Council QuickiesNews & Opinion

Council Quickies: Council Votes on Eastland Yards Compromise

Aug. 28, 2023

Charlotte city skyline from an aerial view
Charlotte City Council met for a business meeting on Aug. 28, 2023. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Charlotte City Council met on Monday for a business meeting, with all eyes on agenda item No. 20: the final decision for what will go into the remaining land at Eastland Yards. However, compromise was the play at hand, and folks will have to wait until October to see just what that compromise looks like.

On the Agenda:

  • Action Review
  • Public Forum
  • Eastland Yards Forum & Discussion
  • Other Business Items

Action Review

During an Action Review update on the city’s Strategic Mobility Plan, Ed McKinney with CDOT presented a categorical breakdown of more than 2,000 projects the department has identified as necessary, including 200 road widenings and street completions, 380 miles of high-frequency bus corridors, 506 pedestrian signals and a whole slew of other projects.

McKinney said CDOT is now looking into how to strategically bundle these projects, as prioritizing them one by one would be impossible.

Shawn Heath with Housing & Neighborhood Services led a presentation on staff’s recommendations for a new grant program targeting small and medium housing support organizations in Charlotte, funded through ARPA.

Staff is recommending that council award $2.25 million to Heal Charlotte for securing 60 rooms for emergency and transient housing for families in or at risk of homelessness at the Baymont by Wyndham hotel near the I-85/Sugar Creek interchange. 

They recommended awarding $2 million to Freedom Fighting Missionaries for the construction of two new, for-rent townhome projects — 16 units at Missionary Grove = 16 units and 21 units at Sardony Lane — providing affordable housing to families in the 30%-80% AMI range. 

They recommended awarding $1.75 million to Westside Community Land Trust as seed funding for a revolving development fund to enable permanently affordable homeownership units for families in the 60%-80% AMI range. 

They recommended awarding $1.1 million in Community Development Block Grant funding for Rebuilding Together to provide critical repairs that make homes safer and healthier, preventing displacement, to families at 80% AMI or below. 

Finally, they recommended awarding $400,000 to Charlotte Family Housing to support the reopening of Hawthorne Place, a 6-room dormitory-style transitional shelter for working families experiencing homelessness. 

Council will vote on awarding the above grants at its next business meeting. 

Public Forum

In response to the first speaker at Monday’s public forum, who spoke about the lack of space and resources at the city’s Animal Care & Control (AC&C) shelter, Mayor Vi Lyles said the city is currently in the advanced planning stages for a new AC&C shelter facility, plans for which will come in front of council soon.

AC&C saw 53 adoptions from the shelter during this past weekend’s large-scale adoption event. A staff member said that, two days later, the shelter is once again 15 cats over capacity and 45 dogs over capacity.

A group of folks wearing shirts that read “Fix the UDO” sent multiple speakers to the podium, the first two addressing concerns about traffic congestion worsened by by-right development, and the third worried about neighborhood character being affected by infill development.

A group of 30+ folks representing Fourth Ward in Uptown were in attendance, with multiple speakers asking for the reimplementation of city ordinances related to drinking in public and public urination/defecation, issues they say are worsening in the area where they work and live.

Airport workers addressed council about the ways they are mistreated at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. They say employees with Jetstream and other contracted companies at the airport are forced to work to the point of heat exhaustion, some of whom pass out or get sick with limited access to water. 

Multiple employees who spoke on Monday night are in charge of cleaning the planes between flights and said they often are faced with cleaning unsafe biohazards as part of their workload. 

Eastland Yards

With a packed house in the chambers on Monday night, Mayor Lyles gave them what they came to see, moving the Eastland Yards agenda item up to be the first vote following the public forum. 

Going into the meeting, there were two options on the table for the eastern corner of the Eastland Yards site. Neighbors had asked that council approve one option, an Indoor Sports Complex (ISC) that would include a 160,000-square-foot indoor sports facility, conceptual outdoor sports components and a hotel. 

City staff recommended the other option, known as QC East, which would include six artificial turf fields for sporting events and the Charlotte Soccer Academy, a large outdoor amphitheater, a food village and a “Hub” for STEM educational opportunities and esports. 

A look at the future Eastland Yards site shows a huge pile of dirt and gravel with some infrastructure piping and a truck or two.
The eastern part of the Eastland Yards site that is yet to land a finalized plan. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

There was a public forum scheduled for the Eastland Yards decision specifically, but before it even started, District 5 rep Marjorie Molina made a motion to defer the decision and ask the developers behind both proposals to come together and collaborate on a new merged proposal that will prioritize the existing indoor sports complex plan that neighbors have asked council to pass.

Before the vote, council heard from 27 speakers who had signed up to speak, with 17 people speaking in support of the Indoor Sports Complex and nine supporting QC East. Most of the people speaking for ISC were community members while many of those supporting QC East were involved with the development. 

Wilora Lake resident Sara Kay Mooney, who wrote this op-ed about the Eastland site back when a Target was proposed there, said she had concerns with accessibility at the proposed QC East development and congestion caused by concerts. She asked that council approve the ISC. 

Greg Asciutto with Charlotte EAST said community members had met with the potential ISC developers and felt heard by them. “Trust your neighbors please. Trust your constituents enough to say that we know what’s needed in east Charlotte,” he pleaded with council. 

Vinroy Reid and Curtis Hayes, both candidates running against Molina for her seat representing District 5, each addressed council in support of the Indoor Sports Complex.

One of the main issues addressed by ISC supporters was accessibility, with QC East seen as being more exclusive and expensive as opposed to the affordable and community-centered approach developers have pitched for the Indoor Sports Complex.

Speakers in support of QC East insisted that their priorities are similar to those of the neighbors who had spoken, but claimed there are false narratives and misinformation surrounding their proposal.

“I think sometimes we make this job difficult and put politics over people,” said James “Smuggie” Mitchell after the forum wrapped. “I hope today we can make it easier and give the people what they’ve asked for.” 

Though he supported the motion, Braxton Winston was concerned about what delaying the project further might mean. He warned that there are serious worries about the financial feasibility of the project with a market that’s tightening all the time. “We can’t have Eastland sitting there bald.”

Based on Tariq Bokhari’s comments, it sounded like the developers were made aware of this compromise plan over the weekend or before the meeting on Monday and are interested in working together to make it happen.

The motion passed unanimously. A new Eastland Yards proposal will be due in 45 days — Thursday, Oct. 12.

Other Business Items

Passed over on Monday night’s agenda was an item that had been removed by city staff over the weekend due to District 4 rep Renee Johnson’s objections. 

Council was scheduled to vote on whether to lease a city-owned property at the University City Boulevard light rail station parking deck to Greyhound, which needs a temporary station due to Gateway Station construction at its current station at West 4th and South Graham streets. 

WSOC’s Joe Bruno reported over the weekend that council member Johnson told him she “was blindsided by the item” on the agenda and that University City Partners was not aware of the potential deal either. The city will presumably look elsewhere for a location that fits Greyhound’s needs while it awaits the completion of Gateway Station construction. 

The Lambeth-Sullivan House, located at 435 Hermitage Road in Myers Park, was given Historic Landmark Designation by council vote on Monday night. The house was home to Charles E. Lambeth, Charlotte mayor (1931-1933); and Ella Sayre Sullivan Robinson, philanthropist and widow of former Charlotte Observer co-owner Walter B. Sullivan.

Council accepted a $1-million grant to implement the Reconnecting Communities Pilot program, which funds projects that study the removal, retrofit, or mitigation of highways that create a barrier to community connectivity. The grant will study ways to address barriers to access between the West End and Uptown. 

Council approved a new transit agreement with UNC Charlotte that will make a new All-Access Pass available to all university students, faculty, and staff, giving them the opportunity to use all city light rail, streetcar, paratransit, and local and express bus services for an annual fee of $50.

Council will meet again for committee discussions on Tuesday, Sept. 5, pushed back a day for Labor Day weekend.

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