Monday, July 21, 2008

South End tower wins swift OK

Reporting live, from City Council:
(See previous post, also from council meeting, about a first -- a developer urging council to reject his own rezoning petition.)

The City Council launched the vote-on-rezonings part of its meeting at roughly 6:25 p.m. By 6:39 p.m. it had finished its rezoning decisions. They ripped through 18 rezonings, all except one of them approved unanimously with no discussion on any, except for about 30 seconds on the one that was approved 7-2 (for a day care center at The Plaza and Barrington Drive).

That proposal to allow a 250-foot high-rise tower in South End? The one that was in violation of the South End Transit Station Area Plan, which set a 120-foot height maximum? I didn't have a stopwatch, so I couldn't tell you whether it was 5 seconds or 10, but there was no discussion, nothing. Unanimous approval, and on to the next agenda item.

Sure, the council's rezoning meetings can drag. The public hearing part of the meeting tends to bring out developers and neighborhood opponents. It's 7:34 p.m. and they're just on No. 6 in a 15-item public hearing agenda. And council member Michael Barnes just pointed out that there have been numerous violations of the Northeast District Plan in recent years. So why didn't he -- or anyone else -- think it was worth maybe a little public discussion about why they were violating the South End station area plan, adopted in 2005?

Maybe there were good reasons. Maybe the 120-foot maximum height limit adopted as part of the Transit Station Area Principles isn't a good idea after all. You, the voting public, have no way to know why the council members decided to treat their own adopted plans as virtually irrelevant.

They're on auto-pilot. The biggest issue facing the city for decades has been growth and how to deal with it and pay for its impacts. You'd like to think your elected officials are thoughtfully debating the pros and cons of different growth proposals. Guess what. I'm watching them tonight, and it's pretty hard not to conclude they've abdicated that responsibility.


Anonymous said...

We elect politicans to make such decisions. If you don't like the policy and items they vote for, then make sure to NOT vote for them when the elections come around.

I normally find the blogs written on The Naked City to not be biased, however it's VERY CLEAR the writer doesn't like the idea of a tower beside the pink tower. How ironic is that statement.

Regardless, I am EXTREMELY happy that our elected officials are doing their homework in advance of the meetings to keep them moving forward with making decisions instead of spending 7 weeks to debate items on public tax dollar time.

Anonymous said...

Oh Mary get over it. As we become a big city, we will start building up more often. Again, you live in Boston for a few months and know that it's more dense and higher there as well. As Charlotte evolves into a bigger metro, we need to start building like a bigger metro. At least a few trees got saved this evening. Go have a picnic under them or something tomorrow and celebrate.

Anonymous said...

Geez! If you don't like "urban" then add and "s" and drive to burbs!

If we don't infill with density of home owners, then eventually the city's tax base become stagnant, resulting in the non density homeowners to take on the burden of higher taxes to offsite stale taxable growth properties.

Build em tall! That will assist Charlotte in becoming a city with the ability to not fall.

Anonymous said...

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

For what it's worth, there are plenty of us out here who are just as mad as you apparently are that the rules get ignored all the time and rarely is anyone held accountable for doing so. Charlotte's city pastime seems to be the game of "Screw the rules, I'm going to do what I want and see if anyone actually cares enough to try to stop me."

But in this case, my being upset at yet another flagrant violation of the rules by unaccountable politicians is greatly tempered by the fact that a lot of pro-train folks are going to be mad about this, even though increasing density was part of the original light rail plan.

So don't tell me this is not what you were hoping for; I got no sympathy for ya.

Anonymous said...

only mary would think the city council, planning department, planning committee, developers, etc are ALL wrong. Mary, please get this thru your head, the south end station area plan and TOD plans call for EXCEPTIONS. This site called for an exception to the height restriction according to the people that matter:
planning department and city council.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report. Like it or not, your report is accurate. South End will be one to watch for some time. Many new players (developers) moving into this area. Many trying to move around the rules.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I understand your overall point about council overriding plans. However, this seems to be a case where the blanket policy for all station areas needed to be adjusted at the station just outside of uptown. This site is across the street from zoning that allows unlimited height and is next to a tower that is already that tall. This site even meets the policy of being proper distance away from single family homes which much of the height restriction is meant to mitigate.

I'm not affiliated with the project but have followed the subject on UrbanPlanet. Without question, the causes of urbanization, shifting away from auto-centric living, and creating density around transit stations are served by this rezoning. While odd they didn't discuss it in public, it seems there are more altruistic reasons for supporting this than simply rubberstamping all developments.

Anonymous said...

Density is good, but these council members are elected specifically to enforce development policy and represent the public's best interests. When they rubber-stamp a project that exceeds the stated height limit by 100%, without so much as a statement on record to justify their decision, they are failing at their jobs and should be held accountable.

I understand that many regular posters only come here to berate Mary for political reasons... but surely everyone here should be able to see why this kind of "governance" is bad for the city. At the very least our reps should be expected to do their duties, including due diligence on voting matters.

Anonymous said...

Oh well, Mary. This is a city, and cities have buildings. Time to get over it and move on.

Anonymous said...
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James said...

I'm glad of the approval to build UP and not OUT. With the awful level of suburban sprawl plaguing our city, it is refreshing to see a developer interested in density and not building another 5 floor box in the middle of an asphalt sea like Ballantyne; a.k.a. hell on earth.

Lewis said...

Having followed the process of zoning change from both sides I find it ridiculous. As has been pointed out here, rules mean nothing. That is fine to me, I don't like zoning rules anyway. But to pretend we have them then have them change for, it seems like, 90% of the requests, is amusing. It raises the question: are zoning rules written to restrict property rights or to create jobs for bureaucrats etc?

Anonymous said...

The point of TOD is to increase density within walking distance to transit. So we built light rail with the intention of back filling residential (and other uses) to build ridership.

Perhaps council gets this.

Mary- what be super nice would be if you presented your vision for the city. Given continued growth please, plus rising gas prices. Do YOU actually think less density around the urban core is a good move?

Just think. Instead of a knee jerk freak out that any developer is making a bad project and buying off council perhaps consider that the developer has a market supported idea that will improve conditions in our city.

Anonymous said...

You make it sound as if there was absolutely no discussion at all - ever? Are you naive to the process? Having been involved in numerous rezoning petitions (not the one in question, however), I understand that there is an excessive amount of due diligence re: rezoning petitions. Petitions are discussed at length in public fora: rezoning open house, rezoning public hearing, and the zoning committee. In the meantime, each and ever regulatory agency (CDOT, LUESA, CMS, etc.) is providing their insight to Planning (who adds their technical expertise as well). Mayor McCrory even stated last night that he appreciates all the hard work cross-agency staff and committee volunteers invest for the good of the city. So please Mary, don't imply that this issue was discussed for merely 5-10 seconds by our elected leaders. That's naive.

Anonymous said...

Station area plans and neighborhood area plans mean nothing. There are too many that have been adopted and violated DURING THE SAME COUNCIL MEETING....(that indicates to me they're not worth the tremendous time and effort the VOLUNTEERS put into them - yes, neighborhood stakeholder volunteers.)

Simple requests for exception, some small talk before the council meeting - all sounds like a reasonable request. Sure, up is better than out when it comes to creating an urban center, but doubling the limitations? Talk about shooting for the sky? Ya figure, hey...lets double the height, say we can't make the deal happen unless we get it and see what happens?!? What's the worst they could do...say no and come back with a more amicable height? Not in Charlotte. Stamp it approved, it's a 200M project. Maybe Wachovia can get the loan. Oh yeah, they're out of that business now.

When does the infrastructure come into play? Duke's power poles that sit a foot off South Blvd...the lack of ped crossing areas....full trains during downtown events....when does all that come into play? Isn't that what people would be moving there for?

As for the seems responsible at first glance. But what about the quality of life decisions (or lack there of) that don't require elected officials to vote and certainly don't require the developers of tomorrow to contribute outside their building envelope? Does all of that just magically come together? Don't worry, someone will eventually vote to request more money from you to pay for these new headaches rather than anticipating the need.

Obviously a tough discussion.

Rebecca said...

Our "elected" officials haven't abdicated thier repsonsibility - their only responsibility is to the developers and rolling over for them every time.

eye_dee_ten_tea said...

I agree, Rebecca.

Mary said: "The biggest issue facing the city for decades has been growth and how to deal with it and pay for its impacts."

If she'd said: "The biggest issue facing the city for decades has been growth." I could have agreed completely.

In the 12 years I've lived here, I have yet to see GovCo (as a whole) give more than a passing nod to "how to deal with it and pay for its impacts," and then, only during election years.

Detroit on the Catawba - we're getting closer every day.

Anonymous said...

Detroit? HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAA. People in Charlotte are SO over-dramatic. Guess what, our metro area is as big as Providence, RI and Virginia Beach! We aren't that big, atleast not yet! Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, etc are much bigger than us and growing even faster! We are never going to be like Detroit. You people need to get a clue.

Anonymous said...

Growth is good. Charlotte gets better every year - lots of new people, new jobs, new investments, more things to do. It means more opportunities for younger people like me. You old hillbillies need to get over it. Your time is up and you are not the future. Bye bye!

Anonymous said...

Charlotte is growing and there is nothing you country bumpkins can do about it... so quit complaining and saying Charlotte is turning into Detroit (which is absurd) and go somewhere else if you hate it so much.

Anonymous said...

Yankees have brought a lot of things to the South. Not included are intelligence, manners or kindness.

I have left, in large part because of this.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte is growing and there is nothing you country bumpkins can do about it... so quit complaining and saying Charlotte is turning into Detroit (which is absurd) and go somewhere else if you hate it so much.

Ah, the eternal refrain: "If you don't like how we're turning your city into a cesspool, feel free to leave." It never gets old.

Back on topic: There are two ways you can grow, Mary. Out, or up. (Growing down into the Earth is not a viable option.) Out is what people like you and David Walters aer always complaining about. Up gives you a higher property-tax-per-acre figure, and it lets you leverage/make use of the very expensive light rail line that all of the REST of us are paying for.

So now that you have very expensive light rail line you wanted, you should support anything that encourages more people to live alongside of it and use it so that there is a CHANCE that one day the system might actually make some money. If that means lining South Boulevard with high-rises, then so be it.

Anonymous said...

Building Up versus out saves public tax dollars in the following ways:

Police can drive less, yet protect more citizen. High rises put more people per sq acre than sububuran sprawl.

Light Rail will continue to increase in ridership, therefore decreasing the chance of needing public tax dollars to keep it running.

The CharMeck utilies department loves the fact that high rises have a lot less "front yards" to water than single family homes.

Building up is simply a more effective means and less of a burden than single family homes sprawled for miles.

Keep the buildings coming!

Miffed said...

Most Charlotteans don’t object to skyscrapers over 120 feet in height as long as they’re built “uptown”. And let’s face it, “uptown” now includes the South End. City Council knows that and has no qualms about approving rezoning petitions that go for extra height there.

The problem before was getting council to understand that SouthPark and similar areas of town aren’t “uptown” and don’t want to be.

Then we had Andy Dulin beaten in a state senate race last November by Bob Rucho, who made a major issue out of Dulin’s backing of a skyscraper on Fairview in the Picardy neighborhood next to Piedmont Town Center. Dulin and most council persons (the mayor and Pat Mumford voted “no”) backed Center City’s golden boy Afshin Ghazi, who received approval on a yet-to-be built 10-6-3 story stairstep arrangement of luxury condos.

Sounds like a boon to SouthPark, right? It would have been, but Ghazi proposed it for a single-family neighborhood of one and two-story houses. Talk about incongruity.

Anyway, Ghazi got council’s almost unanimous backing. The galling thing to residents who protested his petition was that both the Planning Department and the Zoning Commission did not recommend approval. And a majority of Picardy residents (besides the protestors) signed petitions that were given to council to show the widespread neighborhood opposition. Even after the surprising vote, residents never did get an explanation as to why council overrode the wishes of planning, zoning and residents.

So, Mary, last night’s mad sramble by Andy Dulin, in whose district lie both Picardy and Piedmont Town Center, seems to have been a play for future votes. Of course Dulin already knew the petitioner wanted to withdraw. So he made political hay of it to convince District 6 voters he’s now on their side against those rule-breaking neighborhood busting developers.

Anyway, maybe others on council will get the same message as regards our neighborhoods, and will now give citizenry the same consideration they've traditionally given developers.

another former resident said...

Building up versus out doesn't change the county border.

Police will still have to cover the same geographical area.

The train can only hold so many people, and it was designed (to save money) so you couldn't just add another car.

CharMeck utilies department has already proved that if they don't get enough revenue through "lawn watering" (due to their own restrictions), they'll just raise rates.

Building up is simply chasing Atlanta's coat-tails.

Been there, done that, donated the t-shirts.

Anonymous said...

How is Charlotte turning into a cesspool? You people are out of your minds.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte is a beautiful city. It is not a cesspool nor is it turning into one. I will never understand some people here...

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I moved here twently years ago when this town really was a cesspool. The big excitement back then was the 44.99 buffet at Golden Corral. I'm glad a lot of newcomers followed me here and are helping make this former cesspool into America's next great city. I say hooray for all the businesses and developers making Uptown, South End, NoDa bigger and stronger and i look forward to Southpark being the next Buckhead, new Center, Chestnut Hill, Tysons Corner, you name it. There are planty of places in the carolinas that haven't changed. Thank God Charlotte's not one of them.

Anonymous said...

Haha, the previous post is so true. I was just about to say the same thing. Charlotte used to be a cesspool 20 years ago. Downtown was dead, 4th Ward was crime ridden, there were no nice restaurants, and there wasn't anything to do. Charlotte has completely turned itself around and I look foward to the next 20 years. There will be growing pains, but they are worth it. It is only going to get better.

Anonymous said...

Why are you all commenting like Mary is against the project? Her post has nothing to do with "up versus out" or high density. Her post was questioning why every single member of the council voted for the rezoning without any discussion whatsoever.

Stephen said...

Well the City Council, excuse me our Lords and Ladies, clearly aren't getting paid enough to spend more time in a meeting talking about us mere citizens. Is there a way to increase their salary? Maybe then they can take another 30 minutes of their time.

Oh and before you accuse me I support this building. But it would be nice to have a public record of the matter. You know, for those of us who have to work and can't attend these meetings.

Matt C said...

Mary is incorrect about two aspects in this post

One, the zoning petition for the new tower next to the Arlington was debated at length in a council meeting several weeks ago. I watched in on TV and the debate lasted at least an hour and a half -it included the zoning commission, residents of the Arlington, and a representative from the developer. Concil members had diagrams, charts, petitions, and asked numerous questions of the protesting residents, the zoning board, and the developers.

What Mary witnessed was the final vote, which was done after an in-depth debate.

Secondly, the South End Area Transit Plan is a plan... not law, not rules, nor even enacted legislation. It is a series of guidelines that, as mentioned before, contains exemptions - one being the height.

The asked-for exemption fit with the area plan of increasing density around transit stations.

Anonymous said...

Building up versus out doesn't change the county border.

Police will still have to cover the same geographical area.

Ask an officer whether (s)he would rather patrol 4th Ward or University City. "Up vs out" definitely comes into play, for numerous reasons:

1) In dense districts there is MUCH more visibility and therefore collective safety. You don't have issues like home invasion because it's so hard to get away with in a dense neighborhood where everyone can hear a scream or gunshot.

2) Neighborhoods like South End and NoDa are built on a grid pattern, meaning the police are able to patrol all streets in a short amount of time. Cul-de-sacs are the most dangerous thing that ever happened to American neighborhoods because they make it impossible for police to at least drive by everyone's home on patrol.

3) Dense neighborhoods are generally much more stable because they usually have a more diverse set of residents. Look at how fast the suburban-style neighborhoods on the east and north sides (and increasingly the south side as well) have turned into ghettos. That trend is moving in the opposite direction in denser districts, largely because you don't have the phenomenon of everyone moving out simultaneously when an unwanted neighbor shows up.

4) Reaction time in dense neighborhoods is MUCH faster, partially due to the grid system (see #2) and partially because residents are much closer to emergency services stations. That's why it takes upwards of 10 minutes to get an ambulance to your house in the suburbs, whereas in a dense district it's usually more like 3 minutes.

5) Density grows the tax base, which improves services. Simple math.

Lewis said...

Poster of 330 previous.
I cannot address any of your points except #5. That one may be right in theory but it is not what happens in real life. Taxes go up in concert with growth. Annexation is a method of raising taxes as has been shown many times by the Charlotte bureaucracy. You will also note that taxes in Mecklenburg County are regularly raised, either city, county or both.

The bottom line is growth leads to higher taxes and higher tax rates.

Anonymous said...

^ Which is not such a problem provided that both the growth and the tax increases are done intelligently and in a focused, controlled manner.

The problem is that too often we have uncontrolled growth coupled with uncontrolled tax hikes, leading us down the same road as so many other cities that are overcrowded and overtaxed.

Anonymous said...

My dear Mary....shame on you. You are such a smart person and normally report the true news instead of a one day snapshot.

If you really wanted to follow this story and accurately report on it, then you would have attended the 2 previous debated meetings that took place before the final vote meeting you showed up at.

If you are going to print it, then make sure you know "A through Z" about a story.

By the way, I am glad something tall is going up to hide some of that ugly Pink Tower.

Anonymous said...

The pink tower is not that ugly. It adds some color to the skyline.

sexy said...