Last Monday, community leaders and the City Council got together to discuss a proposed tower, that if approved, will perch nearly 300 feet above the lush canopies of Cherry, Elizabeth and Myers Park. The proximity of the 20-story building, planned by NAI Southern, to these historic neighborhoods naturally has gotten the attention of the usual NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yards) that try to kill, stall, or downsize development.
The proposal, on one of the only pieces of land in this area that is not controlled by Novant Health, is an integral part of the future of the Midtown neighborhood. The developer worked with the planning department for more than a year ironing out the details, working to ensure that their plan adhered to the guidelines of the city. The building would be built at on a 3.4-acre site that sits between Third and Fourth streets, at the intersection with Baldwin Avenue.
“There’s this funny space between Third and Fourth streets,” said land use attorney Collin Brown, who represents the developers, to the Observer.
He said the area isn’t really Cherry or Elizabeth, putting it in a “no-man’s land” where more height and density is appropriate.
This stretch of 3rd is all commercial, links Myers Park and South Charlotte to Uptown, and is a prime example of the city’s desire to develop high-density, mixed-use corridors.
For one thing, the parcel at 3rd and Baldwin is just steps from the Lynx Gold Line, an asset that tens of millions of dollars was spent building. It was constructed with the idea that It would help spur development, as well as connect vital parts of the city with fixed rail transit. Thanks to the hospital’s inability to think short term on development projects, its progress catalyzing the surrounding area has been severely hampered.
One neighbor opposed to the plan, telling the Observer the streetcar is too slow to be a reliable method of transportation. The person added that the city shouldn’t rely on it to draw development like the Blue Line.
This is based on views of a starter streetcar line using inefficient replica heritage trolleys that runs through a corridor owned by a single entity that hasn’t developed a single piece of land on Elizabeth in over a decade.
This project has the opportunity to set the tone for the Midtown area. It’s attractive, thoughtfully designed and goes above and beyond to provide mixed-uses. The proposal would add office, retail, and a future hotel to an otherwise underutilized piece of land currently home to a clinic and a strip mall. The pedestrian scale is nice, it’s massed well and doesn’t feel intrusive at all. It also sits on a well-connected grid of high capacity streets that can accommodate extra cars better than most streets in Charlotte.
The proposal not only exemplifies what the city is looking for in its well-connected corridors, but it surely adheres to the guidelines that the planning department has set in place for this place type. The new TOD-A guidelines apply to anything within a quarter mile of a transit stop (too close of a distance in my opinion), and this isn’t that far off from that. The developer is also working with Novant Health to find a solution that makes access from the site to the Gold Line more seamless.
It’s important to note that nobody shows up to rezoning meetings if they are content with a proposal. The developer saw plenty of nods and content faces when it was working with the community on this project, but those people didn’t show up for the rezoning meeting. It’s kind of like writing a lengthy Yelp review; you only do it if you are a professional “Yelper” or if you left a restaurant truly unsatisfied. A handful came out, very loudly, to protest this rezoning. They came out for various reasons some of which really had little relevance, for instance questioning why the building has no affordable housing.
The vast majority of residents are sitting at home, content with this project, not raising a fuss, not knowing that there’s a fuss to be made. I’ve talked to numerous residents so far who disagree with the naysayers.
As eight-year Cherry resident Nicholas Felton put it, “I think most of us residents in the neighborhood are okay with the new building. However the naysayers, while small in number, are quite vocal… Voting down this building would be insane. The site is by a trolley line, a bus line, and a major hospital. If you can’t build a 20-story building here, then where the heck can you?”
Diane Powell, who spoke against the proposal, floated the idea of capping the height of this district at 10 floors, which could be currently built “by-right.” I think this would be a big mistake. There’s a big difference in what gets built at 20 floors, versus what gets built at 10, in terms of quality. If you cap the district at 10 floors, you will end up with a dozen stick-built apartment buildings, mimicking the South Boulevard corridor people lament so much.
If you don’t cap it, you can end up with quality buildings like this one, that some thought and care has been put into.
In a presentation to the planning department, the developer showed what the impact would be like for an example of a 10-floor building and a 20-floor building.
Caldwell Rose of NAI Southern suggests that the 10- floor option would create more traffic problems than the taller version.
“The 11-story building design (472,000 square feet) would be attractive to users with a much higher concentration of employees,” he said, “which could potentially quadruple the actual number of employees and the traffic count, versus the 20-story building (512,000 square feet).”
In essence, by shortening the building to 10 floors, you must double the total floor space per floor. This type of expansive floor plan is more appropriate for higher density companies that utilize cube farms, for instance tech or design firms, and provide about 165 square feet of space per employee.
NAI would be looking to attract the “corner office” type companies, who provide closer to 700 square feet per employee. Think law or accounting firms.
I implore the residents who are sitting idly by, who support this project, and the future of the Midtown area to speak up. Please share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #MidtownRising, and by emailing your council representative below.
With all that said, I do agree with plenty of the sentiments that Kris Solom, one of people who showed up to protest this proposal, outlines in her recent Op-Ed in the Observer. There are so many items the city is falling short on, as it struggles with its inability to keep pace with growth. But she can’t stop the tide of “piranhas” (newcomers) that still need places to work, places to shop. Adding another hotel certainly will not hurt the city’s quest to attract big name events. Times are changing, we shouldn’t be trying to stop, just making responsible decisions that help guide it.
Featured photo: Courtesy NAI Southern Real Estate