Residents wary of city’s Park Road plans; ‘Policy Guide’ would help steer future -development of corridor
by Mike Parks
Park Road-area residents spoke out Thursday, Nov. 17, with concerns that city and county leaders might start meddling in their community.
City planning officials held a kickoff meeting last week to discuss the Park Woodlawn Area Plan – a guide to help the city answer future development and zoning questions in the area generally south of Dilworth and north of Tyvola Road along Park. The former plan for guiding growth in the area was too limited, focusing just on properties fronting Park, and too old, since it was approved in 1992.
Though establishing the plan won’t mean the city will start snatching up property from homeowners or raise taxes on the area, a number of residents were up in arms over what they saw as an intrusion by the city on an area that hasn’t changed much in the past 20 to 40 years.
Much of the area in question was “built-out” by the 1970s, according to Alberto Gonzalez, the principal planner who led Thursday’s meeting at Park Road Montessori School near the popular, but aging Park Road Shopping Center. The shopping center was built in 1956. Population, like area development, hasn’t changed much from the 1990s, either, Gonzalez noted. Area population was 11,533 in 1990, 12,467 in 2000 and 12,164 last year – a slight decline. That varies greatly from city and county overall averages, where population grew around 35 percent between 2000 and 2010.
And while many residents may want to see the city leave the community as it is – except for some traffic improvements, if possible – Gonzalez said the city isn’t interested in changing the community as much as planning for the next two decades.
“This is the time to start planning what you want future planning to look like,” said Gonzalez, despite numerous interruptions by residents in the audience. “We’re not taking any homes down … not buying any property (and) not taking any property.”
A survey some 200 residents filled out prior to the meeting shows residents do have some concerns, other than fearing the city might ruin the “character” of the community. Traffic along Park and Woodlawn roads often bogs down during the morning and evening rush hours, and access to some of the shopping centers isn’t great.
Those are issues the updated area plan will emphasize, and developers and city council will need to answer those concerns when proposing and approving development – or more likely in this case, redevelopment – along Park. But the guide also isn’t a law, and the council and rezoning committees can go against the plan when they have “good reason,” Gonzalez noted.
A recent example is the nearby Quail Corners shopping center, which falls in the South District Area Plan. Developers proposed a change in zoning for that aging shopping center to allow addition of a fast-food restaurant with a drive-through. Though the South District Plan recommended against drive-throughs, the city council approved the rezoning earlier this year, noting job creation and a need to update the shopping center as two “good reasons” for doing so.
When residents asked Thursday night what this plan meant for the Park Road Shopping Center, Gonzalez said city planners have not had serious talks with owners of the center, though they were invited to the public meeting.
Next up for the plan’s development is a Dec. 8 Citizen Advisory Group meeting. Residents signed up for the group Thursday night, and people interested in serving on the committee should contact Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-336-8315. The group will meet about eight times in a five-month period.
The citizen group will make recommendations to city planners, who then plan to hold another public meeting next summer. The city staff expects to present a draft of the plan by next fall. Charlotte City Council would then need to adopt the plan.