Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Developers bend city official's ear

I wish I could tell you what was discussed at 7:45 a.m. today, when the Charlotte Chamber's Land Use committee (a committee of real estate, development and related business people) met with Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble. But I was told I wasn't welcome.

On the agenda, according to an e-mail last week from Natalie English, the Chamber's senior vice president for business and education advocacy: "Collin Brown [a lawyer] with K&L Gates will present specific examples of the cumulative impacts of the Post Construction Control Ordinance, the Urban Street Design Guidelines policy and the Proposed Amendment to the Tree Ordinance. Please plan to attend to participate in the discussion with Ron Kimble about how we might affect the impact these ordinances have on economic development, affordable housing and development in our community."

The post-construction controls ordinance is a water-quality protection measure. The urban street design guidelines (policy, but not embedded into ordinances yet) aim to make city streets walkable and would require more streets and more street trees, among other things. The proposed change to the tree ordinance would strengthen tree-save requirements for commercial property developers.

The Chamber, English told me last week -- when she was, in a very friendly and polite way telling me I couldn't come this morning -- is concerned that the proposed tree ordinance changes, on top of the post-construction controls ordinance and the street design guidelines, would "drastically impact the ability to grow the economy."

The Land Use committee chair, Karla Knotts, is also interim executive director of the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition (REBIC). REBIC and some members of the Land Use committee had asked the Chamber to oppose the proposed tree ordinance changes.

Clearly, putting more requirements on developers will increase the costs of development and construction. That means what gets built would A) Cost more to buyers, OR B) Mean developers wouldn't offer as much money to buy land to start with. Both results have been known to occur, depending on the location, the market, etc. But regardless, the marginal difference in building cost isn't the villain in today's horrific real estate and building slowdown.

Nor would the real estate market here miraculously revive if only developers could offer product a bit more cheaply, with narrow sidewalks and no street trees, its runoff still allowed to pollute local creeks, and just as many trees being cut down as is allowed today.

Here's the painful reality, painful to everyone in this area, because none of us likes to see businesses hurting: The developers' potential customers are losing their jobs, health insurance, and even their homes to foreclosure, or they can't sell their existing homes. Financing agencies, including banks, are struggling to offer credit because the finance system is full of toxic loans. That's the problem developers are facing. It isn't the tree ordinance.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Of course you aren't welcome. For years, you have been trying to micromanage people's lives with your intrusive ideas, while censoring those who disagree with you on this board (who's uninvited now?). Your 'developers are evil' rants are getting old. Most people in this city are fine with just a sidewalk and some trees, but not being micromanaged on how those sidewalks and trees should look like. Most people here don't care about old buildings either (another sacred cow of yours). Once you learn to pick your battles mary, and quit trying to control how everyone lives, you might get somewhere with your arguments.

Anonymous said...

As a former real estate developer from California, I understand the tension between regulation/guidelines and the free market. However, I have yet to see any major financial impacts to the end consumer (or really, to the development community and to property owners) from these regulations. What's at work here is that Charlotte is now addressing some of the growth issues that other states dealt with years ago.

And the status quo doesn't like it because it has the potential to cost them a little. But the dollars involved--as a percentage of the total investment in a project--is negligable, and it's a cost of doing business in a region where growth is now impinging on the "buy it up, use it up, buy more" ethos that has--until now--driven the business. Time to grow up and smell the new economics.

Anonymous said...

"Most people," Anonymous? Have you done a poll? Do you have any data to back up that statement? I'm a longtime Charlotte resident and I do care about old buildings and safe sidewalks. Charlotte used to be known as the "City of Trees." I think "most people" is code for developers who want to line their own profits at the expense of the city of Charlotte and its citizens.

Anonymous said...

The one thing that I don't care about is Mary Newsom's opinion.

Pathmaker said...

So why are you following her blog?

Anonymous said...

I think the predictable push-back from developers has a lot to do with human nature: when we're forced to follow more stringent rules than before, we balk at them; ordinances are by definition more about dictating actions than about the rewards that are the reasons for them.

None of us want to be forced to eat our vegetables, but we voluntarily do so with a lot more enthusiasm once we try ones we like, and we realize how staying healthy is desirable.

Unfortunately, the developers who DO voluntarily create projects where these attributes are followed are rare indeed. So it's a hard sell to make most developers realize such higher aesthetic & experiential qualities will attract buyers sooner, who are willing to pay a bit more, on the micro scale, and will reinforce a widespread reputation of Charlotte as a beautiful city where people really do care about their environment (both natural & man-made), on a macro scale. You're either working TOWARDS better ideas or AWAY from them --- it's never neutral; the developers fighting these proposed changes are kidding themselves if they think lesser development standards are better than more, because then you have a downward spiral of crap, the likes of which every city suffers. (Shall I offer some local examples?: the old South Boulevard; Independence; Monroe Road; countless suburban commercial strips.)

BTW Anon. 3:40 --- I suspect there are a lot more people who actually DO care about the 'sacred cows' of old buildings than you say. Too bad we have to destroy irreplaceable things to appreciate them. And "just a sidewalk and some trees" is all well & good, but this suggests to me that you don't have a career where details matter, or you've never paid to have a construction project done at your home or done one yourself. Unless you specify how wide, how much, high high, what kind, what quality standards, etc. etc., believe me when I tell you that the people involved in constructing it will interpret it however they care to, in their best interest (usually in terms of cost), rather than that of who they're building it for (whether that's the homeowner, the pedestrian, the neighborhood resident looking at ugly junk everyday that's cutting down his property values). If you want to get a better education in the process, drop in on a rezoning hearing or two, where minutiae of such details is debated ad nauseum by expensive lawyers.

Anonymous said...

Take a long look at your house. It was built by a developer.

It would intersting to see Mary have to go through a rezoning process.

It is like horse trading with someone who doesnt own any horses.

If you dont do this this and this we will say no and the C.C. votes over 95% to do what we tell them.

So you better do what we say.

I have seen may good projects get killed cause the city demanded things that cost to much and had nothing to do with the project.

Anonymous said...

Good God people ! It's a simple sidewalk, nothing more. It all comes down to ONE thing, cheap ass developers with zero ability to look forward. Buyers will gladly pay another $1,000 for the damn house if there is a sidewalk in front of it you fools. We are talking a fraction of a percent of the total cost of a house. I've never seen such crap in other cities and towns as I have in both Carolina's and Georgia. Get with the program. Hell, even Florida can get it done right.

Anonymous said...

I guess if their are no sidewalks I won't be able to walk anywhere? Can you imagine having to walk on grass? The nerve of some people!!!!

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine having to pay $4 for a gallon of gas? An outrage!

Sheesh, the peanut gallery on this blog has got to be the dumbest in the country. Look folks: when you develop land, you increase the amount of pollution coming into the groundwater during storms. That means everyone around you has to pay more to get it filtered out of the drinking water supply.

I know this is a big word, but look it up: Externality.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:11 What peanut gallery do you belong to?

Anonymous said...

"The world has always been betrayed not by scoundrels but by decent men with bad ideas" Sydney J. Harris

rick b said...

Not criticizing Mary at all, but how is this anything new?

Developers and their respective Chambers ruin - I mean run - Charlotte and the surrounding counties anyway. City Councils and County Boards of Commissioners are just wholly-owned subsidiaries of REBIC. Check the campaign contribution lists for the proof; then, imagine the possible other "contributions" that don't appear on those lists.

Now, I have long argued that a big reason for the insane growth here over the past 20 years isn't just the banks and the climate...it's that, due to the developer ownership of local and state government, this is one of the most profitable areas to develop. Little to no regulation, heavy subsidies, almost-guaranteed rezoning to anything a developer could want...this is, truly, "developer heaven".

Which makes it "taxpayer hell".

Because the myths that "all growth is good" or "if you don't grow you die" are big lies that entities like REBIC, the Chamber, and the John Locke "Foundation" spew forth like vomit after a dose of spoiled seafood.

The quality of our lives declines even as our tax burden goes up to provide the infrastructure and services to support the developers' profit machines (since the developer-controlled state legislature refuses to allow local governments to impose "impact fees" or other means to require developers to share in the financial burdens of what they dump on us).

So...connecting streets? Sidewalks? Street trees? Retention of old-growth trees?

All excellent amenities that provide lasting value to a community and region.

But I said "lasting"...developers don't care about "lasting". It's "hit and run", folks...they're not in for the long haul, they're just in for what they can milk the community for on the front end, then they're gone...their messes to remain with us, their profits to go with them.

One important issue raised by Mary's story, though: notice that these special interests can meet in private with government staff - like Ron Kimble - in spite of the state's open meeting requirements. This is a loophole, probably deliberate, that developers could drive a whole fleet of buldozers and hydro-axes through. The real favors are done in these closed-door staff meetings; staff already has their "direction" from the elected officials, who will then rubber-stamp the "ideas" that staff brings to them in the just-for-show open meetings.

If we ever want to see truly open and transparent local government, a good place to start would be to require that all staff meetings follow the same open meeting laws that elected board meetings must follow.

Fat chance.

Rick said...

Externality works both ways anon.

To the Newsomites who want their way at cost to other people, the externality is paid by the developer.

Nice use of a big word though. I see the Kunstler Cool-Aid flows in your kitchen.

Anonymous said...

So developers are concerned that regulations "drastically impact the ability to grow the economy"? Apparently the free-market brokers and bankers have moved into the real estate business.

Greed is what schtupped the economy, ruined retirement savings and fixed incomes, and booted folks out of their houses. It was all about cheating on applications, encouraging mortgage defaults and taking crazy-assed risks to make enough money to buy a bigger yacht. That's has become "The American Way".

Girls just wanna have fun. Developers and "real estate professionals" - now there's an oxymoron - just wanna be greedy. The heck with the environment or your or my enjoyment of it.

The federal government should dissolve the SEC and all the other useless watchdog agencies and instead form a regulatory group with the purpose of detecting the next big greed-incited enterprise before it can grow and destroy more lives. You can bet that this nation's next unethical ploy will somehow involve real estate development.

Molly Bloom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Glad to see all of Mary's friends chimed in this morning to try to make her points valid.

The fact is, this city is more than twice the size it was 20 years ago, so places had to be built to accommodate them. And for those of you bashing realtors, how did you buy your house?

I ahve no objection with trees, sidewalks or older buildings, but I do have a problem with people trying to micro-manage how every little thing in their environment should look like.

Welcome to a growing city folks.

Anonymous said...

"When one gets in bed with government, one must expect the diseases it spreads" Ron Paul

Anonymous said...

Can anyone understand a word Bev Perdue says?

Anonymous said...

Let's do away with all laws and ordinances and live our lives the way we want - no matter who it affects.

If I want to dump sewage into the lake or the creek behind your house, I should be able to.

If I want to buy the house next to yours and open up a topless entertainment establishment, no problem, right? I'm sure you don't mind.

If I want to dump my trash out in the middle of the street, somebody will pick it up (they just better not raise my taxes to pay 'em).

Ordinances, law, common sense - - bad, bad, bad.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:36 it's better to have no laws than a bunch of do gooders telling people how to live.

Rick said...

One thing I find humorous is Mary's barely hidden indignation at not being allowed to sit in on a meeting of an organization not made up of government officals which is not publicly funded.

Where's your indignation with everything Center City Partners does? Every major government organ is represented and it feeds at the public trough with its own dedicated tax stream. They are arguably the most powerful body in the city, and they aren't even elected.

Those meetings should all be open to the public since no major decision in the past decade has been made without CCCP consent.

stephen said...

You mean we didn't elect CCCP and they don't work as volunteers?

You don't hear more about those bastards because they're the ones pulling the strings. I've been denouncing them for years but nobody pays attention.

triadwatch said...

rick b i agree with you 100%

Anonymous said...

The front page of today’s Observer has an article about residents of the Treyburn subdivision in northwest Mecklenburg County, where many residents can’t get an uninterrupted night’s sleep or a daytime nap due to the noise from cars speeding along adjacent I-485. Seems like their houses were built after NCDOT changed its policy about building noise walls. Those ugly concrete constructions cushion other subdivisions along that stretch of I-485, and now these folks want a wall, too.

Stupid people for not knowing that the outer belt would be going through their ‘hood when they bought, right?

Well, as one resident noted: “The REALTOR said there would be a day-care center nearby, and they told us about the mall. They didn’t tell us about the highway.” (It’s route was made public in 1994, Treyburn was built in 1998, but I-485 only went as far as Matthews then, and there was no indication of road prepping anywhere near the subdivision.)

The Observer apparently wants NCDOT to revise its policy and right a wrong. That may be the proper target, which may have the funds to do so. But just what do “real estate professionals” do to earn those outlandish six percent commissions besides sticking a sign in the ground and holding an open house? Doesn’t their licensing board require them to perform due diligence for their clients? Are doctors and CPA’s the only professional groups with a strict code of ethics and responsibilities?

And why are developers of places like Treyburn let off the hook when they, if anyone, should have known what was planned for that area?

Some will say Caveat Emptor – which apparently in this part of the country translates to “Screw the Buyer”. But I think those who knowingly create or contribute to another individual’s woes should be required to pay the piper, just like it is with the rest of us.

Regulate the reckless!

Anonymous said...

The chinese use two brush storkes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity." JFK

In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.

Lets just hope a few people have paid attention to the boom and how corrupt it's been. It's now time to truly recognize the opportunity and fix this corruption.

Charlotte has a couple more years of my tax dollars. If things don't change, I'm out - with my family and my small business. Pretty simple stuff.

Jumper said...

I worked in building and development for years, and I dread to think of the monstrosities that would be committed with minimal regulations. Remember when workers kept getting killed by cave-ins a few years ago? It became clear that the risk was not "imaginary." Yet that attitude persists and one has to go out on a limb just in order to stop that risk even today. But that's not developers being evil... uh, well maybe it is.

Ever see the city digging up yet another busted water main long after the private firm that installed it is off the hook, even though they sneered and did it wrong in the first place because they "don't like regulations?"

Ever see Charlotte choked with smog some days such that the elderly are warned not to go outside, just because traffic flow was allowed to develop "lazzez faire" because developers don't like regulations?

Ever see an entire economy tank because bankers and developers and anarchists think regulations requiring collateral are "unnecessary?"

Anonymous said...

To Anon at 10:06 on 3/27:

The players on that “real estate professional” team at closing also include the “Title Professional”. They get a handsome payday in fees and charges, supposedly for value-added “work”. But what are they really adding?

Here in Dixie, where old times are not forgotten or easily let go of, and regulations of any kind (except religious ones) are looked upon as the Devil’s Work, the only way zoning could be regulated in days of yore was to tack restrictions onto deeds. The words “Zoning Plan” were taboo. Therefore the reason why, on your way to the beach or mountains, you’ll find a brick mansion sitting next to a house trailer or a nice ranch house next to a glue factory.

Charlotte subdivisions of the pre-IBM era – the point at which demand caused by a sudden influx of transplantism shot real estate prices sky high – used deed restrictions to protect home owners’ investments. They are still on the books, and those that have not been forfeited by acts to the contrary or discriminate by race or creed are still enforceable in the courts. (The city government ignores them, but courts trump city when it comes to enforcement).

I know of several cases in my own older neighborhood in which new buyers are surprised to learn that our deed restrictions prohibit various modifications or uses of their property. Obviously the “Title Professional” never told them. How can one perform a title search to insure rights of ownership without uncovering the fact that there are other rights, or even non-rights, attached?

What are these people doing to justify you or I paying them to make an easy living when their actions or inactions often creating havoc somewhere down the line?

Kevin said...

I appreciate this blog. You are the Jane Jacobs of Charlotte.

Mary Newsom said...

I'd like to add a fact to Rick's comment from 3-26, about CCCP (Charlotte Center City Partners).
He wrote:
"Where's your indignation with everything Center City Partners does? Every major government organ is represented and it feeds at the public trough with its own dedicated tax stream. They are arguably the most powerful body in the city, and they aren't even elected.

Those meetings should all be open to the public since no major decision in the past decade has been made without CCCP consent."

The board meetings are open to the public.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte has many beautiful neighborhoods and good developments. But there's also a lot of crap, built under the guise of "developers know best." Raleigh has stricter and better development regulations than we do and it doesn't seem to have slowed its growth at all.

I'm a native and I had to laugh at 3:40 assertion of "most people" and 10:44's "regulations of any kind (except religious ones." Who knows what "most people" want? Good grief. 10:44, you have Charlotte nailed.

I'm old enough to remember the sudsy stink of polluted creeks and roads with no curbs or shoulders (let alone sidewalks.) Those were solved with regulations. Still to be resolved are our white-trash-in-the-city-stop-lights-on-a-wire everywhere except SouthPark, our goes-down-in-any-storm power lines, our poorly paved and overcrowded roads. Center City is lovely, SouthPark is lovely (mostly,)the historic 'hoods are lovely. The rest is questionable. Charlotte's saving grace is its tree canopy and we seemed determined to destroy it and plant yet another row of lollipop-sized Bradford pears.

Rick said...

Huh, learn something new every day...thanks Mary. I guess there's no need to be concerned about the decisions they make for the city then.

Anonymous said...

Ever wonder why flood events happen more frequent? Ever wonder why it seems the flood events mostly affect the lower income neighborhoods? Ever wonder why air quality index has more “red” days each summer than the previous summer? Ever wonder property values stay strong in affluent neighborhoods? Ever wonder affluent neighborhoods have less violent crime? One of the larger contributing factors is TREES.

Trees are a peculiar factor because they appear to often be private property but are always performing for the public good. It is for this reason we must not only protect and preserve, but also promote our urban canopy.

Trees aren’t the end all solution – but they are a big portion of the solution. So ask yourself, “Am I really the person who cares only about my property?” Or do you realize your property’s value is dependent on the street, the neighborhood, and the city where it’s located. I suspect, if think about it for a few minutes, you’ll realize trees are really worth promoting.

By the way, the one factor no one has pointed out is that development depends on predictable growth not keeping its costs down. Development manages and minimizes risk. The financing will come with the predicted growth. This argument is not about money or expense. It’s about not having someone tell you what you can’t or can’t do. The problem goes back to how the constructed portions of private property affect the public good.

If you are curious about the floods & air quality that really are part of the public - During a 50-year life span, one tree will generate $30,000 in oxygen, recycle $35,000 worth of water, and clean up $60,000 worth of air pollution or $125,000 total per tree without including any other values. USDA – Forest Service.

Signed, “The Lorax”

Borat from Kazakhstan said...

I love trees, but I'd sure like you to explain how the presence of trees in affluent neighborhoods reduces violent crime. Are the trees there some sort of hybrid man-eating plants that gobble up the criminals hiding behind them? The city needs to start planting them in our apparently treeless poorer neighborhoods to bring crime to a halt in Charlotte.

Also, I'm glad you brought up this seemingly unrelated topic. My theory is that if trees have as much influence as you claim, they are probably to blame for the current economic crisis.

Anonymous said...

Myers Park was built on an open farm field. All trees were planted.

Give new subdivisions time and they will have the same tree canopy that Myers Park enjoys.

rick b said...

No, Anonymous 02:44, the new subdivisions may eventually have some trees like Myers Park, but those subdivisions will never be either as practical nor as aesthetically successful as Myers Park.

Myers Park's streets connect, interconnect, and disperse traffic while allowing functional and relatively pleasant travel by drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike.

Also, house sizes are proportional to lot sizes (except for the horrible teardown monstrosities that are now springing up).

The new subdivisions are hideous storage facilities for people, with oversized houses packed onto too-small lots, with multiple cul-de-sacs and no community street connectivity, and with single or limited entrances onto clogged and unwalkable thoroughfares.

Time can't fix junk.

Anonymous said...

Borat,

Streets with trees have less violent crime – fact. Your point that the city needs to plant them is accurate. My point is the developers who put in the houses should have been required to put them in – in the first place. Neighborhoods with mature trees have and keep higher property values – fact. And I am certain I could build an argument for a sustainable economy that works in conjunction with a sustainable environment – maybe you have a point regarding the trees being to blame for the economic crisis. However, I am certain it’s not trees but the folks who control the fate of our trees also control the fate of our economy. See you are smarter than everyone else thought you were.

As for the trees in Myers Park being planted and allowed to mature – both correct. However, a benevolent citizen with the last name Duke bore most of the cost. Also, he did this after quite a few houses were in place.

That’s the difference in today’s community benefactors – they often overlook simple gestures like trees which are a gift for future generations. Most folks today want instant gratification. Why do you think the development community is doing a cost-benefit analysis? They want their return now. They might recognize higher property values in 20 years but they must have the return on investment now.

I go back to my previous entry – trees are unique that they are on private property but provide public good. That is the problem folks can sort out. It seems we have drawn a line and are either for property rights or you want to be a good citizen. I propose we can have both.

Mister!", he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
"I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,
And I'm asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs" –

The Lorax