A controversial low-income apartment complex was approved this week for Weddington Road in a Charlotte City Council conversation that had the area’s representative defending the reputation of some south Charlotte residents.
The project, at 70 units, was approved Tuesday, Jan. 21, by a 9-2 vote and will be built across the street from Socrates Academy, near Providence Plantation. The effort to create more affordable housing options for low-income workers in south Charlotte became a point of contention for some area residents who worry the project will add to traffic congestion on Weddington Road, make their neighborhoods less safe and lower their property values. That talk, at least for one council member, made south Charlotte critics of the plan seem unsympathetic to the plight of those in need.
“I really do not understand why it’s all right for someone to teach your child, to stop a bullet for you, to pull you out of a burning building, but not to be able to live near you,” Councilwoman Claire Fallon said, lecturing opponents of the project who were gathered at the council meeting about the need for housing for people such as entry-level police officers, firefighters and teachers that could live at the complex.
“Why? These are the people that service you,” Fallon continued to the objection of the crowd. “If maybe we paid them differently, they wouldn’t need help. But they do need help, and it is the obligation of the whole city to help these people.”
Councilman Ed Driggs, the new District 7 representative who covers Ballantyne in addition to the area where the project will be built, was quick to defend critics of the project against Fallon’s comments, saying south Charlotte residents opposed to this aren’t “mean-spirited” toward people in need, they just have real concerns council needed to address.
The council needs to “resist the characterization of the people who are petitioning this … as people who have no sympathy for public safety workers,” Driggs said. “People have concerns about their neighborhoods, they have concerns about the safety on this street – which is very crowded … they have concerns I think that are very valid.
“I’d like to emphasize we’re not talking about Ballantyne here; we’re not talking about people who are worried about whether their lawn care company is going to arrive on time. I hope we can get away from characterization like that about the people who are party to this discussion and just focus on the legitimate interests that area residents have and how this will affect
Those issues are mainly focused on traffic, safety and if the project fits the look and feel of the area, which is heavy single-family residential with the school nearby. Neighbors argue the location is the antithesis of what the housing partnership needs in a spot, as there is no public transportation nearby, no sidewalks at the project and area shopping centers are not within easy walking distance. Meanwhile, there are concerns the project will add to the already poor traffic situation on Weddington Road, though traffic estimates are much less than what would happen if the site was built for the day care it was previously approved for.
But Driggs said “the fact that it’s less bad in terms of traffic doesn’t necessarily make it good,” and that “my own personal conclusion is the site is acceptable for the purposes of the Charlotte-Housing Partnership (to create affordable housing in south Charlotte), but in no way exceptional. I think in view of the opposition that we have here and that we’ve seen throughout the process, it really ought to be
Kenny Smith, the SouthPark-area representative who with Driggs make up the only two Republicans on council, said the issue comes down to land use.
“This is a poor site for the proposed use due to the poor infrastructure that will put undue demands on the community,” Smith said. “Storm water runoff, traffic congestion, lack of public transportation, limited walkability and overflow parking are all legitimate neighborhood concerns we ought to take into consideration.”
Smith’s concerns may be a common theme council members have to deal with as more south Charlotte development is proposed. There isn’t much land left in the area that isn’t already surrounded by something, and other proposed apartment complexes have already drawn the scorn of many area residents.
“I can’t think of any part of south Charlotte that does not have infrastructure challenges,” Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes said. “There will never be a perfect situation for developments like this. … There are going to continue to be petitions to develop land in south Charlotte, and there are no perfect sites left for almost anything.”