Developer adjusts project to appease concerns of residents
by Mike Parks
Developers are trying to come to terms with Providence Pointe residents who are angry over an apartment complex planned for Lancaster Highway south of Ballantyne. But those neighbors said Monday night that developer GCI Residential just isn’t going far enough in addressing their concerns of school overcrowding and traffic congestion.
GCI, which manages around 9,000 apartment units in a handful of states, wants to build a 248-unit apartment complex – called Lancaster Road Apartments in documents submitted to the city – on a parcel of vacant land just more than 16 acres. The project would be on the west side of Lancaster Highway, south of Springwell Street and north of the intersection with Johnston Road.
The project would abut the Providence Pointe neighborhood and come within, at points, 90 feet of homes. And though developers have dropped the height of buildings that are closest to homes, residents say that’s not enough.
“With the topography of this particular site, even though they changed one building that sits directly behind where I live to a two-story building, in effect it’s a three-story building because of the topography at that particular site,” one resident said.
Two residents spoke at Monday night’s Charlotte City Council meeting, while a group sat in the audience with “No Overcrowding” and “No More Apartments” signs for council to see. The two who spoke say they both live in the portion of Providence Pointe that will come closest to the apartment complex, but said they’re more worried about what the complex could do to area roads and schools than what it would do to their view.
According to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ figures, based off the original plan for 252 units at the complex, the project would add 56 students to area schools. Ballantyne Elementary would take on 25 of those kids, and the two residents say that’s too much for an already overcrowded school.
“Currently the school system is over utilized in the area and Ballantyne Elementary this last school year was at 103 percent utilization and is projected to be more with these additional units,” said a resident. “CMS has expressed a concern about rezoning where capacity exceeds 100 percent and CMS has said the proposed development will exacerbate the situation.”
Meanwhile, the residents feel the estimate of 56 students is way too low, and say something closer to 95 students is more likely. But GCI’s Eric Bell said the unit’s key demographic isn’t really the type of person likely to have a young student.
“Our experience … is, while we welcome families and prepare for families, we tend to have a big proportion of seniors in our communities and also a large number of young professionals before they’ve even started families or at the beginning before they have an impact on schools,” Bell said. “Generally, when families move into our apartment communities, they’re moving in until they find their single-family home and their kids are going to be in the district whether they’re in our apartments or the home that they ultimately move into.”
Residents also say the complex will burden an already troubled stretch of Lancaster Highway, making access to their neighborhood even more difficult than it already is. Add to that traffic from the Riviera subdivision, which is under construction, and the growth of the shopping center around the new Goodwill, and the two residents said this is a formula for problems.
“Anytime after 7:30 (a.m.) in the morning that entrance is very difficult to take a left-hand turn onto Lancaster just because of traffic coming both ways,” a resident said. “… We’re aware that this property is eventually going to be developed. We don’t have a problem with that. However we’re going to strongly urge you to keep the zoning remaining as it is … which will limit the number of housing units that will be constructed in this area.”
If the land was built out according to the current zoning, city staff says the project would generate 630 vehicle trips per day. If zoning is changed and an apartment complex built, that number would jump to 1,700 trips per day, according to estimates.
Mike Davis, with the Charlotte Department of Transportation, said Monday night that he’s unaware of any planned improvements for Lancaster Highway in the area. Davis did add that his department would take a look at possibly lowering the speed limit from 55 mph on the busy two-lane stretch.
Traffic inside the complex is a different matter. Developers have to extend Landing Place Lane from the Providence Pointe neighborhood, through the complex, to Lancaster Highway. To help ensure neighborhood residents don’t start using the road as a cut-through and add traffic to the complex, GCI and the city’s transportation group have agreed to funnel the two-lane Landing Place Lane down to one lane at one point, so drivers have to stop to let each other through, and potentially stop people from using the road as a cut-through lane.
For its part, the developer says GCI has gone out of its way to appease residents. Bell said his company has reduced the planned amount of apartment units down to 248 to address density concerns, lowered the height of buildings near Providence Pointe homes, added a higher class of landscaped buffer than what the city requires and will offer the parking and amenities complex residents need so they don’t seek those two things in Providence Pointe. The developer also will provide 2.3 acres of land from the project for Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation to connect a greenway.
Bell says his company’s ready to spend $25 million on the project, which could result in around $3.5 million in tax revenue over 10 years for the city. And, since the company manages every one of the apartment complexes it owns, Bell says GCI will be around for a while instead of just building this complex and then selling it off to someone who might not keep the same standards of maintaining the property.
“We spend the money up front, we make sure of the quality of construction materials and design, we think about all the things that are going to impact the apartment community over a long period of time, and that’s exactly how we’re going to apply ourselves in this community,” Bell said.
Currently, the land is zoned for 58 luxury town homes that would be at the most 40 feet high and have two-car garages. But that plan when up in smoke when the economy soured, and GCI moved in and bought up the property. The developer wanted to buy a section of land further from Providence Pointe that was already zoned for an apartment complex, but the owner of the land said he didn’t want it developed, especially as an apartment complex, according to Bell.
The city’s planning staff has recommended city council approve the rezoning. Council had few questions for the developer Monday night, and could vote on the project in July.