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Could this mean taco trucks in The Vue?

Over in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department, there have been talks about what to do with all the vacant and underused lots scattered across the city.

Thanks to the recession, projects were started and never finished – or they never started at all. In some cases, according to a November Meck Times story, those languishing properties have been turned into illegal parking lots or are being used in other ways that violate zoning, a crime that would make you the most unthreatening person in prison.

Charlotte planners are thinking about granting temporary waivers to property owners in the city. The reprieve would allow landowners to use their properties for “nonconforming uses,” as the planners say. It would give property owners an opportunity to make some money off their sites while waiting for the economy to improve so they can finish their projects – or so goes the thinking of city planners.

City officials say they have not made any progress on the idea, but they told The Meck Times this week that they plan to get more done on it in the first quarter of this year.

Charlotte, though, is not the only city where property owners and developers are left wondering whether they should do something with construction sites that have become big empties.

In New York City, where city officials have counted more than 600 stalled construction sites, developers have allowed urban farms and other tenants on their sites until construction can resume on whatever projects were originally planned for the land, according to a story by The New York Times last month.

For example, on NYC’s 29th Street, you can load up on tomatoes, beets and roquette – another name for arugula, which is a pungent salad herb – at Riverpark Farm.

The farm, surrounded by skyscrapers, sits where another tower is supposed to be built for the Alexandria Center for Life Science. Construction on the tower has been stalled as Alexandria Real Estate Equities prays for the economy to turn around.

Joel Marcus, chairman of AREE, said the farm had been “a big attraction for our other tenants as well,” according to the New York Times story.

Developers like AREE aren’t just trying to make green from the sale of greens until they can resume construction. They’re also thinking the foot traffic from people shopping at and visiting urban farms and other temporary uses will translate into sales of apartments or more business at their retail spaces down the road.

Plus, shoppers on a site bring life to it and make it look a lot better than fenced-off acreage where nothing is happening except for a “coming soon” sign flapping in the wind. Of course, you might have a lot of angry people on your hands once the urban farm shuts down to make way for construction of that mixed-use development.

Also in New York, Rockrose Development Corp., which owns property in Long Island City, Queens, allowed food trucks to use a parking lot for free, according to The New York Times. Nearby office workers apparently bought food from the trucks.

As for Charlotte, who knows what nonconforming uses the city might allow on underused sites? This week, Sandra Montgomery, a city planning staff member, told me the economy’s still tough and property owners just want to get a return on their investment. But the plan is still being devised, she said, and she had no idea about what might be permissible.

“We’re still meeting on it to try and determine what uses might be appropriate,” she said.

ROBERTS can be reached at [email protected]

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