Charlotte neighborhoods gather for biannual board retreat

People from all over Charlotte came together Saturday to talk about ways to make their communities better.

The city of Charlotte’s Neighborhood & Business Services department hosted its fourth and largest Neighborhood Retreat.

Sponsored by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and held at UNC Charlotte Center City, the biannual event attracted 140 people from 18 neighborhoods.

Among them was Fela Babbs, president of the Steelechase Homeowners Association. She described the neighborhood in the Steele Creek area with 231 homes as “beautiful, family-focused and quiet.”

“It’s an awesome community, but not built with amenities,” Babbs said. “We don’t have a pool, playground or walkways. I’m here to get ideas on how to get that done. It’s my first time, and I’m excited.”

Linda Plummer, a member of the Belmont Community Association, hoped to learn more about communicating with neighbors about the importance of taking care of their property.

“I want people to appreciate where they live,” she said.

The goal of the retreat is to help neighborhood organizations plan for the future, said Tom Warshauer, community engagement manager with Neighborhood & Business Services.

The department staff also assists the groups in finding resources to address problems.

“We want to find out what’s on your plate,” Warshauer told one neighborhood organization. “And then try to hook you up with help.”

Dave Molinaro, president of the Burtonwood Neighborhood Association, said he attended the February retreat and that “it was worth the time.”

Goals were set and completed projects include new 25 mph speed limit signs and banding of 900 trees damaged by cankerworms in 2013. The tree project was partially funded by a matching grant from the city, Molinaro said.

Currently in the works are new trees through the Trees Charlotte program and new entrance signs for the 70-home neighborhood on Monroe Road. “We’re like a kid in a candy store,” Molinaro said.

Following a breakfast, people broke into groups where facilitators led the programs.

Dolores Hardmond, president of the Cedar Lane Farms Homeowners Association, said the 171-home neighborhood in southeast Charlotte was developed on a former horse farm.

Security is an issue, she said, because the community is somewhat isolated. Other issues include kudzu threatening to take over a 4.2-acre commons area and renters who don’t value their homes.

The group came up with a list of other needs that included a playground, more sidewalks, additional signage and trying to get more people involved. And they hammered out a vision statement which one of them read aloud: “Cedar Lane Farms is a peaceful community with good people serving to enhance the quality of living.”

“Sounds good,” Hardmond said. “Read it again so I can close my eyes. I am so happy. Thank you, thank you.”

Their list of stakeholders to help accomplish the goals included police, city code enforcement and other neighbors.

“I feel better to voice myself,” Hardmond said of the retreat. “I’m hoping that some success will come for at least some of this.”