PROVIDENCE COUNTRY CLUB – It’s not the number of car trips expected to be generated by the proposed $200 million Waverly mixed-used development that is the real traffic issue.
It’s the length of those trips that matter, their destinations, and the way the streets planned for the 90-acre project connect with Providence and Ardrey Kell roads, and in the future with other streets almost sure to be built as the land around Waverly is developed and south Charlotte continues to grow.
That is the essence of the answers given by representatives of Childress Klein Properties, Crosland Southeast and the city of Charlotte on Tuesday night to about 150 nearby residents at a community meeting about Waverly held at the Providence Country Club. It was a first step in the process leading up the Charlotte City Council’s decision on whether to rezone the property from residential to mixed use.
But only a handful of the neighbors who asked their many traffic questions during the first half of the meeting stuck around long enough to hear the answers so clearly articulated – largely by Mike Davis, development services manager for the Charlotte Department of Transportation – during the second half, the part dedicated to transit.
First, the developers had Frank Matthews – former executive and current board member of Belk department store company and head of the clan that owns the farmland on which the development would be built – warm up the crowd with remembrances of trips from his Gastonia home to the farm.
The meat of the meeting’s first half came with Childress Klein’s Chris Thomas and Crosland’s Peter B. Pappas touting their master-planned development, a mix of 250,000 square feet of retail anchored by an “upscale grocery store”; another 90,000 square feet of restaurants and smaller retail around a public plaza; two five- to six-story office buildings; two two-story medical buildings; 150 single-family and town homes running from $300,000 up to $750,000; and 375 apartments renting for an average $1,300 a month.
But when the questions came, only a few concerned the development itself, the scale of the office and medical buildings and parking facilities (answer: the rezoning petition limits the height of any structure to 95 feet, far shorter than the 10-story-plus office buildings in, for instance, SouthPark); the buffer around the development (answer: curb, planting strip, sidewalks, 20-foot natural area, intermittent fence); and timeframe (answer: site development in spring 2014, some business open in late 2015, and substantially up and running “sometime in 2016”).
Instead, most of the inquiries were about roads, intersections, connector streets, stoplights, and major and minor thoroughfares.
“What will this do to my commute time?” was the first such query, followed by many others that the developers could not answer precisely, but more generally.
“I’m not going to say there will be no increase – I would be a liar,” said Barry James, a vice president at Crosland who is working with traffic engineers on the project.
The developers talked about mitigating infrastructure changes, including a traffic light at Golf Links Drive, turn lanes and multiple entrances from the development onto Providence.
They emphasized that the self-sustainability of the mix of uses and the design’s “internal capture” – office workers who live in the development could walk home and to the upscale grocery store and restaurants in the development instead of driving elsewhere, for example – would create less impact on traffic than if the land were to be developed as it is currently zoned, for two to three residential units per acre.
And they said that they believe most of the traffic from outside the development would come from south of I-485, away from the biggest traffic problems on Providence, at the interstate interchange.
Representatives of David Weekley Homes and Terwilliger Pappas Multifamily Partners said the homes would average 2.5 residents and the apartments 1.5, lower than if the land were developed as currently zoned. They also said the target market was in the top 3 percent of income earners and were less likely to have children, reducing the number of car trips.
But it was in the second half of the two-hour meeting that the clearest answers to the traffic questions came, from CDOT’s Davis, who stood up unannounced and explained things for the 30 or so listeners left.
Although he said his department did not yet have a position on whether Waverly should be rezoned by the City Council, Davis could well have been on the Crosland-Childress Klein payroll, agreeing with much of what the developers said about the mix of uses, the street connectivity and the walkability of the development helping avoid traffic burdens.
“What we should be talking about here is not the number of trips, but the length of those trips,” Davis began.
“There will be growth” in the South Charlotte area no matter what is developed there, he continued. “We know there will be congestion. But we look at two things: land use and connectivity, the long-term network of roads.”
In an interview after the meeting, Davis elaborated further, agreeing that the mixed use proposed for Waverly would generate fewer, and shorter, car trips than a purely residential land use.
“Providence Road is a poster child of how disconnected networks don’t work, all those subdivisions south of Sharon Road built in the 1980s and ’90s with one entrance onto Providence,” Davis said.
“That is not the case with this development, which goes back to the way the old suburbs developed closer to uptown. In the near term, there are plenty of connecting streets to Providence (in the Waverly plan), creating a more even dispersal of traffic. In the long term, it is the first piece of the puzzle for the road connectivity of the future development of that whole area.”
Davis also shed light on the future realignment of Ardrey Kell Road as it is extended northeast toward, and eventually connected to, Tilley Morris Road. The extension of Ardrey Kell to Tilley Morris would create a new minor thoroughfare in the area, further dispersing traffic.
The Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization realized before the developers proposed Waverly that if Ardrey Kell were to be extended straight northeast in the future, as now planned, a bridge from 500 to 1,000 feet long would be required to carry it over a large ravine, Davis explained.
When the development was proposed, representatives of Crosland and Childress Klein and members of the CRTPO met and found it was in all of their interests to plan for the future extension to jog north inside Waverly at a traffic circle, and then curve back east when future development comes along nearby. That way, Davis said, Ardrey Kell would go around the ravine; then it would continue on its northeast path to Tilley Morris.
Waverly’s traffic impact was also the subject of discussion Wednesday in a “workshop session” with the developers, the CRTPO and the state and city departments of transportation.
After Tuesday night’s meeting, Pappas, Thomas and James all said they were pleased with what they heard at the country club: No complaints, only questions.
“On a personal level, many people came to us before and after the meeting to say very positive things,” Thomas said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Manager Shad Spencer agreed.
“Last night went a little better than I expected,” Spencer said. “We all knew that the impact on traffic would be a major topic of discussion, and that went better than I expected.”
More questions are in store for the developers when the Waverly plan goes up for discussion at a Charlotte City Council public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.
For more on the rezoning request, go to rezoning.org, click on 2013 petitions and click again on Petition 2013-085.