University City

Sidewalk debate goes to City Hall

Autumnwood residents have taken their sidewalk debate out of the neighborhood and to the mayor.

The Newell-South Neighborhood Improvement Project, established by the city of Charlotte, has upset some residents, dividing them into pro- and anti-sidewalk groups.

Residents showed up at the City Council Citizen Forum on June 27 to voice their opinions about the proposed plan. They filed into the rows behind the podium, toting signs to clearly state their allegiance.

"Newell-South NO Sidewalks" signs took up the first row. Residents standing in the second row silently held up signs proclaiming "We want sidewalks!" and "Autumnwood loves sidewalks." Autumnwood is a neighborhood located off Old Concord Road, about three miles west of the UNC Charlotte campus

The City Council agreed to review the sidewalk plans and take the resident's opinions into consideration. Council members offered no time frame for their decision. The city revised the sidewalk plan in May, eliminating a proposed sidewalk on Autumnwood Lane.

Six streets in Autumnwood would be directly affected according to a Newell-South public information brochure. Five-foot-wide sidewalks would be added to parts of Owen Boulevard, Creekstone Place, Blue Rock Drive, Rockland Drive, Kemp Street and Gray Drive.

Eight-foot planting strips would accompany the sidewalks on some of the roads. The cost would be approximately $2.4 million, according to the brochure, which would be paid for through the 2010 Neighborhood Bonds measure.

Autumnwood resident Becky Corley said she felt concerned about how much property would be lost as a result.

"An eight-foot planting strip, then the ditch, then five-foot sidewalks. That's a lot of our property," said Corley.

Residents weren't properly informed about planning meetings and didn't get to voice their opinions before things went ahead, Corley said.

"We were told that even if we have 100 percent opposition, these plans would still take place," said Corely. "If everyone effectively said no to the sidewalk, why would the city spend money on something not wanted or needed?"

The Autumnwood Sidewalk Committee sent a survey June 13 to 75 homes on Owen Boulevard, Creekstone Place, Blue Rock Drive and Rockland Drive.

Bill Jett and Okan Pala, both involved with the committee, came back with different results.

Jett, the committee chairman, said 15 percent of homes supported the sidewalks, with an additional 20 percent supporting a plan with modifications.

Pala, who supported the plan, told the committee he had different numbers.

"Fifty-two percent of the envelopes came back supporting the sidewalks," said Pala. "That was the latest number I was involved with. So whatever else is going on, I don't know."

Jett emailed the survey to the Observer, with the results showing 49 of 75 homes surveyed opposed the plan or abstained from answering.

Four spokesmen from the anti-sidewalk group told the council the sidewalks would be an unwelcome change to their neighborhood.

It would turn a "small country neighborhood" into an eyesore, they said.

Proponents of the plan pleaded with the City Council to think about the safety of those in the neighborhood.

"I have a 16-month-old son," said Pala, a Creekstone place resident. "He is walking now. He's about to start running, and I am really worried about him getting hit by a car.

"People speed in our neighborhood and there is heavy traffic, and people text and drive all the time. I am scared to death for my son."

Karla Guidry said she only wishes the sidewalks could have been installed sooner so her late mother could have enjoyed them.

"She had an electric chair that she had to put in storage because she was not able to use it," said Guidry. "Had there been sidewalks, she could have enjoyed the neighborhood and gotten out and spoken to the neighbors. ... She could have gotten outside."