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Charlotte Area News

Charlotte Observer: Pittenger Defends Land Deals; 'My Name Is Clear'

Former N.C. Sen. Robert Pittenger Monday defended himself from criticisms that he used political influence to benefit from land deals in Union and Gaston counties, including along the proposed Garden Parkway. Critics have accused the Charlotte Republican, who served from 2003-2008, of using his influence in making potentially lucrative deals. He's now one of 10 Republicans running in the 9th Congressional District "People are making criticisms that are unfounded, and I just wanted to get the facts out to say my name is clear," he said. Pittenger is a real estate investor who acquires properties, often in partnerships. In Gaston County, he has invested in land along the proposed parkway, a 22-mile toll road between western Mecklenburg and western Gaston counties. Pittenger has a reported stake in about 2,000 acres near four proposed exits. County records show three partnerships alone own 1,017 acres valued at $13.4 million. Pittenger said he owns a "very small percentage" in them. He cited a 2008 news article reporting that he recused himself from two Senate votes related to the parkway. In 2006 he did vote on a bill authorizing the N.C. Turnpike Authority to build it. McHenry named Pittenger said he was responding to letters and comments in the Observer suggesting he had a conflict of interest. Meanwhile, a Republican running in the 10th Congressional District also cited the parkway in firing at Pittenger and his own primary rival, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry of Cherryville. In a news release, Ken Fortenberry called Pittenger "a business partner and major political supporter" of McHenry who stands to benefit financially from the "Toll Road to Nowhere." Before he was elected to Congress, McHenry invested with Pittenger in Cabarrus County. According to McHenry's financial disclosure, his stake of the real estate investment is valued at between $15,000 and $50,000. "There is an astounding number of people who are well-connected (who bought) property along the Garden Parkway route before it was common knowledge that it was going to be fast-tracked, and former Sen. Pittenger is among those," said parkway critic Bill Toole, a Democrat on the Belmont City Council. Pittenger said he and his investors "buy land in the path of growth" throughout the Charlotte region. "Where we bought land was where growth was going to happen anyway," he said. "We didn't know where the (parkway) was going to be. People want to add two and two and get eight." Union property Also Monday, Pittenger released nearly decade-old letters from Waxhaw officials designed to ward off current criticism of a land deal there. According to news reports, he helped push a bill in 2003 that allowed the town of Waxhaw to annex 557 acres. That allowed developers - who bought the land from Pittenger's company - to build at least twice as many homes as they would otherwise have been allowed to. At the time, then-Mayor Jack Hemby told The Observer he knew nothing about the bill. A day later, he issued a news release saying the town, not Pittenger, had requested the bill. "I still believe what Pittenger did was wrong," said Mineral Springs Mayor Rick Becker, who criticized the annexation in 2003 and has recently in online comments. "The whole thing stinks to high heaven." Pittenger released an email from a Waxhaw town commissioner to state legislators requesting the annexation bill. He also released a 2003 letter from former Mayor Hemby acknowledging Pittenger's donation to the town of 30 acres for a school or park site. "We are grateful for Mr. Pittenger's commitment to our community," he wrote.