University City

Ask questions, get answers on zoning in University City

If you live or travel in the University area near Old Concord Road and West Rocky River Road, chances are you have seen a trailer appear, then disappear, on the property at 1412 W. Rocky River Road.

The location is next door to Newell Presbyterian Church. It was formerly the Newell-Neill home.

The structure was built in 1915, according to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. In 1925, it was converted from a cotton gin into a residence.

By 2012 it had become dilapidated. The Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina tried to save the structure, but the cost was prohibitive.

In May 2012, the building’s value was listed at $90,900, and that of the 2.77-acre lot it stood on at $68,000, for a total of $158,900.

In December 2012, the house and lot were sold to Imran Farooqi for $40,000. The house was demolished and removed this summer. So the question is, now what?

Now what?

A few weeks ago, when the trailer was on the property, I made an unplanned stop to speak with a person who looked as though he were in charge of the potential construction site.

The man identified himself as M.A. Farooqi and said he would be the contractor for the property. It turned out that Farooqi wasn’t aware of several regulations that limit his options on the property.

He said he planned to build 10 to 15 town homes, priced around $200,000 each.

But the property is zoned R-3, which allows only three single-family houses per acre.

Kurt White, the Northeast Code Enforcement Officer for the city’s Neighborhood & Business Services, said Farooqi told him the plan was for Farooqi to live in the trailer. The trailer was not permitted because it is a dwelling unit, not a construction trailer.

Numerous steps remain

That same day, Farooqi was issued a Zoning Notice of Violation. Residential trailers are not a permitted use in R-3 zones; they require a special permit from the city. Farooqi had no permit.

According to zoning officials, a hold was placed on the property in the city’s permitting system. They gave Farooqi 30 days to remove the trailer, and it was gone a week later.

Farooqi expressed frustration about discussing the trailer with city officials. He said he put the trailer there to protect his building supplies from theft.

Any future steps for the property will have to go through code enforcement for review and approval. As of this writing, no new permits were on file.

Farooqi asked me to follow him to Rocky River Road and Fortescue Drive. He pointed to the townhomes there as examples of what he planned to build.

His company brochure (VC Velocity Construction LLC) lists Farooqi as CEO and president and Imran Farooqi as sales manager.

White said no construction can begin on the property until several steps are completed. First, to build 10 to 15 townhomes, the Farooqis would have to get the property rezoned. That would require a public meeting, where neighborhood residents may speak, and an appearance before the city’s zoning committee.

Next, the city’s planning department would review Farooqi’s proposed design of the site, including studies of tree preservation, stormwater runoff, roads, parking, traffic and more.

After clearing that review – which could require alterations in the plan – he would have to acquire building permits.

“Just because the land is zoned R-3, that is just a baseline. There could be other mitigating factors,” said White. “I think the property would hold less than nine homes because of streets, driveways and other requirements.”

Be an inquisitive neighbor

The situation made me think about the importance of being an inquisitive neighbor.

If you see something you don’t understand in your neighborhood, ask questions. White and his Neighborhood & Business Services co-leader, Allison Naftel, are the contacts for the Northeast Service Area.

“The more people know and ask questions, the better,” White said.

White advises dialing 311 for concerns about zoning, utilities or transportation.

“It’s the official phone line into the city,” he said. “Our work is not just complaint-driven. We take a proactive approach and look to partner with neighborhoods.”

You can also go online to charlottenc.gov, then at the upper right of the page, in the box marked “Charlotte’s Key Services,” click on Neighborhoods. On the resulting page, find “Neighborhood Services” in the left-hand column, and under “Code Enforcement,” click on “View Code Cases.”

In this case, an inquiry from a neighborhood resident led code enforcement officials to speak with Farooqi about the trailer. It was an example of residents being protective of their home values.

Charlotte’s Neighborhood & Business Services has a motto: “Working to make Charlotte’s neighborhoods and businesses healthy and vibrant.” They put that motto into action in this situation.

So stay inquisitive, be vigilant and search for answers.

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