Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hope for East Charlotte?

Does East Charlotte have a future? That’s what reader and East Charlotte resident Diane Ruggiero asked me this week:

Hi Mary. I often read your column in the Observer and I was wondering what you think of what’s happening in East Charlotte.

I am a resident of Sheffield, a lovely little community surrounded by Independence, Albemarle, Sharon Amity, Central, and Eastway. The neighborhood is filled with lovely houses, mostly built in the 1950s (ours was built in 1954 and sits on a half acre of land).

We have lived in our current house for over eight years (and in an east side apartment before that) and we have seen the decline of the surrounding businesses. Fortunately, our neighborhood has held on.With the upcoming closing of a Harris Teeter [at Eastland mall], this leaves another empty big box on the east side. The old Upton’s building on Albemarle has been empty for close to 10 years. Hannafords is empty. Eastland Mall is on the decline and holding on as best it can. (Dillard’s is now only on one level and is an outlet store).

It is nice to see the multi-cultural aspect of Central Avenue, but with immigration such a hot topic, it makes me wonder about what will happen if people leave. I am concerned that the new transit station at the mall will only bring more crime to that area.

We now have a highway sign at the end of our street as people enter onto Independence. I have not seen a more useless sign in this city (and that is saying something).

Given what you have seen in this city and in others, what do you think the future holds for the East Side?

What do you think, readers? I know this blog has a good number of east-siders reading it regularly. Thoughts?

Here’s how I answered Diane:

Thanks very much for your note. I had heard from someone – though no one in a position of authority – that Eastland folks were negotiating with another grocery store to take over the Harris Teeter space. Which doesn’t get to your overall point, but does at least hold out the hope there won’t be another huge empty building there.

I just went through Sheffield for the first time the other day and was amazed at what an attractive neighborhood it is. It’s too bad it’s hidden by the commercial glop on Albemarle Road, etc. But with housing prices what they are in Charlotte, I expect Sheffield will be “discovered” any day now, so hang on.

Overall, though, I don’t know what the future holds for the east side. It’s a long-running story whose end, at least now, isn’t foretold.

To elaborate: The whole east side of Charlotte should be a long-term case study for some urban studies professor. East Charlotte got developed with a never-say-no-to-developers attitude on the part of city and county decision-makers. Now it isn’t urban enough to be “cool” to the growing market of people looking for city living, but isn’t new enough to attract people looking for suburban living.

The city has skimped on police coverage – everywhere, not just east Charlotte. But the more people feel unsafe, the less those east side neighborhoods maintain their property values.

The city hasn’t bitten the bullet and adopted affordable housing policies – such as inclusionary zoning – to effectively spread housing for the non-rich into all sectors of the city. So the east has a disproportionate share. (See above, re property values.)

The city (and the county, which for years had responsibility for this) skimps on nuts-and-bolts enforcement of housing codes and zoning rules. Even when enforcement happens, fines are laughable. Meanwhile, zoning inspection martinets spend their time shutting down a Newell farmer’s market that the community welcomed. Go figure.

The city and county, kneeling at developers’ feet, seriously overzoned for retail in east Charlotte. They passively OK's rezonings to let retailers build new stores farther out, and abandon old ones.

I could go on, but I won’t. Schools alone are a subject worthy of someone’s doctoral dissertation.

Will those attractive, relatively affordable neighborhoods such as Sheffield begin attracting urban pioneers the way Plaza-Midwood and NoDa have, and now Merry Oaks and Briar Creek-Woodland? I’m optimistic – especially if the Central Avenue streetcar really gets built. Hang in there, east-siders.


Anonymous said...

University Residents should pay attention to the east side, because that could be their destiny.

Anonymous said...

To see the east side's future, visit Dekalb County, Georgia, either virtually by Google or on your next trip to Atlanta.

It includes "Chambodia," (Chamblee) which was in Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full." And Doraville, immortalized in song by the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

My old high school in Doraville is now a junior high, with a population almost entirely Asian and Hispanic.

But the split-level middle-class solid houses with nice yards? They're still there, still well-kept. Except where there are infill teardowns for bigger homes.

Anonymous said...

I rented a house on the east side 12 years ago, in the Windsor Park neighborhood off Shamrock. It's a nice neighborhood, with a swim club and nice homes and an elementary school. The negative was that some houses were going rental, and that can wreck a neighborhood.

Housing prices are low and not rising. That could end up giving the east side a boost as people realize there is good housing there, easy commute, affordable, great restaurants, etc.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of hope for the Central Avenue Corridor. With so much development going on between Morningside and Hawthorne Dr, it can only mean better things for all of the east side. Overtime, the good things going on in Midwood and NoDa will spread. Good things are coming, eastsiders.

Jeremiah said...

I'm a resident of the east side, buying just over four years ago believing that the area would be a great place to raise kids affordably, quietly, and comfortably. What I didn't take into account, however, was the significant difference in the size of many homes in the area, many at or just over 1,000 square feet, in relation to the homes being built today and in the last ten or twenty years. I do hold out some hope of the development along Central Avenue turning out to be beneficial to the area, but I believe it is a decade or more away. I can only hope that the larger lots of the east side will negate the smaller domeciles which sit on them.

Anonymous said...

I think that the streetcar is going to make a world of difference along the Central Ave corridor.

Anonymous said...

There are plans to build a slightly scaled down Super Wal-mart on Independence Blvd. on the lot where the now vacant Haverty's Furniture used to be near Albemarle Rd. I know it's only one addition to the area, but this will hopefully spark interest in a revival of Coliseum Center next door. If that turns out to be the case I could see continued interest further East to rejuvenate the area for future tenants.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in Sheffeld too. I loved it. It's a very nice neighboorhood. I used to shop at that Harris Teeter, the next closest one I think is the new Bi-Lo near Farm Pond on Albermerle, which I actually liked.
But Independence right there is a pit... I actually like Central Avenue, for the most part. Some of my favorite resturants are on that strip.
It does seem like it's on the edge of being cool or going into a decline. I hope someone steps in to help it out.

Jus' Tressie said...

to anon who says university should pay attention - you couldn't be more right.

there's a lack of political power in both parts of town that is in direct correlation to the small amount of wealth and political contributers that live there.

which isn't to say that residents aren't hardworking and law abiding. they are. they just don't have much time and money left over to pay a 100 bucks a tix to eat rubber chicken at an uptown fundraiser.

as yet no political body in charlotte has discovered that a 'cool' uptown and booming south side is USELESS if the rest of the city is left to battle for safety, good schools, services, etc. history has proven that you can't move far enough away to disengage your destiny from that of your neighbors across town.

that's why it behooves a city to think of ALL citizens. it really is the most self-serving act of all.

Melissa said...

I have lived, worked and played on the East side of town since 1988 when I came to Charlotte. I have seen the rise and fall of this area. I think we(East Charlotte) residents should come up with some catchy name like the areas that are now known as No-Da and South End then we would be able to command all of the retail, commercial and personal businesses that we would ever want.

Anonymous said...

I live in Merry Oaks currently and used to live in the Commonwealth-Morningside area, right in front of the Mornisgside apartments. With those apartments coming down and a new mixed use townhome project on the way, some planned development coming at the Briar Creek and Central Ave intersection and the efforts of homeowners moving in and fixing many older structures, i see the area slowly starting to reinvent itself. There are great restuarants and shops in the area and plenty of choices with ethnic foods.

However, there are definitely areas that are still in need of some major work. The Eastway corridor and parts of Central as you head towards the mall have some less than desirable uses and pockets of crime as do areas along the other major arterial roads. It's pretty common to hear the police helicopter flying around on a regular basis at night, but i've never been adversely affected or felt in danger. While the neighborhoods off the main arteries of the area, such as Merry Oaks, Plaza Midwood and Commonwealth-Morningside, are on the rise, there are some residential areas that are similar in style and layout, but the housing stock is not in as nice of shape and the crime factor is higher in many cases. I think as development continues, the streetcar comes to the area and Independence gets a shot in the arm from some new tenants like a new Wal-Mart to serve the area, we'll see continued improvement for all the neighborhoods in the area. The addition of the Target and Home Depot expo will also have a ripple effect toward the east side improvements by putting desireable retail closer to residents. I hate driving to University City to go to Target. To be able to just head down Central to get there will be a benefit for a lot of folks in the area.

The east side is what it is. It's not fully urban, but it's not suburban. What does that mean, who knows. But it means there are great established neighborhoods, a mix of cultures, a mix of incomes and a vibrant community with artists, musicians, cool boutiques, independantly owned restaurants and shops, and access to public transit. It may not be perfect and vacant stores and crime may be a problem that will always linger, but i'm glad to call it home for the past 5 years since i've been in Charlotte and i don't think i would be happy anywhere else. The proximity to downtown is great, i can get on the highway with ease and get to the airport in 15 minutes and i can get great food any day of the week from any ethnic choice i feel like. I'll take looking at some blight and dealing with some crime activity in exchange for that. It'll only get better and improve with time, and the process is already underway. With patience and some sweat equity in the neighborhoods, the east side will improve on its many qualities that make it a great place to live.

Anonymous said...

Thank you anonymous Merry Oaks resident. You captured my thoughts exactly.

-A Commonwealth-Morningside resident who wants to live there the rest of her life.

Anonymous said...

I live off shamrock drive near shamrock elementary and all that is near there Erskine/Herrin drive is drugs, prostitution, and shooting(every blue moon), I often hear the elders speak about how beautiful the neighborhood once was. The have built new housing at the end of Maywood(I believe) and Shamrock, the three townhouses on Shamrock are already rentals and they have built a couple more new one around the corner on Maywood. What was the purpose of building new housing(tryin to attract new people)when they haven't even addressed the criminal element there?

You have an apartment building that sits in the middle(Patio ct) that is nothing short of a house of drugs and prostitution police show up every now and then but this continues, inspite of efforts of neighborhood association.

The eastside is going to be allowed to go into the tubes to cheapen the properties so they could then be regentrified like they do in almost every other city across america.....has anyone noticed that its getting a little crowed in uptown?

Anonymous said...

I am a former resident of Charlottes eastside and happy to say former. I lived off Albemarle Road near Harris in an apartmet that when i moved in was great. The area was lots of fun and i went many nights leaving my door unlocked. that was in 1991, fast forward to 2000, now i would come home and lock my door. The crime had shot up and I felt very unsafe. I moved out of state in January 2004, 2 weeks before i left i was robbed at gunpoint. The police made me feel more like the criminal than the victum. For the eastside to come alive, pride has to return to the area and police and city leaders need to respect those that live there. I now live in another state in a small town that people are treated with courtesy and has the southern charm Charlotte ONCE had.

Anonymous said...

I too was once a big fan of Eastside living. The area was moderately priced and didn't seem to have the pretentious attitude as other parts of town. At the moment, I wouldn't move out there due to safety and across town location. I'm afraid things will get worse before they get better, but people will discover the decency of tha area soon. I wouldn't equate 'Southern Charm' with safety though. I've felt much safer in many non-Southern cities than Charlotte and others.

Frank Burns said...

I believe the street car on Central Ave. is a positive sign. There are many problems facing the east side but we have several strengths as well. We are the most culturally diverse section of town and we have older neighborhoods with wider streets, and large trees. There are nice places to walk. My big complaint is city council does not seem to have any interest in helping the east side in business revitalization. They have been and continue to be focused on the downtown area. A modest suggestion would be to move the Mint Museum to one of the empty big boxes in the East? That would be a major boost to the vitality of the East Side and would save the city a lot of money.

tecki said...

I grew up in East Charlotte before moving to Asheville and, now, Baltimore. Every time I come home for a vist, it is incredibly depressing to drive down Independence, Harris or Albemarle for all the empty buildings and general ugliness. It was bad enough when all the stripmalls and parking lots were new and ugly, now they're rundown, empty and uglier.

I think the Eastland Mall property and the surrounding area make a great opportunity for revitalization. With so much empty space int he form of parking lots, plus some empty or half-empty buildings nearby, it would be easy to start over.

The area could be redevloped as a pedestrian-friendly, moderately dense "downtown" with stores, offices, apartments and condos. Less dense than Uptown, but better-designed than the SouthPark mess -- because the city (hopefully) knows better now. This new Eastside Downtown would spur revitalization of the entire Eastside, along with small improvements in transit, traffic and sidewalks.

I would also love to see, in addition to the Southeast transit corridor and the Central Streetcar, a new rapid-transit line built along Albemarle to merge with the Southeast corridor, as well as a transit line of some kind (streetcar, light rail, BRT) along the full length of WT Harris from the North Meck transit line all the way down to the Southeast line.

These transit lines, along with appropriately designed residential and commercial development, would transform East Charlotte into a great place to live, work and play.

erin said...

I think there's hope for East Charlotte - the clusters of locally owned businesses and neighborhoods like Commonwealth and Merry Oaks show that people take pride in the area, which is important if revitalization is going to happen.

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