Council members say Ballantyne needs more low-income apartments

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‘Not enough’: In first public discussion of huge Ballantyne Reimagined project, 2 council members push for cheaper housing

In the first public discussion of a developer’s plan to redevelop a huge swath of the center of Ballantyne, City Council members on Monday sparred over how much affordable housing the development should have.

Northwood Office, which owns the Ballantyne Corporate Park and the Ballantyne hotel, is proposing to replace parts of the golf course with a mix of shops, 1,000 apartments, an amphitheater and parks in the first phase of a development it is calling “Ballantyne Reimagined.”

On Monday, assistant city manager Tracy Dodson told the council that Northwood is upping the number of apartments available to renters making below the area’s median income. Previously, Northwood had proposed that 8% of the units in the first phase be affordable, at 80% of the area’s median income. Now, it would have 10% be affordable: 80 units available to those making 80% of the median income plus 20 units for those making 60% of the median income.

Called insufficient: But that still wasn’t enough for a couple of council members, who found that proposal insufficient. The city has said it wants more affordable housing and would like it spread throughout the city.

“I applaud the affordable housing units, but it’s just not enough, right?” said council member Malcolm Graham. “… A lot of service workers are going to be working out there, and they’re going to need to find a place for them to live.”

At-large council member Dimple Ajmera picked up on the theme, saying she was disappointed that the development doesn’t include any apartments available to the city’s poorest residents, those who earn 30% of the area’s median income or below.  

“That is a concern for me,” she said. “I would like to see those numbers go up. … As a council, if affordable housing is our priority, we have to ask for more. This is not enough.”

Ajmera had several exchanges on the topic with Ed Driggs, the city council member who represents Ballantyne. He said that pushing more affordable housing into the Ballantyne development is unrealistic and would make the economics of it unworkable. And he pointed out that the city is not using its money to build the apartments, but rather a private developer is — and that the city can’t force developers to offer apartments at below-market rates: “What I worry about is this insistence that you must have room for more of these units.”

Approval likely: Despite the concerns about the affordable housing component, the development seems likely to win approval of the rezoning and infrastructure improvements it is seeking from the council. City staff, who have been working with Northwood since before the development was even publicly announced last summer, seem to support the project.

So did Mayor Vi Lyles, who called Northwood “a great company and great organization”; and council member Tariq Bokhari, who called it a “very exciting project.”

Public improvements: Officials said the development would add $1.5B to the tax base over 12 years. Northwood would also build 6.9 miles of 5-foot sidewalks, 6.4 miles of buffered bike lanes and 3.4 miles of walking trails and create four parks, more than 100 acres of open space and a public amphitheater.

Some residents have expressed concerns about the effect on traffic and schools. But the proposal seems to lack the strong opposition that can sometimes doom or alter development proposals.

A public hearing is scheduled on March 16, with the council expected to vote in April. Work could start by September.

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The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.