Among those crying for Ballantyne to break off from the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James has been sort of an unofficial spokesman. After all, he pitched the idea late last year in a moment picked up by local TV media.
And, like some others who continue to back the deannexation idea, James claims it would be a good thing for developers.
“Because the people in that area are more business-minded, you would have an easier time of it getting development approved,” he said. “The new city would attract even more developments like Ballantyne Corporate Park because of a more developer-friendly atmosphere.”
Most Ballantyne residents pushing for deannexation don’t use the if-we-did-it-developers-would-come argument. Instead, they are primarily motivated by a belief that the city is neglecting the area, that their tax dollars should be kept in Ballantyne.
Of course, the whole idea of annexation is just that: an idea.
It would need the blessing of the North Carolina General Assembly.
Before that, 15 percent or more of Ballantyne residents would need to sign a petition supporting the notion.
Despite those challenges, some residents are serious about deannexation, serious enough to hold community meetings to further discuss the idea. Last month, for example, Ballantyne Breakfast Club held a gathering that examined Sandy Springs, Ga., which, in 2005, went from an unincorporated area in suburban Atlanta to a city.
Proponents of the idea of Ballantyne divorcing from Charlotte suggest that a bureaucracy smaller than the city of Charlotte’s would make it easier for developers to do what they do.
“We would have fewer staff and finally have an area in this new city where we could push government down to its lowest level,” said Tom Opalka, a member of the South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers.
“People like to point to Ballantyne and the area around here as being big for development. But when I talk to developers around Charlotte, they say the city’s planning department has been cracking down on them during the downturn in the construction market, almost like the planners are trying to justify their positions. In our new city, we want to cut out a lot of that red tape.”
Deannexation backers also argue that their taxes would be lower than they are now.
“We would still have property taxes if we make a new city, but they would be at a much lower rate,” said SMART member Tim Timmerman. “Right now, we just get the feeling that we are paying all this money to Charlotte and they are spending it on pet projects around Uptown. We aren’t getting any benefit from it.”
Some cast doubt on the notion that a deannexed Ballantyne would, at least initially, see lower taxes.
“Taxes aren’t necessarily going down right away,” said Charlotte City Councilman Warren Cooksey, who represents Ballantyne. “Any discussion about having a city charter for something like a separate city would have to include language about continuing to share revenue with the city of Charlotte. And for developers, a lot of this discussion about where to put the boundaries of a new city could result in a sort of poison pill.”
Even if Ballantyne splits from the rest of Charlotte, Ballantyne residents would have to pay taxes toward general obligation bonds being used to fund transit system and other projects, he said.
He also said the 2014 session of the General Assembly probably would be the earliest that enough signatures could be collected for the deannexation petition.
Developers contacted by The Mecklenburg Times declined to comment. So did The Bissell Cos., a prominent developer based in Ballantyne.
“The name Ballantyne belongs to The Bissell Cos., and they were not all that positive on the idea of forming our own town,” Timmerman said. “We’re trying to explain to people that this wouldn’t just be Ballantyne. It would be a lot more area than that. We are thinking of maybe calling it South Charlotte or Providence.”
James has suggested “Town of Ballantyne” as a name.
He said a deannexed Ballantyne, thanks to lower taxes, would be a magnet for companies that moved operations of South Carolina.
Others aren’t so sure developers would flock to the area.
“When you look at doing development projects in District 7 now, you really only have to deal with me,” Cooksey said. “If there’s going to be a new city council, you will have many elected representatives who will be looking closely at each project. It will be good to have people live closer to their center of government if there’s a new city, but I don’t think that will exactly make projects go faster.”
Then there’s the issue of determining the borders of a deannexed Ballantyne. Some have suggested Interstate 485 as a dividing line between Charlotte and a new town. Others have proposed N.C. Highway 51.
Cooksey frowns at a Highway 51 border, saying it could result in warring between Charlotte and a town of Ballantyne.
“Each city would try to maximize its land use on either side of 51,” Cooksey said. “It would be more development than the road can handle. I think McAlpine Creek is a much more logical choice for a border.”
Council David Howard calls the whole idea of Ballantyne splitting from the rest of Charlotte nonsense and said it would be unfair to the rest of Charlotte.
“When it comes to all that development in Ballantyne, they have been benefiting from the city’s infrastructure for water lines and stormwater drainage for about 15 years,” Howard said. “And now for them to say they have what they need so they’re getting out, that is not right.
“I look at it as though Charlotte is a company, and we have one product line that has been a very big success; that is Ballantyne. Now, anytime we have capital expenses, we have to raise the price on that one product line. Wouldn’t it be better if we could spread that tax burden around to other areas of the city?
“I think if we can grow other areas – and they will as the economy improves – we will see the people calling for a city of Ballantyne quiet down. In the long run, we have to realize we are all in this together, and breaking off from Charlotte is not going to help those people the way they think it will.”
BAUGHMAN can be reached at [email protected].