City of Charlotte planners are altering their vision for 10-foot-wide bike and pedestrian paths on Monroe Road after hearing feedback from some Oakhurst businesses and property owners in recent weeks.
The paths, which would include additional 8-foot-wide planting strips separating the bike paths from the roadway, were planned for both sides of Monroe Road from Wendover Road to Ross Moore Avenue and Eaton Road. The city would need to purchase private property in order to construct the amenities, which would total 18 feet on each side of the street, and in some cases that meant buying up valuable parking spaces fronting Monroe Road.
But it won’t be a simple handshake deal for Waters Incorporated, which owns Oakhurst Commerce Centre, a multi-building business park anchored by Common Market, Iron Tribe Fitness and PPG Paints.
The latest version of the project would take 19 parking spaces from the property while promising to replace two when construction is complete. However, Waters Incorporated Vice President Gerri Fewster argued that losing so many spaces will make parking difficult for visitors and hurt businesses like Common Market, whose strong customer base relies on convenience.
Fewster also serves as Waters’ director of commercial property management and said Common Market was a big draw for the company purchasing Oakhurst Commerce Centre. Its reputation as a community meeting place has helped bring in new tenants like MoveStudio, she said.
“We have a real good thing going on there,” Fewster said. “It’s very nice for the neighborhood and this will, in supposedly doing something good for the neighborhood, destroy our property and Common Market is just one of the businesses.”
Graham Worth, owner of Common Market Oakhurst, has been vocal about the need for a creative compromise, one that doesn’t affect his bottom line.
“It’s the 19 most convenient spots, it’s not like they’re taking spots from the back,” Worth said, “and our whole business is built on convenience.”
City staff are currently revising the design based on feedback and do not yet know how many parking spaces will be impacted in the new version.
Stakeholders feel left out
The multi-use path is just one part of the city’s $13.38 million Monroe Road Streetscape project, which aims to make the corridor more walkable and improve greenway connections. Other improvements include new pedestrian crossings, signals and bus stop enhancements.
The city aims to start construction in late 2022 and finish late 2024, which seems soon for stakeholders like Worth and Waters Inc., who claim to have only recently learned about the impact of the project on their businesses.
According to the Monroe Road Streetscape project website, the city held six public engagement opportunities from October 2016 through June 2021. Worth attended the first meeting, but described it only as a “think tank” and said he hadn’t heard anything concrete about the project until this past June.
Waters Inc. was informed around the same time via a postcard sent to its other Monroe Road property, The Mini Storage Center.
“We were never notified, legally, by letter, anything,” Fewster said. “They’ve been working on this for a couple years and their website says they’ve talked with everyone. We weren’t talked to and we have two properties there.”
Worth reached out to MoRA, a community organization that’s short for Monroe Road Advocates, to coordinate a conversation with the city. MoRA typically advocates for improvements like bike paths, walkability and beautification, but it also strives for an economically vibrant community, which is why it’s backing Common Market.
“An improvement project that makes it difficult to access our businesses is counterproductive,” said Kathy Hill, chair of MoRA. “We’re confident that the city and the businesses along Monroe can find acceptable solutions to challenges like this one.”
At MoRA’s request, the city hosted a meeting on Aug. 25 at Common Market. City staff explained the Monroe Road Streetscape project, answered questions and absorbed feedback from business owners and residents.
“I’m glad you’re putting energy into Oakhurst. It needed a hug,” Common Market employee Roger Raymer said. “But if you can do this without negatively impacting the businesses, everyone will be happy. I’m pretty damn sure.”
Veronica Wallace, Charlotte’s engineering and project management division manager, assured the design can be retrofitted to fit the space if it stays within budget and doesn’t require moving utility poles.
Worth’s main issue with the path, aside from losing parking and the potential impact on his business, is the principle. He said the city required 43 additional spaces when he opened in May 2017, which Common Market paid to add to the property, and now the project aims to take more than a dozen away.
He also questioned if Common Market would be violating its use permit if it operates without the necessary parking spots and told city planners Aug. 25 he feels like his concerns have fallen on deaf ears.
“We didn’t know,” Wallace responded. “It’s not an excuse, but it’s a reason.”
Constraints create domino effect
The multi-use path is a good idea in theory, Worth said, but does Oakhurst even need it? And does the need justify the impact?
Worth wondered who’s really biking and walking along Monroe Road, emphasizing that the majority of his business comes from customers who drive. He estimates about 15% of people walk or bike to Common Market on the weekends and “pretty much no one” on the weekdays.
“Who is even going to come up here and use this?” Worth asked. “The idea of the project is well-intended, but who are you really trying to service here?”
“The irony of this is we are the business that would benefit from this the most,” he continued. “But the damage that would be done from losing the spaces outweighs any benefit.”
Fewster said parking at Oakhurst Commerce Centre is already tight thanks to the popularity of Common Market. Turnover tends to be slow and most cars stay parked for an hour in front of Bohemian Stylehouse, Carolina Pediatric Therapy, MoveStudio, Sweet Spot Studio and others.
Those problems are compounded by what Waters Inc. promised to CleanWave, a laundromat opening next to Common Market. Fewster said the laundromat’s lease stipulates a certain number of parking spaces out front, which would leave Common Market with hardly any and create a domino effect of customers parking in front of other tenants.
“It would be terrible,” Fewster said. “I would not be able to re-lease the space if Common Market left because of the parking requirements. Nobody’s going to go in there with one or two spaces in front and that’s it for that size property.”
Finding a compromise
Worth said the city offered compensation for spaces lost, but because he’s not the property owner he “wouldn’t get a dime.” Instead, Common Market and Waters Inc. want city planners to come back with a design that mitigates the impact.
“I’m sure they’re diligently trying to figure out something to appease us, appease the Common Market and our tenants and also do the project for the rest of Monroe Road,” Fewster said.
Project manager Natalie King told Queen City Nerve that Common Market is important to the city’s vision because it would draw surrounding residents to utilize the multi-use path. However, based on feedback, planners now understand the ability to easily park also draws people to the popular bottle shop and deli, so they’re heading back to the drawing board.
“Based on the feedback heard at the meeting, the project team is currently looking at options to alter the design to retain parking spots and create a path for pedestrians and bicyclists to travel along Monroe Road comfortably,” King wrote in an email.
Liz Millsaps Haigler, co-chair of Oakhurst Community Neighborhood Association, suggested the city simply make the path winding to accommodate what’s already there.
“We’re a funky neighborhood,” she said. “We don’t mind if you have to go around something or it’s not quite straight. We like that.”