The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved moving forward with a complicated multi-party land exchange that will enable the redevelopment of Midtown land while preserving and expanding Pearl Street Park.
In addition, the exchange will provide land for the Charlotte Housing Authority to build new affordable housing, should it choose to do so.
Pappas Properties and Terwilliger Pappas want to build a multi-use project including residential, office and hotel space on land currently owned and occupied by the Charlotte Regional Realtors Association off Kenilworth Avenue.
The prospect of changes to the park has angered parents and organizers of youth baseball and soccer leagues, who raised concerns about limited parking, difficulty of access, safety and the disruption of sporting events during construction.
Rich Little, president of the Myers Park Trinity Little League, asked the commissioners to table the issue until further sureties were provided that the development would not adversely impact the leagues’ full use of the park.
“So far I haven’t found a way to say ‘Yes’” to the proposal, he said at the board’s meeting at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.
Board members, while empathetic to the years of work and money that the league and the Charlotte Junior Soccer League have put into installing lights and maintaining the fields, said they believed the park would be better after the projects are complete.
Several also said that emails they have received from some people opposed to the project have contained inaccurate information.
“I understand people’s passion (but) I don’t think it’s fair to make misrepresentations,” said Commissioner George Dunlap. “It is in fact true that the park will improve. It is in fact true that the park will be enlarged. It is in fact true that the turf will be replaced. So I fail to understand how we’re losing the park.”
Under the land swaps and sales, Pearl Street Park would grow from about 9 acres to 11 acres, but the smaller, rarely used Baxter Street Park property to the northwest would be conveyed to the Charlotte Housing Authority for possible future development.
The design plans and agreements also provide an adequate number of parking spaces for the sports leagues, including 50 that the CRRA offered in its new parking deck. The county plans to incorporate $5.6 million in park improvements, including $3 million for site development and landscaping.
Much of the money would come from the sale of the remnant parcels.
About $920,000 will be funded by Pappas’ construction of bike lanes and sidewalks, and the county and city will reimburse Pappas for that and road construction through a tax increment grant, or TIG, in which the developers would be reimbursed over a period of time a share of the difference in property tax between what is being paid now and what the new development would bring, up to $4.4 million.
Pappas also plans to build a road on the Berkeley Avenue right-of-way in the CRRA parking lot, connecting to Greenwood Cliff, which would then be abandoned from Kenilworth to Berkeley.
“What’s key in here is the developer is taking the risk, they’re fronting the capital,” said Peter Zeiler, director of the county Office of Economic Development, in an interview Wednesday. Should the developers be unable to complete the project, they won’t be reimbursed.
“This tool is generally used as a way for the city and county to find ways to finance needed infrastructure and desired infrastructure that is outside of our typical capital planning,” said Zeiler.
Any remaining balance on the park improvements will likely be paid for through the county’s reserve funds, and not from other park projects, he said.
The Charlotte Regional Realtor Association announced in December 2014 that it would be selling its 5.3-acre site at Kenilworth and Greenwood Cliff in Midtown. The association’s 46,000-square-foot headquarters was built in 1970.
The CRRA, which owns the Carolina Multiple Listing Services, plans to build a new 36,000-square-foot headquarters behind the current building, in addition to a parking deck.
The project proposed by Pappas Properties and Terwilliger Pappas is expected to include 195 residential units; a 150-room hotel; 25,000 square feet of retail; 168,000 square feet of office space, and a 1,250-space parking deck.
Peter A. Pappas is a principal at both Charlotte-based companies developing the site; Pappas Properties develops a variety of projects, and Terwilliger Pappas develops apartments.
Commissioner Pat Cotham praised Pappas, who also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, for exhibiting commitment to the community in other projects, and assured those opposed to the project, “Everyone is going to do their best to make sure that this turns out to be an awesome park and an awesome opportunity…I think we’ve got good odds. I’m betting on all these people.”
The commissioners also said they understood the park users’ concerns regarding increasing county population and participation in sports leagues, and the need for more parks.
“With the growing number of people living in the center city … we do need to provide playing fields,” said board Vice Chair Dumont Clarke.
Several commissioners also commended the residents for improving the redevelopment plan with their input.
“I think that the conversation has been very fruitful over the last year,” said Matthew Ridenhour, who represents the Midtown area and said he wasn’t initially in favor of the project. “I really do feel that these issues have been addressed. At this point, I’m kind of left saying, I’m not sure what could be the impediment to this deal going forward.”
Council takes action
In its vote on Tuesday, the county:
*Authorized Manager Dena Diorio to negotiate and execute property exchanges between the city and councy. The city would convey to the county two parcels between the Charlotte Housing Authority tract to the north and Pearl Street Park, and a cul-de-sac of Baxter Street, which is to be realigned. The county would convey to the city “remnant” parcels created by a right-of-way realignment for Pearl Park Way extension on the west edge of Pearl Street Park. The city, in turn, would sell the remnant parcels, totaling 0.38 acres, to the developers at fair market value, estimated to be $1.2 million. That money would be returned to the county to fund the park’s improvements.
*Approved the rezoning of the remnant parcels to office with a pedestrian overlay from business.
*Authorized Diorio to negotiate an interlocal agreement with Charlotte for infrastructure reimbursement.
*Authorized Diorio to negotiate property transactions with the Charlotte Housing Authority, which will convey 2.8 acres on the south end of its property for the park’s expansion and the new right-of-way connecting Pearl Park Way extension to Baxter Street. The county, in an equal-value exchange, would convey 1.88 acres of Baxter Street Park land to the Charlotte Housing Authority for possible future housing development. In addition, commissioners said they are close to an agreement with CHA to sell it the remaining land in the park for about $2 million. Cheron Porter, CHA’s public relations director, said the agency has no immediate plans for the site.
*Approved an agreement with the Protestant Episcopal Church and Thompson Family Services to remove deed restrictions placed on the park in 1943 that required the maintenance of a 50-foot vegetative buffer on the western edge and to release the county from an obligation to provide the groups with a right to repurchase the land for $2,500 should it cease to be used as a park.