Charlotte City Council approved a controversial petition to rezone a chunk of land along a main thoroughfare in NoDa after initially voting to defer a decision for at least a month.
Led by developer Ascent Real Estate, Centro NoDa would feature 211 apartments surrounding a four-story parking deck and roughly 11,000 square feet of retail. The site is along 36th Street between North Alexander and North McDowell, about a quarter of a mile walk to the LYNX Blue Line’s 36th Street Station.
Ascent was seeking to rezone 1.89 acres from residential to mixed use.
The project has raised concerns among some residents who say the project threatens the neighborhood’s identity with its size and scale in an area with mostly historic, one- and two-story homes.
In a rare move, City Council members initially voted to defer approval of the petition by sending it back to the zoning committee for further review and discussion. The vote stemmed from several changes that were made to the petition since a public hearing was held in late December.
Some on council said those changes, including efforts to preserve trees and improvements to stormwater detention controls, pushed the project closer to meeting concerns raised by residents who oppose it. But other council members said the changes were “substantial and significant” and that they owed it to the community to allow residents more time to review the updates.
“If eight to nine changes aren’t considered significant enough to send back to the committee, then I don’t know what would be,” Councilwoman Renee Johnson said.
But several minutes after that vote, Councilwoman Victoria Watlington asked for a motion to reconsider the vote. She first voted to send it back to the zoning committee but switched her vote, meaning the petition could be considered for a vote of approval.
A motion by Johnson to defer the vote until the next meeting failed.
The final vote of approval passed 9-2, with Johnson and Councilman Malcolm Graham voting no.
Development near transit
Some on council have held the project up as a good example of urban design: a tall building that can house a large number of people within walking distance of public transit. Others on council have expressed concern the project stands out in contrast to the nearby mill houses of NoDa.
Candace Oliver, a longtime NoDa resident, has spoken out against the project, saying she’s representing more than 300 signed petitioners who oppose it. She drew a distinction last month that NoDa is not South End. NoDa is more of an existing neighborhood with hundreds of smaller homes as opposed to a more industrial area with a larger development footprint.
Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said Tuesday night she had visited the site and met with residents. She felt that Ascent has addressed two of her top concerns with the size of the building and stormwater. She said it would be disingenuous to ask for those changes and then vote against the project.
Charlotte needs the type of smaller, “micro” apartments that are planned for Centro NoDa, Eiselt said. The average unit would be 580 square feet, with starting rent expected to be a little over $1,000 per month, the developers have said.
“We’re going down the road of an Austin, Texas or a San Francisco or other cities where housing has become so expensive,” Eiselt said. “Affordable housing aside, if we don’t make smaller units for people, people just aren’t going to be able to afford places to live.”
In its updated changes, Ascent committed to pricing 10% of the units for households earning up to 80% of the area median income, which is $47,150 for a single person or $67,350 for a family of four.
The project stands out because it’s close to public transit, Councilman Larken Egleston said. Building apartments so people can live close to a transit line is a big reason the city invested in building the Blue Line, Egleston said.
Preserving a big tree
The project sits near a giant, roughly 65-foot-tall willow oak tree. A couple who lives nearby has emailed more than two dozen city officials, environmentalists and representatives for the developers in efforts to save the tree.
“Best practices” will be taken in an attempt to preserve the tree, Ascent said in recent updates to the project, and it also plans to increase the apartment building’s distance from the tree, from 18 feet to 34 feet.
The company knows mature urban trees are important and tries to save them, even though that can be difficult, Caci Jaeger, a partner with Ascent, told the Observer.
Tree loss has been an issue in a growing city like Charlotte.
Between 2012 and 2018, the city lost 7,669 net acres of tree canopy — or about three football fields per day, according to Charlotte’s most recent tree canopy measurement.
The tree loss wasn’t limited to transit corridors, commercial areas or new subdivisions that pop up in once wooded lots. Most of the city’s tree loss has occurred on residential lands not protected by the city’s ordinances, the canopy measurement revealed.