avenue and Harrill Street, said she would like to see the city clean up the store across from her home.

“My first priority is to get the people off the corner,” she said at a community meeting Thursday. She said she comes home from work to find people leaning on her fence, smoking crack and urinating in her back yard.

“I call the police, I have to wait 20-30 minutes to get a police,” she said. “And then they're gone.”

But others worry that if the city brings new business to the neighborhood, it will only help push the poorest residents out, which has already started as investors renovate homes and wealthier people move in.

They say the Parkwood Food Mart has been a community fixture that allows struggling customers to buy on credit and has some of the freshest food within walking distance. They wonder whether they will be able to afford shopping at any store the city brings in.

Councilman Foxx, a strong supporter of the store purchase, said the city staff would ask residents what they want to put in the food mart's place.

“There's been a lot of conversation on the city council dais about Belmont, but there hasn't been a lot of conversation with Belmont residents,” he said. “We want to go through a process with the community of drilling down and finding the services that would be useful for the community.”