Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sustain Charlotte honors 70 for green-friendly efforts

Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting sustainable social, economic and land use policies, recognized 70 Charlotte area citizens and organizations Tuesday evening for their efforts. 

Eleven winners received the top awards before a crowd of more than 250 at the Third Annual Community Sustainability Awards + Earth Day Celebration at UNC Charlotte's Center City campus uptown. They were recognized for helping to advance ‘Charlotte 2030:  A Sustainable Vision for Our Region, which Sustain Charlotte launched in 2010.

Among the winners:
  • Outstanding Overall Leader,  David Walters, director of UNC Charlotte's Urban Design Program
  • Oustanding Educator, Cindy Moss, director of global STEM initiatives, Discovery Education
  • Transportation, Charlotte Department of Transportation
  • Land Use, Charlotte Center City Partners
  • Energy, N.C. Sustainable Energy Association
  • Waste Reduction, Eaton Corp.
  • Air Quality, Clean Air Carolina
  • Food, Go-Go Fresco
  • Social Equity, MGR Charlotte
  • Water, Charlotte Public Tree Fund
  • Sustainable Economy, PPRE Forevergreen


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Charlotte rising on lists of top cities for millennials, new college grads

If you've been wondering what's up with the surge in apartment complex construction in Charlotte, particularly in and around uptown, a couple of new studies might help explain why developers have pushed apartment-building numbers locally to an all-time high.

Apartments.com is out this week with its Top 10 cities for recent college graduates, and Charlotte landed in the No. 2 spot, behind only Denver, Co. The list factored in both affordability of average rents for one-bedroom apartments, plus median income and unemployment rates. It also assessed whether a city had "a vibrant culture catering to active young professionals," according to a press release from the site.

Also out this week is Niche.com's analysis of best cities and neighborhoods for millennials. Niche.com, which grew out of the Collegeprowler.com college rating site, offers rankings and reviews of neighborhoods, schools and metro areas. Charlotte landed at No. 18 on its analysis of the 25 best cities for millennials. (Raleigh came in at No. 12).

Every time I ask a developer about the risk of an apartment bubble locally, they point to the kind of demographic trends animating both these reports. The young folks are coming in droves, the developers say, and they aren't ready to buy houses.

What do you think? Are enough young adults arriving in Charlotte to support the many new apartments going up around the city?



Friday, April 4, 2014

Report putting Charlotte in top five cities for sprawl a call to action, local groups say

Local groups concerned about suburban sprawl and congestion are taking note of a new report that lists the Charlotte-Gastionia-Rock Hill, S.C. area as the nation's fifth most sprawl-prone large metropolitan area. The report, out this week from Smart Growth America, a national research group fighting for sustainable growth and land-use policies, studied development patterns at 221 metro areas and 994 counties in the U.S. as of 2010.

Among metro areas with more than 1 million people, Charlotte ranked fifth in sprawl among large metro areas and 25th worst overall. Hickory ranked first overall in the study, which factored in residential and employment density, accessibility of the street network, strength of downtowns and activity centers, and the mix of homes, jobs and services in neighborhoods.

Shannon Binns, head of Sustain Charlotte, a group fighting for sustainable land-use and transportation policies locally, said it points out the need for the city to expedite the ongoing review of its zoning codes, which were last overhauled in 1992. The current ordinance is still predicated on suburban-oriented development, at a time when more young adults are preferring to live in high-density, transit-oriented areas such as the South End. The current ordinance "is so convoluted and lengthy," Binns said. "It's kind of like the tax code. It doesn't promote modern thinking about land use and development."

The Centralina Council of Governments, which works with government agencies in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties, also felt the study pointed out the need for thoughtful efforts to guide growth and development. It has been working on a three-year effort called Connect our Future that aims to build a 14-county regional framework for growth. The group has been holding meetings around the region, soliciting input from more than 2,000 people in its first phase alone, and more than 4,000 overall. When asked in one survey to name the transportation feature most important to them, about the same percentage of those responding mentioned having more sidewalks, trails and other safe places to walk (21 percent) as mentioned getting more roads (22 percent).

"What they support is exactly what Smart Growth America and other organizations have indicated is essential for growth that is healthy," said Jim Prosser, Centralina's executive director.

The project expects to publish by year's end a framework designed to give local governments guidance and advice on planning for growth. To give your thoughts, visit connectourfuture.org.



Monday, March 31, 2014

Former Charlotte planner: City-county staff stands up to developers and politicians

Fairly or not, the FBI sting of former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon has cast a shadow over the interplay between local real estate developers and politicians. The FBI's case against Cannon centers on allegations that he was willing to accept thousands of dollars in cash payments, as well as trips and other benefits, in exchange for helping real estate developers fast-track their projects past city and county regulators.

City-county planning staff and real estate developers alike have been skittish about talking publicly about the case, but I recently spoke with a couple of veterans of the local planning and zoning scene. Both, like everyone else with ties to local government, were aghast at the allegations. Walter Fields, former land development manager for the planning commission, said he never felt undue pressure to approve a real estate project during his time there in the 1980s and 1990s. He said that while developers might press to get their projects approved, he and other staffers felt comfortable opposing them on the merits -- even if the planning board and city council later approved the project anyway. "I often got in hot water by maintaining my professional role and getting cross-ways with a public official," said Fields, who now does consulting work with developers.

The FBI says Cannon told undercover agents posing as real estate investors that he exercised enough sway over city-county staff in charge of planning, zoning, alcohol licensing and building permits that he could get their projects approved. Mary Hopper, a past chairwoman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg planning commission board, said she found it  hard to believe such boasts would be anything more than empty ones. "I've seen the staff, whether it's the Charlotte Department of Transportation or city-county planning director Debra (Campbell's) people really put the screws to them in terms of, 'This is what we need' before approving the project.  And in a collaborative way. And if it didn't work, some of the developers walked away."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What should North Carolina's new slogan be?

The N.C. Department of Commerce, in the midst of a massive overhaul of the way it markets the states to outside industry, wants your help in coming up with North Carolina's new 'brand.' The department is launching the Brand North Carolina project, which will be handled by UNC Chapel Hill's Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.

I suppose it makes sense that the state is doing this, given the waves of negative national press North Carolina has received in the past year or so over everything from the Moral Mondays protests to tough new voter ID legislation to aggressive cuts in unemployment benefits to new abortion restrictions.

It includes two contests open to N.C. residents. One is a creative expression contest in which you use photography, poetry, song, dance, video or other artistic means to convey what N.C. means to you. According to a commerce department press release, submittals should represent the values, culture and community of North Carolina. (Don't laugh. The winner gets $2,000).

The second contest, according to the press release, is a "case competition" in which student teams will tackle marketing issues around the state's brand and compete with other teams to recommend the new 'brand positioning' for the state. The state is also recruiting "brand ambassadors" to help spread the word about the project. Feeling civic-minded? You can register as a possible ambassador here.

In the meantime, why don't we start throwing some ideas around? What do you think North Carolina's new slogan or brand should be?



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Apartment construction surges to all-time high in Charlotte

The newest report by multifamily research firm Real Data shows apartment construction has surged to an all-time high in Charlotte.

The new report, tracking activity in Charlotte's multifamily market over the past six months, shows 10,067 units under construction. Most of the new units are Class A properties in uptown and in neighborhoods such as the South End, SouthPark, NoDa and Elizabeth. Another 11,003 units have been proposed. Real Data's Charles Dalton says this is the most apartment development Charlotte has ever seen. The previous high came during the construction boom of 2000, when just under 8,000 units were under construction.

Officials broke ground last week for The Mint, one of the latest apartment complexes to begin construction uptown.
The city over the past five years has averaged 4,479 units under construction, so the latest figures show the multifamily development market has yet to cool down, despite concerns in some quarters that it might be getting overbuilt. The report says that as the newest units hit the market in the next year, vacancy rates that currently sit at 6.2 percent will rise to as much as 8 percent.

The average rent in Charlotte stands at $874 per month, with one-bedroom units going for about $781, two bedrooms going for $891 and three bedrooms renting for about $1029. Same-store rents are expected to grow between 2 percent to 3 percent during the next year, but Real Data says increased competition for renters could hinder that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Could Stone Brewing choose Charlotte for East Coast brewery?

Hold onto your frosted mugs, beer lovers. Local economic development officials are lobbying to make Charlotte the site for California-based Stone Brewing Co.'s new East Coast brewery. Stone is the maker of such popular (and colorfully titled) beers as "Arrogant Bastard Ale" and the "Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA. The Charlotte Regional Partnership has launched a web site and a social media campaign (#StoneGoToCUSA) to tout several sites around the region, from Rowan to Lincoln to Gaston, as well as several in Mecklenburg.

Local Stone lovers haven't been sitting on the sidelines. They've launched a Facebook site that's gotten more than 1,100 "likes" in hopes of showing the brewery that Charlotte should be its new East Coast home.

There is competition, however. Escondido, Calif.-based Stone is the 10th largest craft brewer in the nation and the biggest in southern California. According to this story, other communities from around the Carolinas, including Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro and Florence, S.C. are all in pursuit of the plant, which could bring an estimated 370 jobs with wages ranging from $12 to $48 an hour. Capital expenditures for the new brewery are projected to exceed $20 million for the initial phase of the brewer's business plan, with revenue projected to exceed $100 million by the fourth year, according to Sam Boykin, spokesman for the partnership.

The company is looking to pick a site and begin construction this year. Asked how many other communities have replied to the brewer's request for proposals, company spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo declined to divulge a number. However, she added: "We definitely have seen quite a bit of interest and are pleased with the amount of proposals we've received."

According to the partnership, hundreds of other communities east of the Mississippi River have expressed interest. "It will take a special site to meet their requirements," Boykin wrote in an email, "and we're confident the Charlotte region is well-suited in terms of infrastructure, location and population density."