Council QuickiesNews & Opinion

Council Quickies: The Last Piece of the Eastland Yards Puzzle

June 5, 2023

Patrick Cannon, city workers, Eastland Yards
City council met on Monday night and discussed the last piece of the puzzle at Eastland Yards. (Photo courtesy of City of Charlotte)

As is the new plan this year for the first Monday of each month, Charlotte City Council spent the day yesterday holding committee meetings then gathered together upstairs at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center so a representative from each of the four committees could fill everyone in on what they had learned, discussed and decided in their respective meetings throughout the day. 

Two committees took up most of Monday’s meeting: the Transportation, Planning and Development Committee discussion about CATS and the Unified Development Ordinance followed by the Jobs and Economic Development Committee discussion about Eastland Yards.

Transportation, Planning and Development 

Committee chair Ed Driggs kicked things off, saying he believes issues at CATS are being properly addressed, many of which wouldn’t usually be newsworthy if not for the city’s transparency, which is then being “reported meticulously” by local media. 

CATS interim CEO Brent Cagle addressed council, beginning with a May 10 derailment. He said he first wanted to “demystify” the term derailment, explaining that it only means a wheel is not in its proper position, as opposed to a full train car coming off its track. 

The May 10 light rail derailment happened at a speed of 5 mph and was minor. The cause is currently unknown, though staff does not believe it was caused by a bearing failure, which was an issue believed to have caused previous derailments.

Cagle said CATS will implement a technology that is used widely in Asia and elsewhere but has not yet been used in North America. It listens to the bearings and the sounds they make and if the natural sounds of the bearings change, it notifies staff in real time.

Inspections have been carried out on all CATS parking decks. No critical issues were found, though inspectors did find some issues in an employees-only parking deck at the North Davidson Street/East 36th Street station. All elevated levels in that deck have been closed until the issues are addressed. The deck has been the subject of litigation in the past.

The Federal Transit Administration will carry out two separate reviews of CATS operations: one regarding maintenance and another regarding its financials.

Driggs then addressed council’s request from last meeting that his committee create a pathway for potential changes to the Unified Development Ordinance’s policies allowing duplexes and triplexes in neighborhoods zoned N1, which mostly consist of single-family housing.

Driggs said planning director Alyson Craig spoke to the committee on Monday and emphasized that the current UDO has restrictions in place regarding height, buffers, etc., so it is not “a total blank check” for building duplexes and triplexes, which would usually need to be built in the style of the surrounding single-family homes. 

Staff will continue to look at the possibility of adding more clear language regarding those restrictions as well as looking at unforeseen consequences of similar policies in other cities that could be guarded against through text amendment.

Jobs and Economic Development

Committee chair Malcolm Graham began by emphasizing that, while it may seem like this is the same Eastland discussion that’s been happening for 10 years, it’s not. The only space left in Eastland Yards is what was left open by Tepper Sports pulling out last year. The rest of the Eastland Yards development is already well under way.

In terms of proposals to fill that space, staff recommended dropping the Carolina Serves racquet sports and entertainment complex out of consideration.

City staff received a new Eastland Yards proposal on Friday afternoon that pitches an AAU sports complex in the space. Staff has recommended that the new proposal move forward, as well as QC East, the existing $83-million partnership that would include a gaming, athletic and concert venue in the space.

Graham added that concerns about a conflict of interest for Tariq Bokhari have been cleared by the city attorney. Bokhari is minority owner (below 10%) of Carolina Esports Hub, which is included in the proposed QC East partnership alongside Charlotte Soccer Academy and Southern Entertainment. 

The city would like to hold a community meeting to solicit input and feedback on these two proposals from residents later this month, potentially on June 24 and/or June 28, releasing bilingual virtual presentations in the lead-up to the meeting that will educate residents on the proposals. 

Graham said he hoped to have an official recommendation for council by next month’s committee discussions. “The goal and objective was to get it right … and I think we’re to a point now where we have 1A (QC East) and 1B … We just gotta make our decision.”

That’s when things went a little left. 

James “Smuggie” Mitchell says he’s been frustrated with some of the residents in the area and with “some of the folks around the dais” because the process is taking too long. He asked what the city expects to get from a community meeting.

Mitchell said he would like the council to go ahead and put a public forum on the agenda of the June 12 business meeting, which he believed would serve the same purpose as a community meeting, to which Mayor Vi Lyles responded that she believes the same people will show up who always show up to council meetings but a specific community meeting with a virtual option could help staff reach more residents who don’t usually engage.

Victoria Watlington agreed with Mitchell, saying that any community members who haven’t weighed in during this 10-year conversation are probably fine with whatever happens there. “We’ve got to stop hiding behind this community outreach piece.”

Braxton Winston pointed out that the new proposal was only received 72 hours prior to Monday’s meeting and one reason for the weeks-long time period before the community meeting would be to help staff properly vet that proposal.

When it came for District 5 rep Marjorie Molina to speak, she was clearly upset that other council members outside of her district were suggesting that council fast track the decision for a development in her district that could involve a proposal that just came in before it’s properly vetted. 

“This ain’t about right now, real fast. I don’t want to put fast before doing this right,” Molina said. “That’s what we owe the people who have been waiting 10 years.” She pointed out that her district is the only one in Charlotte without an economic catalyst, naming specific catalysts in each of the other six districts. 

Molina said she supports creating a digital, bilingual message that presents each option to everyone in the east side for them to know what the choices are before council makes that decision.

“The one thing that has caused me sickness since taking this seat … is the amount of people who are disappointed because they live in District 5. Because they have access to nothing,” said Molina.

After a long discussion about potentially moving up the timeline, which would have needed unanimous support, which council was never going to get due to Molina’s opposition, council fell back on the original plan for virtual outreach and a community meeting. A decision on the Eastland Yards proposals likely won’t come until July. 

Council meets again on Monday, June 12, for a business meeting, during which they’re expected to adopt the Fiscal Year 2024 budget


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