News & OpinionWeekly News Roundup

5 Things to Know: River District Construction Gets Underway

...and four more stories from March 26-April 1, 2023

An overhead shot shows many acres of land cleared out from the middle of a forest where the River District will soon be built.
Land has been cleared for Phase 1 of the river District construction in west Charlotte. (Photo courtesy of Crescent Communities)

River District Construction Gets Underway

City officials gathered in west Charlotte on Wednesday to break ground on a transformational mixed-use district along the Catawba River that will eventually be bigger than Ballantyne, leading some people to refer to it as a town within city limits. 

Developed by Crescent Communities, the 1,400-acre River District is described on its website as a “master-planned community” that will include 8 million feet of office space; 500,000 square feet of retail space; 2,300 single-family homes; 2,350 multi-family residential units; and 1,000 hotel rooms. 

Crews will clear hundreds of acres of forested land to make room for the development in the coming years. The website claims that 550 acres, or 40% of the development, will be green space. 

Located directly west of the airport and a 15-minute drive south of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the River District began with a rezoning approval from Charlotte City Council in 2017 and has been in the planning phases since. Vertical construction on the first phase of the River District, a town center named Westrow, is expected to begin in 2024. 

A rendering of Westrow in the River District. (Illustration courtesy of Crescent Communities)

The community’s amenities will include 2.5 miles of protected bike lanes, 2.7 miles of protected riverfront, 30 parks, three water access points, 14.7 miles of mountain bike trails, a two-acre sustainable farm/orchard, a seasonal food market, a multi-use community venue, a co-working space, a nature center, a maker studio space, a school and more. 

The River District will be constructed in phases and it may be decades before the final phase is finished. 


City Manager Walks Back Original Derailment Claim

Fallout continues to follow the March 13 revelation that a Blue Line car derailed in May 2022, with city manager Marcus Jones informing media on Thursday that he had actually been informed of the derailment hours after it occurred through a text message from then-CATS CEO John Lewis but claims he missed the text. 

The announcement appears to contradict Jones’ original claim that he was unaware of the derailment until he learned of it from interim CATS CEO Brent Cagle this year, though he now states that he only became aware of Lewis’ text during a recent search through correspondence with the former CEO, who left the job in November 2022. 

“I share this information because it’s different from what I initially shared,” Jones said during a media briefing he called for on Thursday afternoon. “It was an honest mistake … I missed it.”

The text was received at 12:43 p.m. on May 21, 2022, just a couple hours after the single wheel derailment: “FYI we just had a minor derailment of the Blue Line train northbound at Archdale Station,” it read. 

As noted in the text, the incident was a minor one, with no injuries occurring, though it did lead to the discovery of hundreds of faulty bearings that have surpassed their warranty and will need to be replaced at the cost of taxpayers. The derailment was just the latest revelation in a series of troubling news for CATS that has raised questions about leadership in the organization and oversight at the city level.

During Thursday’s briefing, Jones also announced that he has invited the Federal Transit Administration to review CATS and will delay the search for a full-time CEO replacement for six months while Cagle attempts to find solutions to some of the more urgent, short-term issues. 

For example, Cagle revealed at a Metropolitan Transit Commission meeting last week that the company also missed federally mandated inspections on its light-rail bridges and parking garages back in 2021. Those inspections began this week. 


Local Hospitals Drop Mask Mandate

A number of regional health-care systems including Atrium Health and Novant Health announced Monday that they will no longer require masks be worn in their facilities, a policy that took effect on Tuesday morning. While masking will no longer be required, certain exceptions will apply, including when respiratory virus symptoms are present and in treatment areas for high-risk patients.

The announcement caused some, like long-COVID sufferer Brooke Keaton, to express their disappointment on social media. Charlottean Cat Williams, who received a double lung transplant in the midst of the pandemic and remains at high risk if infected with COVID, tweeted on Tuesday that she left an appointment in an Atrium Health facility after being told by health professionals that masks don’t work. 

Despite Monday’s announcement, Novant released an explainer the same day listing four reasons why you should still consider masking.


Medicaid Expansion Signed Into Law

Gov. Roy Cooper officially signed House Bill 76 into law on Monday, ensuring that more than 600,000 North Carolinians will finally access healthcare through a Medicaid expansion program known as N.C. Health Works.

Gov. Cooper sits at a desk outside of the governor's mansion at a desk signing a bill while a group of smiling people surround him.
Gov. Roy Cooper signs the Medicaid expansion bill into law. (Photo courtesy of N.C. Rep. John Autry)

The governor and many others have called on the Medicaid expansion to take effect immediately, while the conservative lawmakers who drafted the bill — after more than a decade of fighting against Democrat efforts to pass Medicaid expansion — have stated their intention to wait until a state budget is passed.

“Each day that we delay implementing N.C. Health Works is another day that North Carolinians are forced to cut pills in half or not fill prescriptions, skip recommended medical tests and preventative screenings, or forgo mental health or substance use treatment for fear of crushing medical debt,” read a statement from the NC Justice Center. “We urge the N.C. General Assembly … to make Medicaid expansion a reality immediately.”


Woman Murdered in Domestic Violence Incident

Shortly after 6 p.m. on Sunday, police responded to a shooting call on Teresa Lane in the Sunset Hills area of northwest Charlotte, where they found someone dead from a gunshot wound. The victim was later identified as 24-year-old Janna Lee Barnes. The suspect, her 28-year-old boyfriend, remained on the scene. He was arrested and charged with murder.

 

It is the third woman killed in a domestic violence incident in a little over six weeks. On Feb. 24, 51-year-old Joanna Barrett was stabbed to death at her apartment in east Charlotte by a man believed to have at some point been a romantic partner. He also remained on scene and was arrested. On Feb. 13, 23-year-old Dionyah Thompson was shot and killed by a former boyfriend in front of VINYL in South End. The suspect in that incident then turned the gun on himself. 


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