Debate Grows Over Charlotte’s 2040 Plan
Opposition is building to Charlotte's 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The city last fall released a draft of the plan, which is designed to guide the city's growth over the next two decades. On "Morning Edition" on Wednesday, WFAE's Steve Harrison looked at one part of the plan, in particular, that's sparking contention — the elimination of single-family-only residential zoning.
The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter has also been covering this story. And we turn to the Ledger's Tony Mecia.
Marshall Terry: Tony, is this single-family zoning issue the only aspect of the plan that's garnering opposition?
Tony Mecia: Marshall, I wouldn't say it's the only aspect, but it's certainly the most prominent one. There have been a bunch of concerns raised this week, really for the first time, just about this issue of the higher-density housing in residential neighborhoods. You had the president of the Myers Park Homeowners Association come out this week, sent an email to Myers Park saying, "Hey, you need to get ahold of your City Council member and tell them to vote 'no' on this." Largely because of this concern about the higher-density residential in single-family neighborhoods.
But there are also some concerns, Marshall, just about the process and whether enough people have been included in this process and whether city planning staff are actually listening to the comments that they've received. A bunch of this was discussed at the City Council meeting this week.
You know, the city has done a bunch of work to try to get people involved in this. It's just I think the problem is that if you say, "Hey, Marshall! We're having this meeting about the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. You should come!" You might say, "Well, I don't know. I kind of have a few other things I'm doing." I mean, it doesn't really sound very interesting, I think, to a lot of people. But now that the deadline is looming, a lot of people are paying closer attention and some of them are not liking some of the details that are in this plan.
Terry: And, Tony, you did a good job this week in the Ledger of highlighting how each member of council feels about the plan. What are some of them saying?
Mecia: Yeah, there were some very pointed comments at the City Council meeting on Monday night, really from both Republicans and Democrats who had concerns about specific things in the plan, as well as the process. You had Republican Tariq Bokhari said, hey, we need to "pump the brakes" on this a little bit. Slow down, make sure we get it right. Otherwise, he said, there would be a "pushback of significant proportions" that he foresees coming.
On the other hand, you had some Democrats like Victoria Watlington, who said that she was concerned that if you just allow higher-density housing in single-family neighborhoods — duplexes and triplexes — a lot of those are going to, she said, be rentals. She said it would, "drive out opportunity for home ownership."
So there are a bunch of concerns. And so it sounds like the City Council, that the next move is they're going to try to work through some of these a little bit and see if they can try to resolve some of these issues.
Terry: President Biden this week announced a COVID-19 vaccine will be available to everyone who wants one by the end of May. And that has many businesses thinking about how to bring employees back to the office. The Ledger looked at some of the recommendations about how businesses should do that, which were made recently by the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. What did he have to say?
Mecia: It's pretty interesting. Tom Barkin, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond — which includes Charlotte in its district — he has a number of recommendations, things that a company should be thinking about as offices start to slowly reopen. You know, it's not just a matter of Marshall of, "Oh, we're back open. We're welcoming workers back in.”
There's some things that he said offices should be really thinking about. Who needs to come back? How often do they need to come back? How do you on-board people as you hire people? You know, you have to be very intentional about making sure that you're keeping up your company's culture. So there are really a whole bunch of different things that managers need to be considering as we're going to start heading back into this hybrid workforce of partially at home, partially at work.
Terry: Let's move on to some Gastonia news now. The city went national this week when it was name-dropped in a skit on "Saturday Night Live." During the Weekend Update segment, Kenan Thompson played LaVar Ball, who was bragging about his son and Hornets star, LaMelo Ball. In the sketch, he refers to Charlotte as the “gateway to Gastonia.”
It's not every day Charlotte or Gastonia gets mentioned on SNL, Tony. You reached out to Gastonia Mayor Walker Reid. What was his reaction?
Mecia: I've known Mayor Reid of Gastonia for a couple of decades, Marshall, and we had a good laugh about it. He said he thought it was hilarious. I asked him, well, do you consider Charlotte to be the gateway to Gastonia? And he told me that he doesn't consider it to be a gateway to Gastonia because Charlotte's much bigger — but he said he understands why some people might.
He ticked off a list of things that Gastonia has accomplished: They have a new minor league baseball team, the Gastonia Honey Hunters. They're developing apartment lofts and a brewery downtown. And there's actually an actual gateway to Gastonia. It's a project called Gateway 85, which is more than 3 million square feet of industrial and warehousing space that Gastonia is working with, with the town of Lowell. And so that is going to make Gastonia a big player in the industrial market, which is pretty hot right now.
So, a lot going on in Gastonia. And Mayor Reid said he's happy for the attention.
Terry: All right, Tony, thank you.
Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.