Debating Charlotte's 2040 plan

Plus: Examining the duplexes and triplexes of Elizabeth, Myers Park and Dilworth; Readers weigh in; Self-storage company develops co-working space for bands; Chick-fil-A sauce at the Teeter

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Charlotte’s 2040 plan suddenly became contentious last week. Here’s what it is — and what’s at stake.

Charlotte’s proposed 2040 Comprehensive Plan jumped into the city’s consciousness last week — but what is it, exactly, and what does it mean?

The city has been working for years on a plan to guide Charlotte’s growth, and since its release in October 2020, there have been dozens of workshops and meetings to explain the 320-page planning document to the public.

Now, though, with a public hearing in 2 weeks and a vote scheduled for next month, some people are just now tuning in. (Maybe that describes you?)

The plan ran into a buzzsaw of objections at last week’s City Council meeting, with some council members saying public comments had not been incorporated into it, and others expressing concern about a provision that would allow duplexes and triplexes in single-family neighborhoods.

So now’s a good time to step back and ask — what exactly is this 2040 Comprehensive Plan, and what would it do? The city has a bunch of info on its website, of course.

Today, we’re taking a closer look by providing you with two very different perspectives on the 2040 plan. Last week, The Ledger’s Tony Mecia separately interviewed David Walters, a semi-retired architecture professor and urban planner; and Alan Banks, chairman of Charlotte’s Real Estate & Building Industry Coalition (REBIC).

➡️ Walters, who lives in a Dilworth duplex and has helped advise the city on a new zoning ordinance, says he favors 98% of the plan, which he says is needed to guide development and make it more equitable and sustainable.

➡️ Banks, who is also the founder and president of homebuilder Evans Coghill Homes, says the city needs to slow down to get the plan right, perform an economic analysis and remove some provisions that aren’t currently legal.

Here are some of the highlights from those discussions:

David Walters, urban planner and architect

  • On what the 2040 plan is: “It’s a plan that Charlotte has not had in living memory. Most cities have one. So we’ve been flying by the seat of our pants for a couple of generations here, and the world has gotten so much more complex and fast-paced. We can’t do that anymore. We need a calm, rational assessment, and then view where we are and where we need to go as a city.”

  • On one of the plan’s big ideas, “10-minute neighborhoods”: “It’s the idea that you can basically live your life within a 10- to 15-minute radius, using the car only occasionally. If we all were able to live our lives that we could walk to stuff, bike to stuff, take a short car trip or hop on a bus or a train for two or three stops and use our car for special purposes, we would go a long way toward becoming a more sustainable city and hopefully improving our grandchildren’s future. If we keep going on the way we are, our grandkids are going to be screwed.”

  • On how Charlotte is currently growing: “We’ve had a patchwork of decent ideas stitched together over the years. They’ve been cobbling stuff together, and that’s not the way to run anything.”

Read the full interview with planner and architect David Walters.

Alan Banks, homebuilder and head of real estate trade group

  • On why the city should slow down: “A plan like this is essential because we’re building the Charlotte that our children are going to be living in, so we need to get it right. … A plan of this nature absolutely needs economic analysis as a companion piece to it because we’re making really big decisions. Yet we don’t know the economic effects on developers, Realtors, citizens, neighborhoods, builders.”

  • On why Charlotte needs growth: “We need the development to continue, because that’s part of the reason why people are moving here and businesses are moving here. And that’s part of our economic vitality. If we’re not growing, then we’re beginning to die. We don’t want that to happen. We want to remain economically viable because we are short on housing at this point.”

  • On the perception that developers are greedy: “That’s an unfortunate perception that has grown, when in fact, if we look at some of the projects that have happened around Charlotte that make Charlotte a great place to live — large projects like Ballantyne or SouthPark, or even smaller projects, like a project in South End — these are all developer projects built for profit that the public is now able to take advantage of. We absolutely need this to keep happening.”

Read the full interview with homebuilder Alan Banks.

Planning director defends plan

In addition, planning director Taiwo Jaiyeoba appeared on WCNC’s “Flashpoint” program on Sunday and defended the 2040 plan and the city’s approach. He said that the idea that the city is abolishing single-family zoning is a “myth that has been put out there by some people” because “the fact is you are still able to build single-family housing in any part of the city.”

He said duplexes and triplexes are needed for diversity in housing types but that that “does not necessarily mean developers have carte blanche approval to do it anywhere, because a lot still has to go into making it happen.”

A closer look at those duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes

“Quadplexes” or “fourplexes” — like this one built in 1935 on Baxter Street near Queens Road (in between the Cherry and Myers Park neighborhoods) — were frequently built before World War II and can be found in areas close to uptown. Will they make a comeback under the 2040 Comprehensive Plan? (Ledger photo)

A number of readers wrote in last week to point out that for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth last week about the possibility of developers building duplexes on single-family lots under the 2040 plan, there are already plenty of such buildings in Charlotte’s close-in neighborhoods.

Dilworth, Myers Park, Elizabeth, Plaza-Midwood … many of those older neighborhoods have two- to four-unit housing on lots surrounded by single-family homes. That’s the way those neighborhoods were built before World War II.

As if on cue, Chuck McShane took a look at the history of these residential buildings in a piece he wrote for UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute last week. McShane is the vice president of research at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, and in his spare time, he writes a great free newsletter called Growth and Dreams.

An excerpt from his article:

Smaller-scale multi-family buildings, like the duplexes, fourplexes and eight-unit apartments that cluster around Hawthorne and 7th Street are, proponents say, one part of the solution [to the need for reasonably priced housing]. These building styles can add more housing units to high-demand neighborhoods increasing the overall supply and offering rental options to people with a variety of income levels.

But smaller-scale multi-family housing has become the “missing middle,” as zoning regulations and neighborhood opposition have made them more difficult to build. Housing units in 2-4-unit buildings made up about 3.5% of the Charlotte Metro Area’s existing housing stock as of 2019. Last year, municipal governments in the region issued permits for less than 90 units of duplex, triplex, or fourplex housing — less than 0.5% of the 24,225 permits issued. In total, 73% of permits were for single family homes and 26% for apartment buildings, averaging 32.8 units per building. …

While single-family homes were fashionable, proximity to the new transit lines meant lots within walking distance of a streetcar stop were increasingly in demand, and rapid population growth (the city grew by nearly 80% between 1920 and 1930) increased the need for rental units. In a time before guaranteed retirement income, duplexes and fourplexes became small investment properties for nearby homeowners. The 5,700-square-foot duplex at 8th and Lamar was one example of that trend. John Alexander, a prominent developer in the early 1900s, built the duplex in 1922 for his sister, Jennie, who lived in one unit and rented out the other unit until her death in 1932. …

Each city developed its own vernacular form of small multi-family (triple-deckers in Boston, two-flats in Chicago), and in Charlotte, the two-story quadraplex, or fourplex, with two one-to-two-bedroom units on each floor, complete with a porch or balcony, became the preferred style.  

You can read the whole piece here.

Related article:

  • From “Minneapolis move to legalize triplexes shows little impact” (Axios): “The Minneapolis 2040 plan legalized duplexes and triplexes just about anywhere in the city. But the overhaul resulted in the new construction of just 16 duplexes and four triplexes in 2020, the first full year of the new zoning rules.”

Today’s supporting sponsors are Landon A. Dunn, attorney-at-law in Matthews:

… and T.R. Lawing Realty:

Reader response

It’s time to dig into the ol’ Ledger digital mailbag, which filled up last week with people’s thoughts about the 2040 Comprehensive Plan:

In response to “Opposition builds to Charlotte’s 2040 plan” (🔒):

  • “Have the residents of Myers Park actually been to Myers Park? It already has duplexes, quadplexes and townhouses yet somehow it’s still a nice place.”

  • “Sounds like the planners’ proposed changes to single-family-only zoning are getting people riled up. But I’ve always through that the old duplexes (and some fourplex apartments) that exist in neighborhoods like Dilworth and Elizabeth really added charm, and I know folks who’ve rented them. Is there really that much difference in neighborhood impact between a modest duplex and a new McMansion with a mother-in-law apartment over the 3-car garage?”

  • “It’s unfair to say that the city has been quietly working on this for three years. It makes it seem like they have done this in secret and without public input. They’ve hosted countless workshops and sought feedback throughout the process. The fact is that some neighborhood leaders and council members haven’t been paying attention.”

  • “These housing types are important for those that are aging and want to downsize and remain in their current neighborhood. I recently moved to Charlotte and downsized to a townhouse. These are mainly located on busy streets / areas because that’s where the variances can be granted. Would have loved to be on a quiet side street.... Where these have been able to be built, they sell very quickly. Myers Park reaction: UGH.”

  • “Most neighborhoods developed since the ’70s have deed restrictions in place that prevent these proposed city changes from being effective in those communities. Of course, Myers Park is not one of those, given its age. That is a critical component that is not being discussed widely and should serve to quell some of the south Charlotte concerned voices.”

  • “The city needs to listen to people, but fears of multifamily housing can be overblown. I spent 35 years in Milwaukee, which has a large number of duplexes, 4- and 8-unit buildings. Milwaukee was a blue collar city. Charlotte is not. Frankly, townhouses are multifamily housing and Charlotte is overrun with them.”

  • “I agree with council member Braxton Winston that single family housing is a tool of segregated housing. Wake up, Charlotte! Let’s do what we say we want to do. Myers Park’s old zoning always allowed duplexes on corners.”

In response to “Pushing transformative change for Charlotte, city planning director lives outside the city” (🔒):

  • “I was floored when I checked the tax records and saw where he lives. It is inexcusable. The height of hypocrisy. If I was on Council, I’d tell him to come back with a plan once he’s actually a part of the community he’s advocating to change. Right now — despite his job title — he shouldn’t even get a say. He doesn’t live here.”

  • “I am starting to feel your 2040 plan coverage is becoming a gossip column. I was hoping your coverage could help educate me on the pros and con of this plan. Doesn’t Minneapolis have a similar plan? How did it affect the rich and poor neighborhoods there? Did their citizens have the same concerns and how do they feel now? Help me learn more about this hot button topic.”

  • “The goals of this plan are noble and achievable, but WTF — the tentative plan to do away with singly-family zoning would be counterproductive for the city’s growth and an unmitigated disaster for residents of all income levels. The news about the leader of this effort living in another county, on a cul-de-sac (a planner’s worst nightmare) in a massive energy-sucking home is real news indeed.”

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Self-storage company creates co-working space dedicated to rocking out

Here’s a new Charlotte business that was born out of a necessity you probably didn’t know existed:

Local bands needing places to jam out often opt for self-storage facilities, where they can rent a storage unit to keep equipment and practice day or night without bothering the neighbors for relatively little rent.

Matthews-based self-storage company Morningstar Storage caught onto the demand for music rehearsal space and put up the funding to create a “co-musicing space” called Jambox in an old office building adjacent to one of their storage facilities on South Boulevard. It’s designed to model co-working office spaces, with 12 separate practice rooms and an event space.

Morningstar hired Justin Honigstein, a singer/guitar player and networker, who moved from Chicago in January 2020 to oversee construction and became Jambox general manager.

Jambox music practice rooms are designed for groups ranging from 2 to 8 people. (Photo courtesy of Jambox)

Jambox opened in late summer — terrible timing, given that Covid has kept keeping people from gathering in groups indoors, Honigstein said. But he said business is picking up as Covid numbers decline.

Customers can pay a $20 monthly membership fee and rent space by the hour, or can rent rooms for days or months at a time for prices ranging from $360 to $860 depending on the size of the room. (The biggest room is 288 s.f. — big enough for an 8-person band, Honingstein said.)

Honigstein envisions Jambox as being a place not just for bands, but for private music teachers to meet with students and for podcasters to record with better acoustics than they could get in home offices or other environments.

Who’s ready for some “Wild Thing?” — CB

TELL US: What’s the most creative (legal) use of a self-storage facility you’ve seen in Charlotte? Email to share your story.

In brief:

  • Sonic Automotive investigation: A shareholder rights law firm is investigating Sonic Automotive for its handling of CEO David Smith’s assault case. The Schall Law Firm said in a news release that “the investigation focuses on whether the Company issued false and/or misleading statements and/or failed to disclose information pertinent to investors.” Smith was arrested in October and charged with four counts, including felony attempted strangulation, following a 911 call by a 22-year-old woman identifying herself as his “ex-fiancée.” The Ledger reported Friday (🔒) that a grand jury indicted Smith last week, and his lawyer told us he would plead not guilty. We also linked to the 911 call and police report that we obtained under public records laws. (Hat tip: Jen Wilson of the Biz Journal)

  • Vaccination ad campaign: Mecklenburg County is launching a $457,000 ad campaign to promote getting the Covid vaccine. It plans to partner with small business and minority-owned businesses such as food trucks and barbershops, buy ads in church bulletins and invest in a “gospel station takeover.” It will also buy ads on TV and radio and in digital and print publications as well as Spotify and Pandora. “The 12-week campaign will target listeners of numerous genres, including R&B, Hip-Hop, Funk, Dance, House and Pop, Latin, Reggaeton, Cristiana, Cumbia, Banda, Salsa, Rock en Español, Mexican, Tejano, South Asian, Asian and K-Pop,” WSOC reported.

  • Blackout profits: Bank of America made hundreds of millions in trading revenue during the Texas cold snap last month that knocked out power to much of that state, the Financial Times reported, under the headline: “Bank of America reaps trading windfall during Texas blackouts.” The paper said the profits from the bank’s Houston-based energy trading group show “the upside for Wall Street from mayhem that knocked out power and heat across the state.” The bank pledged $1.1M to charities. (Financial Times, subscriber-only)

  • S.C. mask requirement dropped: South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on Friday lifted the order that people wear masks in government buildings and at restaurants. The general manager of the Fiery Crab in Rock Hill said: “The guests can choose. … Whatever decision they choose we will uphold and support their decision.” (WBTV)

  • New businesses: North Carolinians created more than 127,000 new businesses last year, according to the N.C. Secretary of State’s office, a 27% increase from 2019. (Charlotte Observer; hat tip: Axios Charlotte)

  • LoSo apartment tower: Apartment developer Greystar has submitted preliminary plans to the city for a “5 Story/383 Unit Apartment Development with Cafe Space, Parking Garage and Public Street Improvements,” according to city planning records. The 5-acre, 13-parcel site is at 4601 Macie St., off Yeoman Road, that is now home to old industrial buildings.

  • Charlotte basketball legend: Stephen Curry won the NBA’s three-point shooting contest before last night’s all-star game. (ESPN)

  • Chick-fil-A sauce: Harris Teeter has started selling big bottles of Chick-fil-A sauce and the chain’s Polynesian sauce. Even on Sunday. (WBTV’s Alex Giles on Twitter)

Taking stock

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 editorTony MeciaManaging editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith