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Council OKs Rezoning For Massive Development West Of Airport

The proposed River District development is on about 1,400 acres between I-485 and the Catawba River.
The proposed River District development is on about 1,400 acres between I-485 and the Catawba River.

A big development west of Charlotte Douglas airport won unanimous approval from the Charlotte City Council Monday night. The proposed River District project will have offices, shops, restaurants, and housing for a mix of incomes. It’s expected to transform the area over the next few decades.

The project has been in the works since 2014, though it wasn't announced publicly until this past March.

It includes nearly 1,400 acres (1,378 to be exact) between I-485 and the Catawba River.

It's the city's biggest project since the 1990s, when development began at Ballantyne in south Charlotte.

The city will spend about 45 million dollars in the coming years to build and upgrade roads. That will help recruiting, says the Charlotte Chamber's Natalie English.


“What's exciting about the River District is that like Ballantyne, like University City, like Southpark and the Center City, that we're investing in some infrastructure that will then improve our ability to land future economic development opportunities that will bring new jobs,” English said.


Right now, it's mostly rural land, outside the city limits. Developers Crescent Communities and Lincoln Harris have been acquiring rights to the land for years, in hopes of pulling off a major project.


Council member Claire Fallon says it should help the city grow without suburban sprawl.

“This will be self-contained with jobs, mixed income, restaurants. It is the wave of the future for cities. I'm glad to see it, I'm happy to approve it,” she said before Monday’s council vote.

The project hasn’t had many opponents. Roger Diedrich of the Central Piedmont Sierra Club was the only one to speak against it at a city council public hearing last month.  

“To allow creation of a new large activity center outside the planned growth area is promoting sprawl at a time when people, especially young professionals are seeking lifestyles in close-in urban locations,” Diedrich said.

Diedrich says the project would harm the environment and add traffic that will bring a clamor for road improvements.  

Besides traffic, other concerns have been raised about the need for schools, parks and other public services.

The developers promise to set aside land for two schools sites for 10 years. It’ll be up to CMS to raise the money.  Officials also are looking for one or two fire station sites to serve the area as it grows.

About 550 acres – or about 40 percent of the land - would be reserved for greenways, parks and open space. That will include Charlotte’s first public access on the Catawba riverfront. 

The River District is smaller than Ballantyne in area, but would have double the office space - about 8 million square feet.  The rezoning also allows up to 500,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, and several hotels.  

And there's lots of housing - a total of 4,700 apartments and single-family homes. About a third of those would be single-family detached homes. Unlike Ballantyne, some of those units will be lower-cost workforce housing. That's a priority of the City Council right and was part of the deal to approve the rezoning.

Here’s council member Lawanna Mayfield: "So if you work in the potential development of jobs that will be created in that area, whether you're an upper management executive or employees, you will have an opportunity to hopefully not only live, but progress … first home, graduate or apartment.”

Eight-five rental units in the first phase and 8 percent of future housing units would be reserved for households earning less than 80 percent of the area median household income ($56,472).  

Brian Leary of developer Crescent Communities talked about the affordable housing commitment on WFAE's Charlotte Talks earlier this month:

“Our goal, on day one, unlike maybe some other master planned developments in the past, is that it's actually mixed-income. So that a Millennial getting their first job, or a Boomer retiring and everyone in between, or folks maybe working at the airport, not necessarily flying the plane, but maybe even loading baggage, could find a home there,” Leary said.

Don't expect a rapid transformation. The developers say the River District will take 20 to 30 years to build.




See details of the project in the Charlotte planning staff analysis, at Charmeck.org 

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.