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Builders shed few tears about planning director's departure
Plus: Unpacking Mecklenburg's latest Covid numbers; Big real estate deals in waning days of 2021; $300K raised for fallen CMPD officer; Ledger readers confess to online liquor orders
Good morning! Today is Monday, December 27, 2021. You’re reading The Charlotte Ledger, an e-newsletter with local business-y news and insights for Charlotte. Because of the holidays, this is the last scheduled newsletter of the year. We’ll be back in full force next Monday.
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Today’s Charlotte Ledger is sponsored by Carroll Financial. Carroll Financial recently joined forces with Wealth Enhancement Group to offer even more financial planning and investment services to the Carolinas.
As Charlotte rewrites development code, opinions are divided on Taiwo Jaiyeoba’s exit to Greensboro; More sway for developers?
by Tony Mecia
The city of Charlotte is going to undertake next year’s most ambitious policy initiative — rewriting its development rules — without the leadership of Taiwo Jaiyeoba, the city’s planning director.
That has some of Jaiyeoba’s supporters worried. And it has some of his critics, including those in the building and development industries, encouraged.
Jaiyeoba, who is also a Charlotte assistant city manager, was hired last week by the city of Greensboro to be its city manager. For the last few years, he has been the force behind Charlotte’s effort to overhaul its growth plans and development ordinance — which has made him probably the city government’s most controversial staff member.
Urban planners and some neighborhood advocates view Jaiyeoba as a strong leader who worked to shift the balance of power away from developers and toward more robust city regulations. But others, especially some in the real estate and building industries, found him to be arrogant and difficult to work with. One City Council member, Republican Tariq Bokhari, said in July that Jaiyeoba should be fired after sharing misleading results of a transit poll. (Bokhari also famously told Axios Charlotte “f— that guy,” referring to Jaiyeoba.)
Jaiyeoba succeeded in winning narrow City Council approval for the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. But now some are wondering what will happen to the next phase of the city’s planning process — the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), which puts the changes into law and is scheduled for a vote this summer. The city has released the first of several drafts and is soliciting feedback.
Without Jaiyeoba leading that process, “there’s not the force of his personality to convince doubters or to rebut arguments from the development community,” says David Walters, an urban designer, architect and professor emeritus at UNC Charlotte.
Asked about prospects for the UDO, Walters said: “I’m nervous. I think now the development community will descend like crows pecking at scraps. They’ll pick at this thread and that thread, and if we’re not careful, the whole thing will unravel, which many people in the development community would love, and in which good-ol’-boy connections and deal-making rule the day.”
Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit that pushes for sustainable and equitable development, said he “worries that Jaiyeoba’s departure will be a setback” to efforts on the UDO, Axios Charlotte reported last week.
Complex issue: The issue of how to plan for the city’s growth is more complicated than merely developers vs. planners. Developers support many of the plan’s provisions and could benefit from a more predictable development code. But some of them worry that more regulations designed to make the city more livable would drive up costs and result in unintended consequences, such as further raising the price of housing and making some projects impossible to develop. Some felt that Jaiyeoba has ignored their concerns.
The city has named Alyson Craig, a Jaiyeoba deputy who has been leading the UDO process, as interim planning director. She joined the city in 2018 after serving as director of a real estate program at UNC Charlotte and several stints with real estate companies, including Grubb Properties, according to her LinkedIn profile. She generally gets high marks from planners and developers for her thorough work and fair-mindedness.
Alan Banks, chairman of the Real Estate & Building Industry Coalition (REBIC), said that in the 2040 Plan process, he and colleagues would give feedback to the city on proposals and would receive what he called a “canned response.” But he said he has found Craig to be responsive and helpful in work on the UDO.
“Now that Alyson Craig has been designated as the interim city planner, we are very confident that we can continue to have fruitful conversations and hammer out something that probably works better for everybody,” he said. In an email update to people in the real estate industry last week, Banks said REBIC remains “fully committed” to seeing the planning changes through. Of Jaiyeoba, Banks wrote: “We wish him well in his new role.”
Bokhari, who has been Jaiyeoba’s fiercest public critic, said he, too, wishes Jaiyeoba the best, and that the two have moved past their disagreements — though he still objects to how the 2040 Plan was handled.
“When things got heated, it was ‘my way or the highway,’” Bokhari told The Ledger last week. “There was no negotiation.” And he heaped praise on Craig, Jaiyeoba’s replacement: “I think we are in really good hands with Alyson. … She is one of the most talented people over there. She’s amazing. She’s a collaborator and a listener.”
Bokhari said he’s supposed to grab drinks with Jaiyeoba before the planning director leaves next month for his new job in Greensboro.
“Maybe we’ll laugh our way through the old hits we had,” Bokhari said.
Related Ledger articles:
Today’s supporting sponsors are T.R. Lawing Realty…
Omicron in Mecklenburg: Covid cases rising, but hospitalizations and deaths? Not so much.
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the Omicron variant: Major banks are postponing returns to the office, some universities are going virtual for the start of the January semester and last week there were long waits for tests.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, it’s that while the number of local Covid cases is rising, the numbers of Covid hospitalizations and deaths are not rising nearly as quickly and remain far below previous peaks, according to a Ledger review of state data.
Local hospital systems say they’re preparing for a rough January, because the new variant is more transmissible and could cause serious Covid cases among the unvaccinated and in a small number of those who are vaccinated. As of late December, though, that anticipated surge of severe cases largely hasn’t appeared in the numbers:
Cases: The number of daily Covid cases has doubled in the last month, to about 400 as of last week. It hasn’t been at that level since late September. The county was averaging about 600 cases a day in August. The highest recorded was about 900 a day, in mid-January 2021.
Deaths: Mecklenburg has averaged 2 Covid deaths a day or fewer since late October of this year. In the previous wave, in August and September, the county averaged closer to 4 Covid deaths a day. Since the pandemic began, the highest figure recorded was more than 8 deaths a day, in mid-January 2021.
While the average number of daily Covid cases is on the rise again in Mecklenburg County, the number of deaths attributed to Covid is close to where it was two months ago. (7-day averages; Source: Ledger analysis of N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data)
Hospitalizations: In Mecklenburg, 80% of hospital beds are full, and 7% of beds are occupied by Covid patients, according to federal data analyzed by the University of Minnesota’s Covid-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project. In the 11-county Charlotte region, there were 451 Covid patients hospitalized last Tuesday — which is fewer than half the number from the two previous peaks in January and September:
No dodging it: At a media briefing last week, Dr. David Priest of Novant Health said he expects numbers to get worse in the next 6-8 weeks: “This raises the prospect of another difficult January for our local hospitals, and we are preparing and bracing for that possibility,” he said.
At some point, he said, everyone will develop some resistance to Covid — either through vaccinations or through catching it: “There’s no dodging this. Particularly with Omicron, it is so infectious, we will basically all be exposed to it at some point.” —TM
Real estate deal frenzy in final days of 2021
The last couple weeks have been a frenzied time for real estate deals, with sellers racing to lock in gains for 2021 before possible tax hikes hit in 2022. We told you in July that local real estate types were telling us that the pace of deals was accelerating — and now the deadline is just five days away. (“The race is on to close real estate deals,” July 30, 🔒)
The last couple weeks have had a number of big-dollar real estate deals, including:
South End Walgreens: The sale of the South End Walgreens site, at East and South boulevards, to White Point Partners. It’s 1.22 acres on three parcels and sold for $12.82M, records show. White Point this year had the block rezoned for a development that could include up to 325 apartments, 365,000 s.f. of office and 28,000 s.f. of retail.
South End Shoe Warehouse: The sale of the 2.16 acre Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse site on South Boulevard for $14.1M to a company affiliated with Alliance Residential of Arizona. The site had been owned by Asana Partners.
Honeywell HQ: The sale of Honeywell’s new 23-story headquarters tower uptown, for $275M, from Lincoln Harris to PRP Real Estate Investment Management. The price is $735 per square foot, the second-highest price behind the South End Lowe’s tower, which went for $889 per square foot in November, the Charlotte Business Journal reported.
Music Factory: AvidXchange’s purchase of 1.5 acres by its Music Factory headquarters for $11M.
Uptown Cabaret/Midnight Diner: The sale of 2.75 acres off Morehead Street, between uptown and South End, for $35M to Riverside Investment and Development Corp., the Biz Journal reported. That’s $12.7M an acre. It’s the site of Uptown Cabaret and Midnight Diner and is envisioned as a mixed-use development.
LoSo: The sale of 12 acres in the “LoSo” area on South Boulevard for $26.75M to Cameron Property Group. The company said it envisions a mixed-used project on the site, according to the Biz Journal.
South End apartments: The sale of Novel Atherton, Crescent Communities’ 346-unit luxury apartment building in South End. The buyer and price weren’t disclosed and aren’t yet publicly available, The Charlotte Observer reported.
We’re going to go out on a limb and predict more big transactions this week. As we usher in the new year, let’s be mindful of all those hardworking real estate lawyers in our midst who are burning the midnight oil to make Charlotte’s lucrative land deals possible. —TM
After article, Ledger readers confess to ordering liquor online
Our article this month delving into the practice of ordering liquor online to circumvent ABC store liquor shortages drew a lot of responses — including from a few people who admitted that they, too, go online for booze, even though it’s not exactly legal. In our article, we quoted two people whose real names we did not disclose (including a voice-altered statement from “Frank”).
But it appears from the responses that there are more than just a few Charlotteans who get some booze shipped to them:
“I just read the article you posted today. Who knew I was breaking the law, LOL! I have great clients who just LOVE Blanton’s whiskey. They haven’t been able to get it here in a long time, so I always order online for them (at a huge premium, about triple the retail price). But it makes for very happy clients!”
“I am sure you will receive other messages as mine. I have been ordering my liquor from out of state for at least 12 years. The more expensive the item, the more the savings. Standard brands are not worth the effort, in my estimation. I prefer Talisker scotch, and it is a premium label with price to match. Online sources offer it at 25% less than N.C. ABC stores, and some charge no tax, so shipping equals the local tax, making the savings real. I buy six at a time to make the transaction worthwhile. Care for a bottle?”
Donations pour in for family of fallen officer: Nearly $300,000 has been raised for the family of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer Mia Goodwin, who died last week when she was struck by a vehicle on I-85. Goodwin joined the force in 2015 and had recently returned from maternity leave. She left behind a husband and three children, ages 3, 1 and 4 months. As of Sunday, a GoFundMe page by Back the Blue NC has raised $159,000, and a GoFundMe by council member Tariq Bokhari has raised $127,000. The local Fraternal Order of Police lodge is also collecting donations.
Top CMS official leaving: LaTarzja Henry, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ chief of staff for the last two years, is leaving her job, according to two unnamed sources who spoke to WBTV. Her contract wasn’t set to expire until June.
Wells postpones return: Wells Fargo once again postponed bringing employees back to the office, citing a surge in the Omicron variant. It said it would provide more information early next year. Workers had been scheduled to start heading back on Jan. 10. (Biz Journal)
Award for Gibbie Harris: Mecklenburg County health director Gibbie Harris has been recognized with North Carolina’s highest honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, for her “dedication to serving the community through her work in Public Health over the past four decades,” the county said last week. The award, bestowed by North Carolina governors, recognizes “persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.” Harris retires at the end of the year, which is Friday.
New Covid relief grant program: The state Department of Revenue has opened applications for one-time grants to businesses that experienced significant economic losses because of Covid. Some of the money is for businesses in the hospitality, arts and recreation industries, while some is for other businesses who did not receive money from other government grant programs. Applications close Jan. 31. Details here.
Drug ODs rising: Drug overdose deaths in Charlotte are expected to rise by 5% this year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police says. A spokesman said some of the increase is from recreational drug users who buy counterfeit prescription pills with high levels of fentanyl. They’re “just buying illicit pills and cocaine and they’re using it as if they’d normally use it and then they’re just dying. It’s shocking.” (WFAE)
Brisk ticket sales: Two Charlotte entertainment venues ranked in the top 10 worldwide for tickets sold in the last year. PNC Music Pavilion was ranked #7 in amphitheaters, with more than 162,000 tickets sold; and Ovens Auditorium was #9 in the theater category, with nearly 92,000 tickets sold, powered mostly by the production of “Wicked.” The figures come from industry publication Pollstar in a report released this month.
Get those house guests out: Charlotte Is Creative has assembled a list of “15 Charlotte treasures to get holiday guests out of your house.” Ideas include bookstores, tea and coffee shops, an antique mall and public art.
Keep your brain sharp this week with Charlotte-themed crosswords
Have some extra downtime this week? Want to stretch your brain? Why not try one of our new Charlotte-themed crossword puzzles?
We recently rolled out five locally themed crosswords. You can download all the puzzles and answers on our Charlotte Ledger Crosswords page. (They’re free.) Let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project