Two major development projects in Charlotte are moving forward. City Council this week approved a rezoning of the old Eastland Mall site. It will be turned into a mixed-use development with shops, restaurants, homes and the headquarters for Charlotte’s new MLS team. Council also approved Atrium Health’s plan to massively expand its Dilworth campus to add a hospital tower, apartments and a medical school.
Tony Mecia with the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter joins us with more on this and other development news for BizWorthy.
Marshall Terry: Tony, there was some opposition from neighbors to both of these projects. Why so?
Tony Mecia: Yeah. Well, it's a couple of different things, really. Marshall. One, the Eastland Mall project. You know, this is something that's been envisioned for a few months that David Tepper and his group, you know, they want to put the headquarters of a Major League Soccer team there, training field, some other development, and the east side has really been wanting that area to be developed for a long time. There was some opposition in that there is some concern among some people that if you start developing that the rents are going to increase and that's going to price people out of the area, so sort of a gentrification question, really, there.
In the case of Atrium Health and Dilworth, it's a little bit different. You had some neighbors who live on a couple streets off of East Boulevard that say that over time the hospital has just been expanding and has been eating up a bunch of the residential lots in some of those neighborhoods and sort of pushing out what has been a residential neighborhood and sort of using it for hospital purposes. And so they weren't very fond of that, so there were really concerns about the expansion of the hospital, what that's going to look like: How tall are the buildings? What are the setbacks? Are there cut-through streets and are some of these residences, some of these homes, are they sort of being pushed out?
Terry: Now, the Atrium expansion includes about 70 acres. Does that property that the hospital is taking over convert to nontaxable property because the hospital is a nonprofit?
Mecia: Well, it's true that nonprofits don't usually pay taxes. I mean, this is land that had been purchased. A lot of it is land that had already been purchased. So, this rezoning doesn't really affect the tax status, but that is one of the arguments that the neighbors are making, is that basically you're taking a bunch of property off of the tax rolls. The residents are paying property taxes, but as a nonprofit, you know, the hospital, as it grows is going to be taking those off the tax rolls. So that's been one of the arguments from the neighbors, yes.
Terry: Let's stick with development news for a moment. You report there's a new apartment complex being planned just northwest of uptown in the Seversville neighborhood that does not include parking. Really? No parking?
Mecia: Right. Completely different. It'll be something pretty much entirely new for Charlotte. Grubb Properties has proposed developing an apartment complex with 104 units. It's a site across from Blue Blaze Brewing. It's an area that's seen a lot of development, and basically what Grubb is saying is they would like to develop this and make it into a very bike-friendly development. It's right by a greenway there, and so they say, "Well, it would appeal to people who really are into biking and into not having cars," which is something that is a little bit foreign to Charlotte.
Some of the neighbors are opposed because they worry that some of the residents would have cars. You know, the residents who are there would be required to sign a lease that says they do not own a car. But some of the residents nearby say, "Well, some people are going to get around that or start parking on the street" and it's going to be a problem. There was a public hearing on it this week, Marshall, on Monday, and a number of City Council members seemed to be very open to the idea. They liked the innovative approach, that it was something new for Charlotte that Charlotte should encourage, but they did have some questions about how exactly the parking might be enforced in that neighborhood.
Terry: Eliminating parking must make it cheaper for a developer, right?
Mecia: Yeah, that's what Grub's says, is that this is an innovative new way to approach development and to build affordable housing. This development would have an affordable housing component to it, and part of the reason the developer says that it would be able to do that is because it wouldn't have to build any parking, which can be very expensive, particularly in urban areas. In this case, Grubb says, basically, you could pass along those savings worth about $250 a month off of the rent.
Grubb says that if you don't have to build parking, that makes it a lot more affordable, and that's something that could be a solution to some of the affordability problems that our city has been facing.
Terry: So, is this a new trend, something that we're going to see more of?
Mecia: Well, I think some people are hoping so. You see these sorts of developments in other parts of the country — Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. There have been some other big cities. There have been things similar to this. Grubb has done something similar to this, but they've never said they are providing zero parking.
They have a development in Chapel Hill that doesn't have that many parking places for residents, and some of the other developments of theirs in town have been really scaling down the amount of parking. In urban areas, you might see some things like this where you don't have that parking that's set aside. That is a trend, I think, and I think we're going to see more of that.
Terry: Finally, Tony, you report some companies are starting to worry about having enough staff for the rest of the year. That's because many employees have stockpiled vacation days due to the coronavirus. So, what are companies doing?
Mecia: It's really kind of interesting, Marshall that, you know, over the last few months with a lot of people working from home and a lot of travel shut down and the economy shut down, people haven't been traveling. They haven't been taking those days off, and so a lot of human resources operations within these companies are looking at that, and they've seen that at the end of the year, there could be sort of a crunch for workers if everybody wants to take days off at the same time.
So, what they're doing, they're doing some things that are a little bit innovative. They're saying, "OK, you can maybe roll those days into next year" or in some cases, they're encouraging or forcing employees to take those days now so that they don't just pile up and it creates a little bit of a glut toward the end of the year.