Charlotte City Council met for the first time in three weeks in a business meeting on Monday that included votes on raising fines for illegally parked cars and approving Charlotte’s new Arts & Culture Plan.
On the Agenda:
- Action Review: Tree Canopy & CATS Management
- Increased Fines for Parking Violations
- Arts & Culture Plan
- Other Business Items
Action Review: Tree Canopy & CATS Management
The action review portion of the meeting consists of presentations from the city manager’s office on topics that do not require a vote but may come in front of council for a decision in the near future.
Monday’s action review began with an update on Charlotte’s tree canopy.
Charlotte has lost 969 acres of tree canopy since 2018. The percentage of land in the city limits covered with canopy as of 2022 was 47.3%, equaling 94,161 acres. That’s a .5% decrease since 2018, meaning the city is not on track to meet its goal of 50% tree canopy by 2050.
As of 2022, 29% of surfaces in Charlotte were impervious and only 9% of the tree canopy covers impervious surfaces, which is not great for urban areas in the summer months.
The report will be studied further before planning staff comes back with recommendations for action, though chief urban forester Tim Porter did specifically say staff was taken aback by the lack of canopy over impervious surfaces and may focus on that first.
Porter says reviewing the data will take “a number of months,” so council will hear recommendations sometime in 2024. The report was a partnership with Trees Charlotte, which will also help with data analysis.
Porter added that he’s unsure if council will want to keep the goal of 50% tree canopy 2050 or pivot the focus to putting shade where the people are. Dante Anderson said she wouldn’t want to ditch 50 by ’50 regardless of whatever else comes up in the data analysis.
If left as is, the city is currently on track for 40% tree canopy by 2050.
Brent Cagle, interim director of CATS, then led a presentation about the department’s Bus Operations Division, the largest division under CATS, made up of 734 union operators, maintenance techs and administrative staff with an $80-million budget.
Cagle’s office is recommending that, on Nov. 27, city council approve a new contract with National Express Transit to take over operations from RATP-Dev, which has managed bus operations since 2003. RATP-Dev’s contract expires in February 2024.
Light rail and bus operators are city employees and will not lose their jobs in the potential transition, Cagle said. Only three people in middle/general management will change from RATP-Dev to National Express. Union contracts will not change, either.
Cagle said security contracts will also not be affected by the transition, at least not right away, though National Express will help CATS to address concerns about public safety for both operators and riders.
Increased Fines for Parking Violations
The only speaker to address council on Monday night, Mr. Lee discussed the coming vote to increase fines for parking violations. He said he usually rides his bike in the street due to cars parked and/or trash in the bike lane.
Lee recommended an increase to $500. “Hit them where it hurts,” he pleaded. “This is my life in the balance.”
Tariq Bokhari said he supports the idea to raise fines, but added, “There’s a two-sided coin here; one is keeping our cyclists safe … and the other is to balance the need in the car-centric world that we live in right now for people to park.”
He said that he goes to Pearl Street Park regularly and sees a beautiful bike lane that is never in use but could provide parking for folks when the park is full.
Malcolm Graham said he would vote Yes, but reluctantly. His concerns were with the commercial trucks parking in residential areas and thoroughfares. He doesn’t believe $100 will be a deterrent and he has doubts about enforcement.
Graham added that drivers are dropping trailers off in these illegal spots then driving elsewhere in their cabs for the weekend, using city streets for illegal storage, and $100 is “just a business expense” for them.
LaWana Mayfield began floating the idea of hiking the fine to $300. The city has the authority to set it wherever they want, but the state could roll it back if they think the city was overreaching.
The hike at the rate proposed Monday night, taking the fine from $25 to $100, would make Charlotte’s fine for illegal parking the highest in the state.
Dimple Ajmera said she will support the fine hike but wants to see the metrics on the effects of that hike before considering any further increase.
Braxton Winston said he was reluctant to support the fine hike because punitive measures have not been proven to affect community behavior. “It just doesn’t work, simply enough.”
Winston said the increased fines might hurt a few people who live on the margins but he believes if you were to poll people around the city, most would think the fine is already well above $100.
He said he would vote Yes because he heard the safety concerns of cyclists and pedestrians but hopes other changes can be made beyond fine increases.
Renee Johnson said a $100 fine is too steep for a gig worker with Doordash or UberEats. She asked how the city could assist delivery drivers who often have nowhere to park.
A staff member responded that there are certain spots (bike lanes and Gold Line track) that are no-go regardless of the reason, but the city has discussed expanding temporary parking/loading zones in congested areas for delivery drivers and folks like them.
Staff said CMPD has asked that residents call 911 to report illegal parking, though now that the Quality of Life Rapid Response team is active, they can also report through 311 from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Council voted unanimously to raise the fine from $25 to $100 for blocking intersections, parking on sidewalks, parking in a bike lane, illegal parking on streetcar right-of-way, and illegal commercial vehicle parking.
Arts & Culture Plan
Before council discussed the new Arts & Culture plan, Renee Johnson asked Charlotte Arts & Culture Officer Priya Sircar what more beyond the plan council can do to help the city’s arts and culture scene.
“To keep arts and culture as a priority for our city and what that could look like is to keep arts and culture in mind as one of the ways if integrated into all the other things we’re doing as a city could truly help us to have a more sustainable and vibrant city,” Sircar responded.
Ed Driggs said he would be a No vote. He was disappointed not to see more recognition for the major institutions that do so much for the arts in Charlotte in their city-owned facilities (Blumenthal, Mint Museum, etc.). He also did not believe the plan was specific enough, saying it was more like the 2040 Comp Plan than the UDO.
Braxton Winston agreed that the broad plan was broad but said that’s what it should be. “We are really building something from scratch, and adoption of this plan sets us out on the long-term path to continue to act on that … You go slow in government so you can go a long way in government.”
Tariq Bokhari compared the plan to the frame of a car, but not a car that the city can drive. “It needs an engine built, and we might find out this isn’t the shape the car needs to be in the end,” he said.
Bokhari said council continues to ignore the need for a sustainable financial model.
Bokhari emphasized that he has a lot of appreciation for the people who have put so much work into creating the 100-page plan, but “there’s nothing for us to utilize here so we can take next steps.” He said he would be a No vote.
Winston said that approving this plan allows city staff to begin the real work. He pointed out that the city already has people with expertise in building roads and other infrastructure but no department specifically focused on this sector, which the plan would allow to happen.
Mayor Vi Lyles said the plan is not a policy document, so it does not lay out who gets how much money or such specifics, but acknowledges that Charlotte hasn’t in the past supported diverse/underserved artists and organizations and plans to do so with funding moving forward.
Driggs said his problem is that the things council has discussed doing tonight are the things he expected to be included in the plan. He wanted to see specifics. “I thought we would be able to lay this topic more or less to rest [tonight] and say, ‘Our work as a council is done.'”
Council voted to approve the Charlotte Arts and Culture Plan in a 9-2 vote, with Driggs and Bokhari voting No.
Other Business Items
Council approved the use of $5,954,152 from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund to implement anti-displacement programming throughout the city as recommended by the NEST Commission.
The programming will create homeownership opportunities for low-income residents, establish an accessory dwelling unit program to provide affordable rental units and create income streams for low-income homeowners, provide housing rehab services, provide tenant support to small landlords and other services.
The vote is 9-2, with Bokhari and Driggs voting No.
Council voted unanimously to fund nonprofits to provide workforce dev. and small business support throughout the Corridors of Opportunity Business Opportunity Hub Program:
- Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte (Albemarle Road; $1.5M)
- Hispanic Contractors Association of the Carolinas (N. Graham/Tryon; $730K),
- Freedom Communities (Freedom/Wilkinson; $599K),
- LISC Charlotte (Beatties Ford; $499K),
- She Built This City (Sugar Creek, $302K)
- The NEO Foundation (West Boulevard; $300K)
Council voted unanimously to extend the completion date for the Carolina Theatre and InterContinental Hotel in Uptown from Dec. 31, 2023 to Dec. 31, 2025, with an additional $2 million in city funding from the Tourism Fund.
The restoration project is currently 70% complete. Asbestos abatement, contaminated groundwater, remediation of lead paint, partnering with a private hotel developer, and façade restoration are listed as reasons for slowed construction at the historic site.
Council is scheduled to meet again for a zoning meeting on Monday, Nov. 20.
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