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."


Bolyn McClung said...
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Bolyn McClung said...


The folks out in the Weddington and McKee Rd area may have a different opinion about the influence city councilmen have and how it is used when it comes to new development.

Was one of the council member's relationship with the Housing Partnership too close.

In this case Mr. Howard was both the the Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Fund Development of The Housing Partnership and a council member.

Just something to look at while the air is being cleared.

Bolyn McClung

Garth Vader said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garth Vader said...

Eric Frazier: "So Mr. Fox, do you ever eat any of the hens at that henhouse you're guarding?"

Mr. Fox: "No, sir. *burp*" (feathers fly out of mouth)

Eric Frazier: "Mmm..K. That's good enough for me."

When is the last time the City Council or County Commission said NO to some Mr. Moneybags who came to them asking for a massive subsidy, incentive or bailout?

Almost 60,000 Charlotteans voted against the "Decade of Progress" bundle, yet the City Council funded every one of those projects.

Whitewater Center, Carowinds, Chiquita, MetLife, AIG, Charlotte Knights, Bank of America Stadium, SouthEnd Trolley, Light Rail, StreetCar, Eastland Mall.

Mr. Frazier, name one time the politicians haven't run each other over in their eagerness to give millions in taxpayer money to wealthy beggars.

Anonymous said...

Bingo, Mr McClung, we have found a winner!!! This plan makes no sense, other than pushed from shady inside dealings.
Why on earth would you build a public housing complex where the bus service is non-existant?
I thought city population density was the goal of the urban planners, and reason for investments like the light rail line.

Anonymous said...

A few more questions the Observer could ask to the development community:
How many "points" has Treena gotten in the past?
Does Mr Howard have any past on the record dealings with Cannon?
Does Mr Howard have any "unofficial" dealings with Mr and Mrs Cannon?
What is the names on the cliant base for Mr Cannon and Mr Barnes lighting company? Do they have any experience in the lighting industry?

Anonymous said...

I have always felt that it was a total conflict of interest for a councilman or a mayor to be employed by any entity that is funded in any way by city government. Both Howard and Mitchell fall into that category. And what was Cannon going sitting on the board of the the hospitality commission or whatever it calls itself? washy is not that a conflict of interest?

Anonymous said...

Seems like a lot has changed in local government--city and county-- since the 90's.

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