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Officials Hope Eastland Project Will Draw Neighborhood Businesses

The Charlotte City Council will hold a virtual public hearing Monday on the proposed rezoning of the former Eastland Mall site on the east side of the city. Officials said Wednesday they hope nearby businesses will want to move there. 

Credit City of Charlotte
The rezoning request calls for three new zones. One MX-2 for residential, and two Mixed-Use Development District (MUDD).

The city of Charlotte and developer Crosland Southeast both own parts of the vacant 78-acre site off Central Avenue. The rezoning would allow a mix of housing, offices, shops and a headquarters and training complex for the city's new Major League Soccer team.  

The plan divides the site into three zones -- one residential and two commercial. Single-family houses and townhomes would be on the north side. The sports complex would be on the east. Offices, apartments, restaurants and shops would go along Central Avenue. 

"We would love to see some of these businesses be businesses that are already on the east side," said assistant city manager Tracy Dodson during a virtual Q&A session Wednesday. "We've heard that loud and clear from the residents. But (there are) also new opportunities for businesses to come in."

Charlotte's east side is home to an eclectic mix of ethnic restaurants, groceries and other shops and small businesses.  Dodson said the goal is a project that helps revitalize the east side.

Eastland Mall was North Carolina's largest mall when it opened in 1975. By the 2000s, sales were declining as competition increased. It closed in 2010, and the city bought it in 2012 for $13.2 million. The city tore the mall down in 2013 and has tried several times to line up a developer. 

Questions Answered, and Unanswered

At Wednesday's session, some key questions went unanswered. Those include specific commitments by the city and developer, how a promised $110 million in tourism tax dollars for the MLS team might be spent, and whether affordable housing might be included. Dodson said those are part of agreements to be signed later.

"The zoning portion that we are in right now is specifically about the land use," Dodson said. "There's a development agreement that we will begin to work with Crosland once we get through this land-use portion of it. And that will address things like public investment into the site, or things like affordable housing or open space commitments, such as a park." 

Dodson and Crosland representatives did say they're studying how to ease traffic through and around the site. Because it was once a mall, it already has many connections to neighborhood streets. At least one more would be open, as required by city rules: a current stub-out into the site from Stilwell Oaks Drive.   

What Happens to the Market and Skate Park? 

Someone asked if current users of the site -- an open-air market, a skate park, and a Charlotte Area Transit bus station -- might find homes at the redeveloped site. 

Dodson said the city is working with CATS, and that "we have no intention of the transit center going away from this area." 

The open-air market likely will be shut down.

"Once there's construction on the site, it won't be safe to operate," Dodson said. The market's permit was scheduled to expire in April, but it has been extended through the summer, she said. 

Likewise, the skate park will be removed as part of the site work and demolition. But Tim Sittema of Crosland Southeast said he's open to discussing options.

"No promises here, but I'd love to talk with the folks who are involved and find out what their requirements are," he said. 

Another person asked if the city and developer might halt their work because of the coronavirus outbreak, and until they know more about affordable housing there. Dodson reiterated that any discussion of affordable housing would come in the next part of the process, the development agreement. And she said the project is moving forward despite the virus -- including holding virtual meetings that meet legal requirements. 

"The pandemic is at the forefront of our business every day," Dodson said. "But there are some projects, such as inching Eastland forward, that we want to stay committed to, and we've heard from council members and others that they want to continue to see move forward." 

The City Council public hearing is Monday, in a virtual format. The council could vote on the rezoning as soon as June 15. 

More information about Eastland

See more about the rezoning, including replays of public meetings and zoning documents, at CharlotteNC.gov

The development website is at EnvisionEastland.com

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.