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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

State supreme court ruling could mean big changes in older neighborhoods

N.C. Supreme Court
North Carolina Judicial Branch

A recent North Carolina Supreme Court ruling has some residents in older neighborhoods of Charlotte upset. The court in December ruled certain decades-old deed restrictions limiting building heights and excluding multifamily homes are no longer valid. The decision was the result of two lawsuits from Charlotte residents and one from residents in Asheville.

For more, WFAE's Marshall Terry speaks with Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: So, Tony, why did these residents sue in the first place? And what does this ruling mean for them and residents statewide?

Tony Mecia: Yeah, Marshall, these lawsuits came about because lawsuits between homeowners, that's how you enforce deed restrictions, deed restrictions are restrictions on the property that are put in place, typically, when a property is initially developed. In the case of Eastover, which is where one of these cases originated, those deed restrictions date to the 1920s, and they limited things like the amount of space, from the street where you could build your house, it prohibited multifamily dwellings.

The Eastover case originated on Cherokee Road, where one neighbor sued another after the neighbor had built a master bedroom addition onto his house that encroached within six feet of the property line, even though the deed restriction said it was supposed to be 20 feet. And so the court case basically came out and said that that restriction is no longer valid.

And so the significance statewide, in neighborhoods that have these older restrictions on development, is that maybe some of these restrictions now are no longer valid. And so that could open the door to bigger houses, multifamily dwellings in neighborhoods that had thought that those were not going to be coming to their neighborhood.

Terry: Well, what did the court say about the reasoning for its ruling? And is this the final say?

Mecia: The reasoning that the court gave was that there is a 1970s-era law that sought to sort of make it easier to buy real estate and to develop land. And so it's not always clear when you search the title of a property what some of these restrictions are, because they maybe are decades old and they aren't in the most recent deed to the property.

So the court interpreted the law as saying that some of these deed restrictions that relate to how you develop in older neighborhoods, that those restrictions are no longer valid. You know, there could be a push for the legislature maybe to put forth a law that would clear this up. Another possibility, and we've seen this from the Supreme Court lately, is, you know, the case could be reconsidered. You know, you had several new justices on the North Carolina Supreme Court that took office after last year's election.

The most obvious possibility, Marshall, is that there will be more lawsuits to clarify this.

Terry: So how does all this fit in with Charlotte's push to loosen single-family zoning restrictions and increase the amount of density in traditional suburban neighborhoods via the UDO, the Unified Development Ordinance?

Mecia: Yeah, that's an interesting point too, because as you know, the city of Charlotte passed the 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Ordinance, which overhauls all development rules for how property is developed in Charlotte.

A lot of these neighborhoods with these deed restrictions believe that they weren't really going to feel the full effects of the Unified Development Ordinance and its changes because of these deed restrictions, because the restrictions were more stringent than, say, what the city had.

Now, if those deed restrictions go away, that exposes these neighborhoods to city regulations, city zoning, in ways that they thought they might be immune from it.

Terry: Some residents of Charlotte's McCrorey Heights neighborhood are challenging plans by a resident there to demolish her home. And that resident happens to be Mayor Vi Lyles. What is going on there?

Mecia: Marshall, some residents in the McCrorey Heights neighborhood north of uptown are opposed to the demolition of a house there that is owned by Mayor Vi Lyles. McCrorey Heights is designated as a historic district. The mayor filed for a demolition permit just a few days before it was designated as a historic district, so that will be permitted to be demolished. The home was built in the 1950s. At the time that she bought it, the mayor supposedly told the previous owner that it was going to be her forever home.

So there were some questions, I think, in McCrorey Heights about whether this is a good move or not to demolish this house. The mayor says that she had examined the home and that because of its structure and because of its age, it was no longer in good enough shape and that she looks forward to living in the neighborhood in a rebuilt home in McCrorey Heights.

Terry: All right. Well, let's move over to development of another kind. Now, you report the newest section of the Cross Charlotte Trail is expected to be completed by the end of this spring. Remind us, what is the Cross Charlotte Trail and where is this newest section?

Mecia: Marshall, the Cross Charlotte Trail, as the name suggests, as a trail that goes across Charlotte and even beyond Charlotte into some neighboring communities. This latest section is in the Park Road Shopping Center area, going from close to Park Road Shopping Center down toward Tyvola Road. And when it is complete, you will be able to walk your dog or go jogging or bike from NoDa to Pineville or from Pineville to NoDa. So it's going to be sort of a key connector piece. It's supposed to be finished in April, but the city told us it might actually be delayed a few months because of some construction issues that they're having. But certainly, the city and county are building out the greenway network, and this will be sort of a linchpin addition to that.

Terry: Finally, Charlotte's airport has fallen several places in passenger ranking after it was ranked sixth busiest in the world in 2021. So where does it rank now and why has it fallen?

Mecia: Well, Marshall, the ranking for 2022 isn't entirely known yet, but airports around the world have been releasing their passenger numbers. Charlotte, as you mentioned, hit number six for passenger traffic in 2021, which was amazing.

If you think about the size of Charlotte compared to the world's airports, the reason was that a lot of those other airports throughout the world had not recovered from COVID as quickly as Charlotte did. So now that other places in the world are recovering from that and air travel is returning, Charlotte is dropping back down to where it was pre-COVID.

So it looks as though Charlotte is going to be 19th or lower ranked by passenger traffic.

Terry: All right, Tony, thank you.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

Support for WFAE's BizWorthy comes from UNC Charlotte's Belk College of Business, Sharon View Federal Credit Union and our listeners.


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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.