One neighborhood's wild way of preserving the environment
Plus: New ruling in Myers Park sexual assault case allows lawsuit to continue; Interesting race shaping up for CMS District 4; Greenway extension brings more visitors to James K. Polk house
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Residents of the Stonehaven neighborhood are taking a fresh approach to conservation in the face of development — they’re making their yards wildlife habitats
Andy and Kim Smith’s yard in the Stonehaven neighborhood is a certified wildlife habitat, which means it’s maintained in a sustainable way and has the elements wildlife need to raise their young, like food, water and shelter. (Photo by Amber Veverka)
by Amber Veverka
Charlotte’s Stonehaven neighborhood is working to become the first neighborhood in the city to be named a Community Wildlife Habitat. Supporters say the designation will demonstrate the southeast Charlotte neighborhood’s commitment to caring for the natural environment — and bring long-lasting benefits to residents, as well.
The neighborhood has registered with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), and this year is working to win the designation by getting enough individual yards to be certified as habitats and to conduct education and outreach events about wildlife-friendly practices. To be certified, properties need to provide food, water, shelter, places for wildlife to raise young and should be maintained with sustainable practices.
Winning the neighborhood-wide designation would make the area a leader in Charlotte, said Stonehaven resident Ernie McLaney, founder of NWF chapter Charlotte Wildlife Stewards and a champion of the neighborhood effort.
“The urban sprawl is creating havoc with natural areas, and when these housing developers come in and start tearing down old homes and building out to the street, they’re taking down some of the mature trees,” McLaney said. “The big thing that jumps out at me about Stonehaven is the maturity of our landscapes. Most of the homes have been here since the ’60s and when the developers built this neighborhood, they did keep a fair amount of trees. It’s very shady and green and cool in the summer and there is a good bit of wildlife here.”
Stonehaven backs up to Boyce Park and McAlpine Creek Greenway, and larger animals such as deer and coyotes are frequent visitors to yards. But the neighborhood hasn’t been immune to the real estate fever gripping much of the city. In the last year, a number of property owners have sold off parcels that used to be woods, fields or ravines and new construction is going up in those places. And with the city perhaps poised to allow multifamily housing in some lower-density single-family neighborhoods, protecting what wildlife-friendly habitat remains is more crucial than ever, supporters of the designation effort say.
Getting a yard named a wildlife habitat doesn’t mean making dramatic changes, said Stonehaven resident Donna Bolls. On the surface, the Bolls’ yard looks fairly ordinary: graceful trees, mowed lawn, a cheerful golden retriever eyeing passersby. It’s what you don’t see that makes Bolls’ corner lot stand out.
Instead of perfectly raked beds, leaves are left to decay. The garden boxes don’t contain non-native plants — instead, native species beloved by pollinators thrive. And most important, the property isn’t sprayed with insecticides. Instead, it’s a haven for insects of all kinds, which in turn makes it a welcome oasis for the birds and other creatures.
When the Bolls family moved to Stonehaven in 1980s, Donna didn’t give a lot of thought to wildlife. That changed after she took classes in native plants at UNC Charlotte and started reading books by ecologist and professor Doug Tallamy. She’s so passionate about encouraging others to enjoy and protect nature that she’s now president of Charlotte Wildlife Stewards.
“I’d gardened before and realized I’d done a lot that was wrong,” Bolls said. “What I’ve realized is you really want your plants to be eaten by something. It’s a whole new mindset.”
Bolls and her husband, David, began pulling out invasive, non-native shrubs that offer little to local wildlife and replacing them with flowers and trees that support biodiversity. Oaks are hosts to insects that birds feed their hungry young. Shrubs like spicebush, which is on Donna’s “to plant” list, attract the showy spicebush swallowtail butterfly. Today the family’s suburban yard is a home or corridor to an impressive range of species, from anole lizards to brown snakes, from dragonflies to deer. Leaves are left to decay under shrubs — a move that ensures brown thrashers feed in the spring or fireflies spangle the summer nights. Inexpensive water sources — some just simple saucers placed in the ground — attract butterflies and birds.
Andy and Kim Smith’s certified habitat yard in Stonehaven is a veritable Eden for people and wildlife alike. Andy gave a visitor a quick tour of the front — blueberries nestle beneath trees, black-eyed Susans draw in bees — and then opened the gate to the real surprise: a backyard awash in color and humming with life.
“My wife did all of this,” Andy said. Curving beds of flowers stretch to the back where a bright purple gardening shed holds court. Birdbaths, smaller ground-level cups of water and lush plantings line the yard, with a curved path drawing visitors through.
Maintaining a lot loved by birds and beasts doesn’t have to mean a lot of money or work, Bolls said.
“It costs less money to maintain a garden with native plants because they are adapted to our climate,” she said. Blanket spraying for mosquitoes is not only costly in dollars, she said, it’s costly to insects and the birds that depend on them.
McLaney, whose own certified yard hosts an impressive array of species from owls to opossums, has been spreading the word about certification through the neighborhood newsletter and on NextDoor. So far, about 44 homes are certified as wildlife habitats, and he, Bolls and others are meeting soon to talk about encouraging other neighbors to take the step. Education and outreach would win Stonehaven additional points needed to land the neighborhood-wide title.
Stonehaven, he said, “could send a message to other neighborhoods like Lansdowne and Myers Park and Steele Creek that doing this is not only better for wildlife — it’s better for our health.” Making changes that encourage insect, bird and animal life to thrive means “filling our properties with birdsong and color and pollinators.”
Getting an entire neighborhood — especially one as large as Stonehaven, which has more than 6,300 residents — named a certified wildlife habitat would be a win for the city, said McLaney, who previously worked to land Charlotte its own certification. North Carolina has 13 community wildlife habitats.
“All of the ecological and economic benefits we see by creating wildlife habitat in yards are only compounded when we talk about them on a community scale,” said Emily Preziotti, National Wildlife Federation community wildlife manager, responding by email. “Creating wildlife habitat in your yard helps boost biodiversity, provides health benefits, decreases home operation and maintenance costs, and increases property value by as much as 20%. Communities in this program will not only see these benefits, but will enjoy building connections with one another and with nature.”
Amber Veverka is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached through her website, amberveverka.com.
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Myers Park sexual assault lawsuit to continue; Judge dismisses school resource officer and MPHS assistant principal from case but says jury should evaluate allegations against CMS, CMPD
A federal judge is allowing a lawsuit to continue that alleges that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools mishandled a Myers Park High student’s report that she was sexually assaulted by another student off-campus in 2015.
But the judge did dismiss Myers Park High’s school resource officer and assistant principal from the lawsuit, ruling that their response didn’t “rise to the level of malice, corruption and/or bad faith” required for them to be held liable.
And he admonished CMS and CMPD for failing to produce records, as ordered, and is requiring them to pay attorneys’ fees related to the effort to turn over the documents. “The Court is frankly tired of Defendants’ gamesmanship in discovery,” he wrote.
The case, filed in 2018, is the one that set into motion an avalanche of sexual assault claims by students and former students at Myers Park High and other CMS schools, which received widespread media publicity last summer. CMS reassigned Myers Park’s principal, and school board members later cited the district’s handling of sexual assault allegations as one of several reasons why they dismissed Superintendent Earnest Winston in April.
The ruling, released Friday by district court Judge Robert Conrad, means the case will continue toward a trial. CMS and CMPD had urged the judge to dismiss the case entirely and to grant what is known as summary judgment in their favor. But Conrad ruled that there were enough disputed facts to allow a jury to decide.
Pressure to settle? Conrad’s refusal to dismiss the case could put pressure on the city and CMS to settle it. CMS paid $50,000 to settle another federal lawsuit by a former Myers Park student last year who said she was raped by an ex-boyfriend in the woods adjacent to the school in 2016.
In the case that is still continuing, a former student known in court documents as Jane Doe says a fellow student took her off campus before school and forced her to perform oral sex on him. The alleged attacker said the episode was consensual, and no criminal charges were filed in connection with the case. Lawyers for the young woman portray school administrators and police as insensitive and skeptical, while lawyers for CMS and the city say their responses were reasonable given the facts. The Ledger examined the case in-depth in September.
The ruling released school resource officer Bradley Leak and Myers Park High assistant principal Anthony Perkins from the case. Lawyers for the young woman had argued in court papers that Leak and Perkins made errors in responding to the incident and were part of a systematic effort by the school district and police to deny a victim her rights. But the bar is high for successfully suing a public official acting in an official capacity, the judge said.
The trial is tentatively set for November. — TM [changed 8/17/22 11:20 a.m. to update that judge corrected the date to November 2022]
Related Ledger articles:
“What happened in the woods?” (Sept. 1, 2021)
CMS District 4 school board race will be one to watch this fall
One of the more interesting races for Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board this fall will be the contest in District 4, the east Charlotte district in which incumbent Carol Sawyer will face challengers Stephanie Sneed and Clara Kennedy Witherspoon.
Sawyer is finishing her first term on the board, and this is the second time she is facing Sneed in a school board race. Sneed is a lawyer and president of the Black Political Caucus who lost to Sawyer in 2017 and then ran at large in 2019 but narrowly lost that election. Witherspoon recently retired from CMS, where she worked as a school counselor and a multi-tier system of support specialist.
This fall’s contest will be one to watch, because it already has a bit of a complicated back-story: The CMS school board redrew its voting district boundaries earlier this year, and the approved version — which Sawyer drew — moved Sneed’s precinct out of District 4, among other changes.
Sneed accused Sawyer of gerrymandering and called the map Sawyer drew “retaliatory and an abuse of power.”
Sawyer said she had been unaware that Sneed lived in a precinct that changed districts, and that moving Sneed out of District 4 was not her intent in drawing the map. Sawyer said no community members had raised concerns before the map was passed, even when it was discussed at a community meeting with the Black Political Caucus.
A few weeks after the map was approved and the dustup ensued, the school board took the unusual step of voting on a new map that moved Sneed’s precinct back to District 4. — CB
More visitors flock to James K. Polk historic site because of new greenway; Some are sweaty but ‘want to come back’
The Little Sugar Creek Greenway was extended to reach the James K. Polk State Historic Site in Pineville a little over a year ago, and since then, it’s been delivering the historic site something of a gift — more visitors.
“It’s really brought more people onto the site, and it’s brought more people into the museum itself,” said Scott Warren, the site manager for the James K. Polk State Historic Site. “I've heard a lot of greenway users say, ‘Hey, you know, I’m all sweaty, not too good, but I want to come back and check out the museum and do the tour and everything. A lot of people have, so that’s been really great to see.”
The segment of the greenway that the Polk site is on previously ended at I-485. Construction is currently underway to extend the greenway from the Polk site to the South Carolina state line. When the greenway is complete, it will feature over 19 miles of Mecklenburg County trails and land connectors that begins at Cordelia Park and ends at the state line.
The initial plan for the greenway extension passed by the historic cemetery on the Polk site, and Mecklenburg County committed to constructing a new fence around the cemetery. Warren said that though the final path changed and does not go near the cemetery, the county still paid for a new fence. The county paved the parking lot, too, with the anticipation that the greenway would increase vehicular traffic at the historic site.
Warren is hopeful that the new greenway extension to the south will be complete by the end of the year and will continue to increase visitation at the Polk site, which saw a decrease in visitors since Covid.
Polk was the country’s 11th president, serving from 1845 to 1849. He was born in Pineville. —LB
House checks: Mecklenburg County sheriff’s deputies were ordered to make hourly checks of Sheriff Garry McFadden’s home in Huntersville for nearly three years, according to a retired captain. McFadden, who is the county’s first Black sheriff, told WFAE that he had received numerous threats by letter, social media or verbally, but that it wasn’t his idea to have deputies drive by his home. Typical procedure after a threat on an elected official is to have deputies make security checks for 30 days, the retired captain said. (WFAE)
New animal hospital: A new 24/7 emergency veterinary office called Veterinary Emergency Group will open in SouthPark on Sept. 14 with 10 animal doctors and 30 support staff. Charlotte and other cities around the country are seeing a shortage of veterinarians, and especially emergency vets. (Axios Charlotte)
Missing men: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police searched over the weekend for two missing men in unrelated cases. Police said 48-year-old Matt Sullivan was last seen around 1:45 p.m. Friday at McAlpine Creek Park. He had told his family he was going for a hike but did not return. The other man reported missing was 76-year-old Charles “Chick” Anderson, who police said suffers from dementia and may be driving to Florida.
Adams tests positive for Covid: U.S. Rep. Alma Adams tested positive for Covid on Sunday morning, according to a statement she released to the media. She said she was experiencing mild symptoms.
Arts input: Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents who want a say in the city’s Arts and Culture Plan are invited to a family friendly event Aug. 23 from 6-8 p.m. at Silver Hammer Studios at AvidXchange, 817 Hamilton St. The event will feature a welcome from Priya Sircar, the city’s arts and culture officer as well as feedback stations where attendees can weigh in on the future of arts and culture in the area. Register on Eventbrite. A virtual version of the event will be held on Aug. 25 from 6-8 p.m. Register on Eventbrite.
Warhol exhibit coming to the Bechtler: An exhibit called “Pop to Now: Warhol and his Legacy” is coming to the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art from Sept. 10 to Jan. 2. The exhibit will feature works by Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring and will follow their influence on pop culture, music, fashion and art. (Bechtler)
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; Staff writer: Lindsey Banks; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project