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Charlotte approves Eastland land sale for school

It was economic tug-of-war Monday night as eastside residents urged the Charlotte City Council not to approve the sale of 11.4 acres of former Eastland Mall property to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, but council members ultimately agreed it was an important step toward revitalizing the area.

Neighbors of the former Eastland Mall property along Central Avenue, above, expressed displeasure Monday with the Charlotte City Council's decision to sell 11 acres to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for the construction of a new school. Residents say they were hoping for more dynamic redevelopment plans that would help revitalize the area. Photo by David Dykes.

Neighbors of the former Eastland Mall property along Central Avenue, above, expressed displeasure Monday with the Charlotte City Council’s decision to sell 11 acres to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for the construction of a new school. Residents say they were hoping for more dynamic redevelopment plans that would help revitalize the area. Photo by David Dykes.

Council members voted 8-2 to approve the sale over the objections of residents who said a school won’t spark the economic development needed at the site. In a subsequent vote, council members approved a rezoning to allow the school.

Council members Patsy Kinsey and Claire Fallon voted against the sale. Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield didn’t attend the meeting.

Working from a full agenda, council members also approved nearly $9 million in the city’s Housing Trust Fund proposals but rejected a $1.3 million request for senior housing on Harrisburg Road.

Council members also approved an amendment between the city and Panthers Stadium LLC to extend the rent-free period for city events at Bank of America Stadium.

No developers have come forward with plans for the remaining 69 acres of the former mall site, which eventually will include a Google Fiber Hut to help connect Google high-speed internet across the city.

CMS agreed to pay $650,000 for the site, which will be used to build a new K-8 school. CMS also will contribute $400,000 for the planning, design and construction of the Hollyfield Drive extension. The city would reimburse the board for the remaining costs of the road.

Eastside activist Ed Garber gave the council a petition with 597 signatures opposing the sale during the meeting. The petition included 45 Wilora Lake residents who live on the border of the school and mall site.

Residents feel the sale isn’t a solution “that really drives economic development” for the property he told council members at the meeting.

“It’s a very risky proposition,” Garber said.

He was joined by Katherine Mejia Alexander, who said she lives three blocks from the former mall site.

“There is something that can work over here that will bring development and it’s not just a school,” she said.

“A major developer will come,” Alexander said. “It’s not the right time.”

Area residents Maureen Gilewski and Billy Maddalon, however, supported the sale of the property as an important start in redeveloping the area.

“Those of us that have been long-term residents of Charlotte’s eastside, we personally understand the long-standing negative perceptions (of the former mall site) and the impact associated with these perceptions on our neighborhoods and our communities,” said Gilewski, a 41-year eastside resident.

“This really excites me,” she said. “And it really excites me more so for those who will come after me and see the reality of this.”

“We’re certain that if done correctly, this project will become a multigenerational catalyst for an entire area of our city where lots of young families are relocating,” Maddalon said.

The city bought the 80-acre site in 2012 for $13.2 million with plans to have a single developer propose a large, multi-use project, and demolished the mall in 2013.

However, it could not come to an agreement with Studio Charlotte Development, which proposed a $300 million phased-in project that would include a movie studio, sound stages, a film school, a cinema, a hotel, apartments and shops.

In 2014, the City Council unanimously rejected Studio Charlotte Development’s request for a five-month extension on exclusive negotiating rights for the project.

The only other proposal was from ARK Ventures, which in August 2013 pulled its proposal for a $154 million recreation and entertainment complex that would have included an artificial ski slope and a skate park.

The magnet school, the first phase of the redevelopment process, would be at the northeast corner near Wilora Lake Road.

In other action, the council voted 5-5 on a motion to approve $1.3 million in funding for the proposed Cedarwood Apartments for seniors, prompting Mayor Jennifer Roberts to cast the deciding vote. She voted against the funding.

The city’s Housing & Neighborhood Development Committee voted unanimously earlier this month to deny the HTF allocation for the Cedarwood development, which was proposed for east of the city on Harrisburg Road near Albemarle Road. The project faced strong community opposition, said Councilman John Autry, a committee member.

But Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles said that with the growing number of seniors in the area, “What message are we sending to those (developers) that are going to do this?”

The developer, Connelly Development NC, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Council members approved funding for five multifamily rental projects. They included $1.45 million for 30 units on Baxter Street; $585,000 for 39 units on Mount Holly-Huntersville Road; $1.4 million for 82 units on Beatties Ford Road; nearly $2.4 million for 104 units on Tuckaseegee Road; and $3.1 million for 70 units on Weddington Road.

The HTF is funded from voter-approved housing bonds and administered by the city’s Neighborhood & Business Services’ Housing Services Division.

The Charlotte City Council established the HTF in 2001 to provide financing for affordable housing. Since then, the HTF has financed 5,509 new and rehabilitated affordable housing units.

Council members Monday voted to approve an amendment to the city’s contract with the Carolina Panthers that would move up by one year the city’s final payment toward Bank of America stadium improvements, which is expected to save the city $5.3 million.

The city agreed in 2013 to contribute $75 million toward the stadium in exchange for an agreement that allows the city to use the stadium rent-free for various events. The Panthers agreed to expand the city’s rent-free use of the stadium in exchange for the city changing payment for its final installment from Dec. 1, 2017 to Dec. 1, 2016.

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