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Weekly News Roundup: City Council Makes Moves on a Monday

As a city that consistently ranks near the top for population growth in national lists, Charlotte’s exploding populace brings with it increasing diversity, a thriving job market and any number of growing pains. Monday night’s Charlotte City Council meeting provided a small glimpse into how the Queen City is grappling with this rapid growth in real-time, represented by discussions and decisions on multiple issues related to the city’s expansion. Talk of transit extensions, housing ordinances and redevelopment dominated the majority of Monday night’s meeting as officials and residents work to create policy that outpaces the boom of new arrivals.

Council Makes Rare Changes to Housing Ordinance

Motivated by the recent housing crisis in Lake Arbor apartment complex in west Charlotte and concerns that similar situations may be brewing in complexes around the city, Charlotte City Council voted on Monday to make significant changes to the city’s Minimum Housing Ordinance for the first time in about a decade.

City council members vote for changes to the city’s housing ordinance on Monday. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The new code strengthened minimum living standards and increased the fines property owners will have to pay if they are found to be in violation of those standards.

The old $100 fine remains, though what was an increase of $10 for every day that violators remained afoul of the ordinance has now been intensified to an extra $100 per day. Light, ventilation, maintenance and plumbing requirements comprised some of the habitation standards strengthened on Monday.

Councilmember Ed Driggs, who voted in support of the ordinance-bolstering move, advised that the city use caution. Actions by the council can potentially spark repercussions that hurt the same people it seeks to aid, he said. Driggs evoked the situation in Lake Arbor, stating that events there unfolded in two phases after the city attempted to mitigate poor living conditions for residents there.

“Phase one was the process to which it was allowed to deteriorate to the point where it was an embarrassment to us as a city,” Driggs said Monday of the Lake Arbor apartments. He recalled that the city investigated reports of substandard living conditions in the units and found violations in each one, including an abundance of rats and mold.

As Driggs pointed out, when the city instructed property owner Robert Wolf to make repairs, he evicted everyone from the complex, leaving many scrambling to find other affordable housing in a city already starved for it.

Last month, a judge granted tenants an additional two weeks to vacate the property. Some were back in court Tuesday in order to prevent the eviction from showing up in their public records.

“That’s an illustration of the dilemma when it comes to doing something like this, and I think we wrestled with that back and forth between how do you improve the conditions at these apartments and not create a gentrification problem,” Driggs said.

Councilmember Braxton Winston and some other council members said this ordinance enhancement is not strong enough. Winston urged members to only vote for the new rules under the condition that the topic would be revisited, as the council agreed that the time for strengthened housing codes is now.

“I don’t think we can trust staff just to do an excellent job, because they haven’t to this point,” Winston said.

The council verbally agreed to revisit Charlotte’s housing codes, but did not include Winston’s official condition as it would temporarily table any new rules.

Council Discusses Light Rail Extension

Charlotte City Council is weeks away from determining whether to invest $50 million into planning a seven-year project to build a new light rail extension called the Silver Line.

The projected Silver Line path. (Photo courtesy of CATS)

Charlotte Area Transit System officials presented plans for the 26-mile extension, which would extend from Matthews in southeastern Mecklenburg County to Belmont, which is west of Charlotte and across the Catawba River in Gaston County. The line would be three times as long as the existing Blue Line, which runs from southwest Charlotte to University City in north Charlotte.

CATS officials said the $50 million would just cover a study, which would then find the projected cost of the entire project. The Silver Line could cost more than $1 billion in the end.

“If we are committed to actually having a robust mass transit system, there’s going to have to be some money to put out to do the due diligence,” councilmember Larken Egleston said. “That is going to be a risk.”

City Extends Marshall Park Deadline by a Decade

Council did vote 9-2 on Monday to give Mecklenburg County a decade-long extension to sell Marshall Park to a developer.

Marshall Park, a free-speech staple of Charlotte, was granted to Mecklenburg County during a land swap with the city in 2007. In return, the city now owns the land hosting BB&T Ballpark.

The city retained the right to reclaim Marshall Park if the county failed to sell it by December 2019, according to the original deal. On Monday, however, the deadline was extended 10 more years.

Marshall Park is often a rallying point for Charlotte activists. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Council members Dimple Ajmera and LaWana Mayfield voted against the council’s extension.

“I don’t want to see 10 years down the road that again it comes back to us,” Ajmera said. “There is a history here and you’ve got to look at the history and vote based on that.”

Marshall Park is needed for the development of the proposed $683-million Brooklyn Village project, though a deal with the developers involved with that project has hit obstacles. The project is set to bring housing, hotels, offices and retail to the Second Ward. If this project does occur, the number of properties that accept housing vouchers for residents of lower socioeconomic levels is set to increase.

CMPD Releases Third-Quarter Crime Stats

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department hosted a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the third-quarter crime statistics, which encompass what has happened throughout the year up until Sept. 30. The stats showed a 5.3% increase in overall crime compared to last year. Property crime increased by 4.2% while violent crime increased by 11.3%.

The following are stats that stood out from Wednesday’s release as compared to last year:

  • 81 homicides were reported through the third quarter compared to 42, resulting in an increase of 92.9%.
  • 1,520 robberies were reported compared to 1,319, resulting in an increase of 15.2%.
  • 227 rapes were reported compared to 213, resulting in an increase of 6.6%.
  • 3,502 aggravated assaults were reported compared to 3,215, resulting in an increase of 8.9%.
  • Burglary overall was up 7.6%, (4,373 compared to 4,063) with a decrease of 4.3% in residential (2,567 compared to 2,681) and an increase of 30.7% in commercial cases (1,806 compared to 1,382).
  • 2,156 vehicle thefts were reported compared to 2,203, resulting in a decrease of 2.1%.
  • Total larceny cases increased by 4.3% (20,353 compared to 19,508) with larcenies from auto up by 5% (8,604 compared to 8,197).
  • 565 guns were stolen from vehicles compared to 481 representing an 18% increase.
  • 106 arson cases were reported compared to 120, resulting in a decrease of 11.7%.

Deputy Chief Gerald Smith told reporters he was proud of his officers, which he said the department has a shortage of. He said officers responded to more than 300,000 calls through the third quarter, 4,500 more calls than the same time last year. He emphasized that police engaged with more than 7,900 armed people and were successful in peacefully de-escalating nearly every single encounter without the use of force. There have been three shootings this year in which CMPD officers were the shooters, all of which have been cleared as justified by investigators.

Two Homicides in Charlotte This Week

Two people were murdered in Charlotte this week, bringing the total number of homicides in the city this year to 86.

Early Sunday morning, police responded to a shooting call on Linda Vista Lane near Hornets Nest Park in north Charlotte and found 16-year-old Fabrizio Davalos lying in the street suffering from a gunshot wound. He was rushed to the hospital, where he later died. Investigators say Davalos was at a nearby party when he got into an argument. After he left the party, the suspects allegedly shot into a vehicle that Davalos was either in or standing next to.

Jennifer Banner

It’s unclear how a woman whose body was found near a Shoe Warehouse in west Charlotte died, but detectives are investigating her death as a homicide after finding her body on Wednesday evening. Officers responded to a call at the strip mall just before 6 p.m. on Wednesday and found Jennifer Banner lying dead near the building. According to police reports, “After the initial death investigation concluded, this case will now be investigated as a homicide.” Banner had turned 61 earlier this month.

The shirt Banner was wearing when she was found.

On Friday night, CMPD released photos of Banner and the shirt that she was wearing the day she was killed in hopes that someone who saw her in the days leading up to her death can give them info about her activities or whereabouts. They are asking that anyone who recognizes Banner or thinks they may have seen her between Sunday and Wednesday call 704-432-8477.

Ryan Pitkin contributed reporting to this roundup. 

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