Don’t expect the growth around SouthPark Mall to slow down anytime soon – but traffic might move at a snail’s pace, according to Charlotte City Councilman Kenny Smith.
Smith addressed a crowd of about 120 at the Charlotte Country Club on Tuesday for the March lunch meeting of Commercial Real Estate Women’s Charlotte chapter.
As councilman for District 6, Smith focused his remarks on the explosive growth in the areas around SouthPark Mall and Park Road. He said the City Council is trying to plan ahead for the many multi-use projects coming to the area, but also for the traffic that is sure to come with it.
“I’ve lived 27 of my 42 years within about 5 miles of SouthPark Mall,” Smith said. “A lot of the growth we’re seeing wasn’t here just 10 years ago. A lot of the buildings weren’t here just five years ago.”
In recent months, the City Council has approved rezoning requests for projects in SouthPark that will add more than 900 apartments to the area over the next two years. Smith also mentioned another project not yet approved by the council that wants to add 490 residential units for senior adult living spaces. That mixed-use project is part of a rezoning request from developer Childress Klein that also proposes 170,000 square feet of commercial use on land owned by Sharon Road United Methodist Church.
The project could also have a 175-room hotel, 20,000 square feet of indoor recreation and a 750-seat religious institution.
He said that while large growth fueled by industry announcements like Sealed Air Corp.’s expansion plans and the coming of Google Fiber is a good thing for the city, the No. 1 complaint he hears is increased traffic.
According to Smith’s presentation of city data, since 2011 the city has gained over 8 million square feet of commercial space — and 52,000 new cars and trucks on the roads.
“Now, there is more to District 6 than just SouthPark Mall,” he said. “But the population within 5 miles of the mall is 241,085. And there are 23,000 people who work within 1 mile. As a Charlotte native, I am amazed to see those population numbers.”
So what does the city plan to do about the growth in traffic? First, Smith said, they have a plan to build some new roads in the area.
“We want to extend some roads and build new roads through existing developments like the Colony, connecting the center of that apartment complex to Sharon Road,” he said. “This is near one of the biggest intersections in Charlotte.”
Smith said that 75,000 cars per day drive through the intersection of Sharon and Fairview roads at SouthPark Mall.
“That’s the equivalent of the population of Asheville driving through there – they have about 80,000 people – and that happens every day,” he said. “But we have done all we can with the roads in SouthPark. We cannot widen them any further. We’ve already adjusted the timing on stop lights to let more people through at certain times of day. Our new plan is to make some new roads in the area to pull people off of Sharon Road or Fairview so they won’t go on those roads unless they absolutely have to.”
Another way the city plans to decrease traffic on those two thoroughfares is to make SouthPark more walkable.
“When we build those new roads, we are also looking at building new walking trails behind the mall, so that people can park their car across the street and walk to their shopping,” Smith said. “Or if they live in the Colony they can walk to work at Nucor or one of the other companies nearby and then also walk to Publix to do their grocery shopping and walk to the mall, too.”
Smith added that he is working on a new SouthPark Small Area Plan, and the council plans to work with the Urban Land Institute to look at other areas that have experienced rapid urbanization like south Charlotte to see how those cities managed the growth.