Taking Stock of Seventh & TryonAug 03, 2020 06:22PM ● By Shannon McKenzie
On July 13, the Charlotte City Council unanimously agreed to allocate millions of dollars in public funding for the private development of the $600 million North Tryon project, which has been the focus of concern by local affordable housing advocates and environmental groups. Natural Awakenings reached out to Peter and Mary Kelly, co-founders of Equitable Communities CLT, as well as former Charlotte mayor Jennifer Watson Roberts, to find out how air quality will be affected by this development.
Let’s Not Miss Another Opportunity
By Peter and Mary Kelly
Once again, our local governments missed an opportunity to promote an Uptown project that complies with the city’s Strategic Energy Action Plan (SEAP) and provides affordable housing.
The new Seventh & Tryon Development in Uptown, which is close to the Blue Line light rail, includes excessive parking spaces (some of them expensive underground spaces) that will be publicly funded through a $25 million Tax Increment Grant (TIG). In addition, the project doesn’t include any new affordable housing in Uptown. Instead it diverts investments to other areas of Charlotte.
Our city’s affordable housing crisis existed before the pandemic. More than 36,000 households in Charlotte make less than $35,000 a year and must spend more than half their income on rent. Their limited remaining money often goes toward high transportation costs, because they need a car to get to work.
Our best chance at resolving this crisis is to create more affordable housing near high-use mass transit—a strategy that will also lower our community’s carbon footprint. Housing justice is very much aligned with climate improvement.
We need to change our local governments’ approach to decision making, so their economic-growth strategies better coordinate with affordable-housing and carbon-reduction strategies. When public funds are used for an economic-development project, we must demand that it meet those complementary goals.
The Seventh & Tryon Development would have had an equally beneficial economic impact if the
negotiations had also focused on those goals. By simply decreasing the number of parking spaces in the project, we could have reduced its carbon footprint, decreased the public funding required to make it attractive to investors, and redirected the excess public funds to address the affordable housing crisis, while achieving the same business growth.
While we missed that opportunity for this project, you can pressure the Charlotte City Council to review the Uptown Zoning and limit the number of parking spaces allowed in any new development. You can also push to ensure that any projects planned for the remaining 25-plus acres of vacant public land and other TIG-financed projects include the balanced goals of economic growth, affordable housing and SEAP.
Peter and Mary Kelly are cofounders of Equitable Communities CLT, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that seeks to broaden public understanding of issues surrounding Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis and issues surrounding economic disparities, such as wages, education and wealth. For more information and to subscribe to the Equitable Communities newsletter, visit EquitableCommunitiesCLT.org.
Parking Decks Are So Yesteryear
By Jennifer Watson Roberts
The City of Charlotte’s parking requirements for new construction are outdated and need to
change. This need was laid bare during a recent Charlotte City Council discussion of the Seventh & Tryon Development, which will receive a $25 million tax subsidy for a parking deck. There are many reasons the city must change its parking requirements and its use of public funds to build parking. If enough people weigh in, that change could happen.
Building parking spaces adds considerable expense to any project, especially when it comes to housing. Research has shown that parking costs raise rents an average of 17 percent. That’s part of the reason affordable housing is in scant supply in Charlotte. Minneapolis recognized this problem years ago, and so they lowered their parking requirements for new construction. What happened? Developers built apartments with less parking, which lowered construction costs, which lowered rents for those units. This policy change led to a new type of housing product in Minneapolis, adding to affordability.
Soon other cities followed. In 2017, Buffalo, New York, became the first U.S. city to eliminate parking requirements for developments of a certain size, and the next year Hartford, Connecticut, eliminated its parking minimums for residential units of any size. Dozens of cities have now changed their parking policies.
Charlotte needs to join them, especially as we build out our transit system and our growing miles of bike lanes and greenways. Alternative transportation lowers costs for commuters. Making those alternatives easier and more accessible will lead to more folks using transit, bikes and sidewalks; cleaner air; lower emissions and a better climate future; and tax monies directed to better purposes like public health and workforce training.
The City of Charlotte could be headed in the right direction, engaging the public with an initiative I started as mayor that is now called the Strategic Energy Action Plan. And it could make progress on SEAP goals as well as affordable housing goals simply by changing parking requirements for new construction.
The SEAP aims to reduce carbon emissions for the entire city, not just within city government operations. But it will take a great deal of public support for the government to change its zoning and building standards, because many people continue to view parking as a necessity.
That’s where you come in. When you visit Uptown, brag about riding transit or biking there, and let business owners know you do not want parking decks. Call and email your elected representatives and tell them that affordable housing needs are greater than vehicle needs—and that you don’t want your tax money subsidizing more parking decks, with the congestion and pollution they bring.
In our economic recovery, we have an opportunity to build back better, in ways that are sustainable and equitable. Come on, Charlotte—let’s do this!
Jennifer Watson Roberts was the 58th mayor of Charlotte and was chair of the Mecklenburg County Commission for three of her four terms as a county commissioner. She currently works with cities across the country as director of Community Programs for ecoAmerica, a nonprofit whose mission is to build institutional leadership, public support and political will for climate solutions in the United States. Contact her at [email protected] or @jenrobertsnc on Instagram and Twitter.