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Council Quickies: Traffic Safety, Social Districts and Sustainable Innovation

Notes from Monday's meeting: June 6, 2022

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Patrick Cannon
City council met on Monday night and discussed the Strategic Mobility Plan and social districts, among other things. (Photo courtesy of City of Charlotte)

Charlotte City Council met for a six-hour strategy session on Monday night, with a number of topics on the agenda alongside some lengthy committee report outs. We broke down the key parts of the discussion so you don’t have to dedicate a whole evening to watching it back. 

On the agenda:

  • Picasso Exhibit Update
  • Council Committee Report Outs
  • Strategic Mobility Plan Review
  • Neighborhood Traffic Calming Policy
  • Innovation Barn
  • Social Districts

Picasso Exhibit Update

Todd Herman with The Mint Museum led a presentation on the upcoming Picasso exhibition alongside local visual artist Carla Aaron-Lopez, whom we wrote about in an October 2021 cover story.

The exhibit will include around 45 Picasso paintings, and will open in 2023, coinciding with the 50-year anniversary of the artist’s death.

As the only East Coast venue hosting this exhibit, The Mint Museum is hoping to get visitors from up and down the coast, as well as a large share of media attention because it is the opening venue out of only three.

The Mint will use the Charlotte Picasso showing, for which they expect 100,000 visits, as a chance to also highlight the work of Charlotte-born artist Romare Bearden with a concurrent exhibition showcasing his work.

Romare Bearden in his studio with a cat
Romare Bearden in his Canal Street studio, 1976. (Photo by Blaine Waller)

The Picasso exhibition costs $1.4 million to produce. The city and county are being asked to fund the $500K needed after $900K in funding has been raised from corporate sponsors and private donors.

The exhibit will cost $10 for adults and be free for K-12 students and CMS art teachers.

“Right now in the art world, there is Atanta and there is D.C. and there is nothing in between … I will continue to work hard to put Charlotte on the map,” Aaron-Lopez told council on Monday night.


Committee Report Outs

Committee report outs began with Malcolm Graham and the Economic Development committee, which met Monday to discuss the Spectrum Center renovations and potential new practice facility/mixed-use development across the street where the Charlotte Transportation Center is currently located.

Council will vote on whether to move forward with the Spectrum Center deal next week, with a public forum preceding that vote.

Braxton Winston said he is torn as a longtime employee of the Hornets organization who would love to see this deal done and a council member who is concerned that moving forward only justifies the past contract that left the city on the hook for $178M in arena renovations.

Spectrum Arena rendering
A conceptual rendering of the new practice facility/mixed-use development (left) looking northwest on East Trade Street. (Courtesy of City of Charlotte)

Greg Phipps said there are two options for council as he sees them: Go forth with the plan or risk losing the Hornets again. He warned against “hemming and hawing” on the details and falling victim to “the paralysis of analysis.”

Council is expected to vote on source-of-income discrimination later this month, according to
Victoria Watlington with the Great Neighborhoods Committee.

Following Larken Egelston’s Safe Communities Committee report, during which gun violence was discussed, Dimple Ajmera proposed that gun reform be placed on the legislative agenda for the Intergovernmental Committee to discuss with state lawmakers.


Strategic Mobility Plan/Traffic-Calming Policy

Ed McKinney with CDOT led a presentation on the Strategic Mobility Plan (SMP). The first draft of the plan was released in May.

The SMP aspires to safety and equity, the safety part coming from the city’s #VisionZero program. The aspiration for equity is represented in a goal that, by 2040, half of our trips will be made by means other than a single-occupancy car (walking, cycling, transit).

Currently, about 76% of trips in Charlotte are by a driver driving alone, compared to 34% in Washington D.C., 44% in Seattle, 61% in Minneapolis, 70% in Denver, and 74% in Austin.

The goal of the Strategic Mobility Plan is to encourage shorter trips through planning and policy while encouraging less car trips and creating more multimodal trips by building the infrastructure to support them.

There’s a public hearing scheduled for the SMP on June 13, with a vote scheduled for June 27.

After Mayor Vi Lyles complained that the city doesn’t have the money to grow its network of roads the way it deserves to be grown, as “is desperately needed,” Renee Johnson responded, “It is really sad to say that in the same meeting we’re talking about $200M and $60M for other issues [Spectrum Center] … when it comes to folks who need to get to work then we don’t have the money.””

Strategic Mobility Plan
The city opened new separated bike lanes on Parkwood Avenue in October 2021. (Photo by David Flowers/City of Charlotte)

Lyles said she didn’t disagree but that it isn’t that easy, as the city gets money from the state that needs to go to specific things and transit only gets a half-cent dedicated tax. “We could raise property taxes but then that leads to more displacement … so it’s very difficult.”

Transportation Director then led a presentation on neighborhood traffic-calming policies.

Traffic-calming policies cover three main areas: speed humps, speed-limit reduction, and multi-way stops. CDOT wants to abolish the petition process.

The petition process requires signatures from 60% of residents in the impact area surrounding a proposed traffic-calming project. This creates barriers for projects outside of affluent areas, where residents are less likely to have time to put into petitioning neighbors. Council will vote on abolishing the petition process during next week’s meeting.


Innovation Barn

Since opening in September, the Innovation Barn has welcomed more than 7,000 visitors and hosted more than 2,000 hours of volunteer work.

Charlotte creates 1 million tons of waste annually. The Innovation Barn processes waste that can’t be recycled (Styrofoam, food takeout containers) and makes products with them.

Renee Johnson suggested that, seeing as how the city is currently leasing the space out to Envision Charlotte to run the Innovation Barn for $1 annually, if the city is going to help fund a second phase of renovations for the building, a Black-run nonprofit should have a chance to rent out the newly improved space.

Egleston and Bokhari pointed out that Envision Charlotte is helping the city with an issue that it was seeking help with (the circular economy), not receiving a sweetheart deal on rent as some sort of favor.

After Ed Driggs suggested that the city should look into holding Envision Charlotte accountable for their use of the building, which he pointed out is located on prime real estate, Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said, “We are either a sustainable city or we aren’t, but if you’re not willing to support this, don’t say you support sustainability … I’m shocked at the short-sightedness of this council sometimes.”


Social Districts

A “social district” is defined as an area where outdoor alcohol consumption is allowed within a specific boundary. There have been social districts implemented in Kannapolis, Monroe, Greensboro, Norwood, and Newton.

None of the aforementioned municipalities, however, have multiple social districts, as has been suggested for Charlotte.

social district
The implementation of social districts in Charlotte will allow for off-premise alcohol consumption in certain areas. (AdobeStock)

There have been businesses that are already interested, but the city wants to open an application portal to gauge interest. Each district would need separate approval of its boundaries. The scheduled timeline would bring language for a change to the city’s ordinance that would allow for social districts in front of council on July 11.

“I do think we need to be very thoughtful about the applications we approve district to district,” said Larken Egleston. He encouraged council to pass the ordinance change to allow that process to begin so businesses can begin to benefit by fall.

Victoria Watlington wanted specific language in the ordinance to help curb nuisances in residential areas rather than wait for each individual district application, citing data showing that violent crime increases alongside density of businesses that serve alcohol for off-site consumption.


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