Override veto on stores

From state Sen. Malcolm Graham, former Charlotte City Council member:

Despite obstacles, residents of Charlotte's Belmont neighborhood continue to live true to their slogan: We believe in Belmont.

For a decade, I've represented Belmont, first on the Charlotte City Council and, since 2004, as a state senator from District 40. I know that neighborhood can be a Charlotte showplace. .

That's why I encourage Charlotte City Council to override Mayor Pat McCrory's recent veto of a plan for the city to buy a store and adjacent property that has attracted people who loiter, drink and sell drugs. Such activity threatens a growing but still fragile community pride.

Buying that property and its site from a willing seller for $472,000 is a deal that will return many times more money to city coffers. Whatever ultimately sprouts at the corner of Parkwood Avenue and Pegram Street undoubtedly will carry a property tax value much greater than the small, aging structure there now.

The majority of city council members realize this, as demonstrated in their 7-3 vote to purchase the property. An override of the mayor's veto will demonstrate to all of Charlotte that elected leaders have our best social and economic interests at heart.

The city has rightly paid attention to Belmont, a largely working class neighborhood that once was among Charlotte's most rundown. Where a dilapidated public housing project languished within a stone's throw of sparkling First Ward developments, a federal Hope VI initiative in which the city participated is bringing new homes and green space. This has encouraged private developers who are erecting residential buildings in multiple Belmont locations.

Some say this new interest in the neighborhood is a reason to ignore lingering Belmont blight and to wait for private enterprise to shoulder the remaining revitalization . They worry that further Belmont investment might set a precedent for spending public money.

But residents and their elected officials would take a closer look at the results of the city's own study. It shows the sale value of Belmont's existing homes, measured by square footage, jumped 122 percent between July 2005 and December 2007. That's the kind of prosperity that creates new wealth and swells city coffers at tax time. We should nurture it.

The relative health of neighborhoods on the fringe of uptown has much to do with the well-being of our urban core. In the center city, we haven't cut off funds for public-private partnerships just because we've already invested in some. Belmont is a critical swing district that doesn't deserve disappointments such as the mayoral veto of last year's larger plan to buy Belmont properties for resale and redevelopment.

That came of the heels of the 2006 failure of a Salvation Army plan to build a Belmont community and recreation center with help from McDonald's heir Joan Kroc. The possibility of a Kroc Center went down the drain when council decided not to relocate a city vehicle maintenance yard. The maintenance facility remains and, along with a nearby junk yard, detracts significantly from Belmont's quality of life.

Soon, city council will get a chance to override the mayor's veto and say “yes” to buying the Belmont property. This will be a test of how well council members can appreciate the value of innovative solutions.