Ballantyne rezoning reignites debate at the center of Charlotte’s housing crisis

A new elementary school CMS is planning across from Ardrey Kell High School. Image courtesy of CMS

Plans for apartments next to a new school in Ballantyne sparked a conflict over where to build the city’s much-needed housing supply.

What’s happening: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Woodfield Development are asking the city to rezone two sites: one, about 74 acres near Johnston and North Community House roads, and another across from Ardrey Kell High School.

  • On the first site, CMS wants to build a high school, and on the second, an elementary school, to relieve overcrowding.
  • Both plans also call for Woodfield to build multifamily units, including some below market-rate.
  • But a number of neighbors oppose the second proposal, citing concerns about traffic and density.

Why it matters: It’s an example of a constant battle in Charlotte: new housing to accommodate growth is necessary, yet housing plans are often met with pushback over how they will change a neighborhood.

Context: Woodfield is not asking for public subsidy, and the below market rate units make up 10% of the nearly 350 homes currently proposed. But the rezoning controversy illustrates in part why there are fewer affordable homes in some parts of town.

  • A recent Axios analysis found two-thirds of affordable housing projects financed through the city’s Housing Trust Fund since fiscal year 2018 are in zip codes where the median income is below the citywide median.
  • In that time, one affordable housing development has been funded by the Housing Trust Fund in 28277, the zip code that includes Ballantyne. But 28277 has the second-highest median income of any zip code in the city: $110,158.

The big picture: Many residents are locked out of places like Ballantyne because they largely consist of pricey single-family homes. But those are the exact areas that can afford families opportunities for economic mobility and access to resources.

  • “If you aren’t careful, when you’re making a quote-unquote idyllic community, it becomes very easy to exclude people,” says Sam Spencer, a member of the zoning committee. “And to not give people a chance to live in every zip code.”

Yes, but: Development puts a strain on infrastructure, and the city is struggling to keep up. In the 1980s, Ballantyne was a rural area where locals remember traffic slowing for people on horseback. Now the 28277 zip code has some 70,000 residents.

Ed Driggs, a Republican on City Council who represents the Ballantyne area, said he supports the city’s priority around encouraging more density to address the housing shortage. But he said dense housing should be located along transit corridors.

  • “To put a high-density apartment development in the midst of all of those single-family homes on a very crowded road strikes me as inappropriate,” he said.

What they’re saying: In response to the neighborhood concerns, Woodfield scaled back its plans next to the new elementary school, first from 475 units to 430, then down to 349.

  • The below market rate units are priced for those making 80% of the area median income, which is about $67,000 for a family of four.

Driggs wants the unit count reduced further, and the building height lowered, in order to support the project. City staff is also opposed to the development because of the density and scale.

School need: Voters approved a bond in 2017 to fund the construction of a new high school in south Charlotte to relieve overcrowding at Ardrey Kell, Myers Park and South Mecklenburg high schools.

  • They are the three largest high schools in the state.

Plans for a new high school in south Charlotte. Rendering courtesy of CMS

But Dennis LaCaria, a consultant for CMS, said it’s nearly impossible to find land in south Charlotte suitable for a new school.

  • So, the school system approached Woodfield, which is under contract with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte for the high school land.
  • CMS asked to use some of the property to build the high school, in exchange for giving Woodfield surplus land on the elementary school site, and cash.

Between the lines: Although the high school plans face little resistance, LaCaria says because of the way the deal is structured, CMS needs approval for both rezoning petitions to move forward with either school.

  • The elementary school is scheduled to open in fall of 2023, and the high school in 2024, but that would likely be delayed by a year if the rezoning plans aren’t approved, per LaCaria.

Traffic: Woodfield has proposed transportation improvements such as adding a traffic signal in response to concerns about congestion on Ardrey Kell Road.

  • Robert Marshall, who lives nearby, told City Council in a January hearing the neighborhood already becomes a “parking lot” five times a day around rush hour and when the nearby schools let out.
  • “By adding two additional gridlock windows from the elementary school, and 450 housing units, you’ll be putting further strain on our area,” he said.

Having housing choices nearby could shorten commutes for teachers and staff, LaCaria says. And it has social benefits, he added.

  • “You start really knitting a community together,” he said. “There’s something to be said for seeing your teacher in the store, and realizing that they don’t just disappear when you leave the classroom at night.”

What’s next: City Council is slated to vote on the rezonings on Feb. 21, according to Driggs.

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