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Digging for dirt in all the wrong places

Sometimes when a reporter is digging for dirt, dirt-digging is all he can find.

The Mecklenburg Times has been keeping an eye on the prime uptown parcels the city of Charlotte owns between East Stonewall Street and the John Belk Freeway from roughly South Caldwell to South McDowell streets.

We reported, way back in October 2012, that the city was moving earth on the southeastern-most parcel, signaling an imminent sale to Proffitt Dixon Partners for the Fountains at Stonewall apartment complex, now under construction. The city needed the red clay for a road project and was doing the developer, who had a contract on the land, a favor at the same time.

So a few weeks ago, when heavy equipment began excavation on a parcel a few blocks to the west, our antennae commenced to vibrate.

That parcel, on the southeast quadrant of Stonewall and Caldwell, cater-cornered from the NASCAR/Chiquita building, still belongs to the city, and no deals for it are pending, said Kent Winslow, one of two guys named Kent (the other is surnamed Walker) in charge of selling the property for the city.

And, Winslow explained, the earth-movers were there because the parcel was a “staging area” for the Proffitt Dixon project.

We had no reason other than curiosity to disbelieve Winslow, curiosity stirred when activity increased on the parcel. So we checked the property records, which turned up nothing, and emailed Ron Kimble, the deputy city manager who oversees the parcels. He responded: “It is simply that. It is a staging area for the Fountains.”

And we had no reason but curiosity to disbelieve Kimble. This time, we were curious why the red clay was accumulating in such mountainous proportions and stakes were being driven. Perhaps some developer was trying to cash in on the weather with an urban ski slope? So we emailed Kimble yet again. This time we blamed our editor; what else are editors for?

Kimble emailed back to say the city was allowing Proffitt Dixon to dump excavated clay from the Fountains: “We are allowing them to use the site, and they must return it to its original condition or to a condition we deem appropriate after completion of their project. The City also has 90-day termination rights if we are able to sell this parcel before the Fountains project is done. Nothing more than this is happening on the site.”

Sometimes a Komatsu is just a Komatsu. And a reporter is just a pain in the pencil.

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