Recent News & Updates

Recent News

Rezoning Petition: 1035 Harrill Street and 923 Belmont Avenue

Site plan prepared October 19, 2017.

Site plan prepared October 19, 2017.


923 Belmont Avenue, Rendering provided courtesy of D3 Studio


1023 Harrill Street, Rendering provided courtesy of D3 Studio

Dates to Remember:

Community Meeting Date: Monday, January 8th, 2018 at the Salvation Army Belmont Avenue Corps, 901 Belmont Avenue at 6:00 PM

Meeting summary provided by Land Use Committee:

's Community Meeting_LUC Summary


Public Hearing Date: 2/19/18



Additional Information:

Developer: City of Charlotte – Real Estate

Acreage: 0.844 acres

Existing Zoning: B-1

Proposed Zoning: MUDD-O

Existing Use: Vacant Commercial Building (2) and Single Family Residential (1)

Proposed Uses: Commercial Building (Eating, Drinking, Entertainment Establishment – Type 1 and 2)

Maximum Building Height: A maximum building height of 120 feet maximum as allowed in the MUDD-O District

Parking: 1 space/400 sqft

Proposed site plan and elevations submitted to the city with the rezoning application: click here


Recent and Related News:

08/31/2017 “NYC’s Siggy’s Good Food nabs Queen City location” – Charlotte Business Journal: Click here


Lumberjaxe, the region’s first axe-throwing facility, is gearing up for an early November opening. Here’s your first look inside.

The region’s first axe-throwing facility, Lumberjaxe, will open in Belmont the first weekend in November.

The new space, located at 933 Louise Avenue, is in addition to husband and wife duo Scott and Ashleigh Gadd’s refitted 1966 Continental pickup truck that allowed for two lanes at multiple mobile throwing events around the city for most of this year.

Owner Scott Gadd

This is the former site of the Kellogg’s factory, now home to Advent Coworking, Codescape and Catawba Brewing. The facility is just to the right of Catawba, next to its new Barrel Room.

[Related: Axe-throwing bars are a thing, and there’s one coming to Charlotte this fall]


via Google Maps

The facility is just over 3,000 square feet, but is large enough to include five lanes, a few tables for eating and drinking and a bar when construction is finished.

When finished, each lane will have netting and a fence.

Though the city will likely cap the amount of people allowed inside at any given time at 140, Scott estimates that he and Ashleigh will keep it even smaller, around 100 throwers.

Throwers, who must be 18 and over, will be assigned to one of five lanes, which will run $20 per person per hour, and all equipment will be provided – just bring a pair of close-toed shoes.

Both reservations and walk-ins are welcome, but Gadd expects most throwers to reserve their spot first, and has installed an extra lane that will be kept open at all times in order to allow walk-ins to get a feel for the sport and learn to throw while they wait for a lane to free up.

Discounted rates for larger parties will also be available.

Both serious and casual throwers can rest assured that all aspects of Lumberjaxe’s business, down to axe weight and scoring, is up to the standards of the National Axe Throwing Federation.

Per the Lumberjaxe website: “During both private parties and league play, customers will participate in matches consisting of three rounds of five axe throws per play. Each lane consists of two targets where two customers will compete in head-to-head competition. Each customer will throw one axe at a time starting on or behind the throwing line that is 14’ from the target.”

While the bar won’t serve liquor, wine will be available and there will be a handful of local beers on tap.

Food won’t be available, either, but Gadd says that outside food will be welcome inside and that they’ll likely direct throwers to Catawba’s food trucks.

And, yes, the insurance situation is precisely what you think it is: Beyond expensive.

When asked about the insurance rates that come with mixing alcohol and axes, Gadd laughed and assured me rates – when they finally found someone to bully insure the business – are astronomical.

“In just the last year, they’ve raised the quote 60%,” he said, equating this to the fact that insurers likely didn’t know which number to start at, as places like this aren’t common throughout the U.S.

Tables were made from a tree that was struck by lightning in Gadd’s parents’ yard

Take a look around:

Lumberjaxe will open at 933 Louise Avenue the first weekend in November. Until then, you can connect on Facebook and Instagram.

Rezoning Petition: 1001 Belmont Avenue

1001 Belmont Avenue during the Belmont Avenue Better Block event on September 23, 2017


Dates to Remember:

Belmont Community Meeting Presentation: October 3, 2017 at 7:15 PM at the Salvation Army, 901 Belmont Ave, Charlotte NC


Additional Information:

Developer: 813 Belmont, LLC

Land Use and Zoning Consultant: ColeJenest & Stone

Acreage: 0.16 acres

Existing Zoning: R-5

Proposed Zoning: MUDD-O

Existing Use: Commercial Building and Single Family Residential

Proposed Uses: Commercial Building (Eating, Drinking, Entertainment Establishment – Type 1) and Single Family Residential

Maximum Building Height: A maximum building height of 120 feet maximum as allowed in the MUDD-O District

Parking: Residential – 1 space/dwelling unit, Commercial – 1 space/600 sqft

Proposed site plan and elevations submitted to the city with the rezoning application: click here


Recent News:

08/31/2017 “NYC’s Siggy’s Good Food nabs Queen City location” – Charlotte Business Journal: Click here


Centra Square Update (09/18/17)

Photo from Laurel Street development website.


The interest list for affordable housing is being created.

Construction on “Centra Square,” formerly known as “Allen Street Residences,” is well on the way! The project is expected to open the early part of 2018.

Thanks to the hard work of our neighbors, this final product will include additional improvements such as speed humps and other features.

Currently, there is an “interest list” available which will allow interested folks to be contacted when applications are available. If you want to be on this interest list, or know someone who does, please forward your name, phone number, and email (if available) to:

Kemena Brooks, Senior Development Manager
Laurel Street Residential
511 East Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203
Phone: 704.561.5231

Or email Curtis Bridges, the Belmont Community Vice President at:

You can visit the developer’s website for this project here:

Stay tuned for more updates!



Photo from Laurel Street development website.

Photo from Laurel Street development website.

What’s that weird blue structure down the street from Birdsong Brewing Co.?

Originally Posted By Katie Toussaint September 1, 2017 on CharlotteFive

There it is, just down the street from Birdsong Brewing Co. on Belmont Avenue: A weird blue structure. It’s a column painted bright blue, with chalkboard and cork board surfaces on some sides for community bulletins and personal notes. A Charlotte crown symbol is mounted on top.

The Morris Column, as it’s called, was erected during a volunteer workshop Tuesday for the Belmont Avenue Better Block project. It was hosted by the Belmont Community Association with assistance from the Better Block Foundation and the City of Charlotte Neighborhood Matching Grant program, according to a representative with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Department.

The column (located at 923 Belmont Ave.) came from a wikiblock, or a toolkit of designs for structures like benches, chairs, stages and kiosks that can be downloaded for free, then cut from plywood at a makerspace by a CNC router, or a computer-aided machine. This particular one was was customized and cut by the neighborhood business 8Lincoln30, and constructed and painted by community members and volunteers in Charlotte’s Belmont neighborhood.

The workshop was a prelude to this month’s two-day, pop-up style Better Block project Sept. 23-24 at the intersection of Belmont Avenue and Harrill Street. The Belmont neighborhood received a $21,750 grant for the project, which is organized by the Dallas-based Better Block Foundation and will be the foundation’s first Better Block program in the Carolinas. The neighborhood aims to match the grant with more than 470 hours of volunteer work.

The whole purpose of Better Block projects is to get people involved in improving their neighborhoods. The way Jason Roberts, head of the Better Block Foundation, sees it, residents wanting to revitalize their neighborhood have the power to get creative and fix their streets themselves, rather than waiting for a big business like a Whole Foods or Chipotle to kickstart that change.

In addition to crafting the blue Morris Column, volunteers also painted and hung two sets of neighborhood identity signage along the Belmont Avenue corridor.

During the main event, the Belmont community will turn part of Belmont Avenue into a neighborhood main street envisioned and created by the community. Think temporary shops, cafés and businesses. Also in the plan is a mural to be painted by DeVaughn Johnson and a team of artists.

Leading up to the installment of the Morris Column as a workshop “test,” the community was surveyed about “interventions” they would like to see on Belmont Avenue. Responses included a local grocery, a community center and public space, and a local restaurant.

Meanwhile, the Morris Column can offer an offline way of communication for people in the Belmont community.

By Thursday, a chalkboard note brought up the question: What do you love about Belmont? Another chalkboard note shared information about the Belmont Community Association’s meetings the first Tuesday of every month, open to everyone. Flyers for church services and social work services were pinned to the cork board.

All that’s left is the main street transformation. Stop by The Belmont Avenue Better Block Sept. 23-24.

Learn more here.

Photos: Belmont Community Association


Here’s what you could see in this Charlotte neighborhood to make a ‘Better Block’

A wall mural that has since been painted over on a store at the corner of Kennon and Pegram Streets in the Belmont neighborhood on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. David T. Foster III


The Belmont neighborhood just north of uptown has received a grant to create a “Better Block,” a two-day, pop-up style project that’s meant to showcase better urban design and get residents involved in improving the area where they live.

Organized by the Dallas-based Better Block Foundation, the event is scheduled for Sept. 23 and 24, at the intersection of Belmont Avenue and Harrill Street. It’s the foundation’s first Better Block program in the Carolinas.

The city of Charlotte has awarded the neighborhood a $21,750 grant to pay for the program, which the neighborhood has to match with more than 470 hours of volunteer work. Jason Roberts, head of the Better Block Foundation, visited Charlotte last month to discuss the group’s mission of rapidly building new neighborhood facilities, such as bike lanes and outdoor patio seating for residents, even if it breaks local regulations.

“You can break any rule you want, as long as you wear an orange vest,” Roberts joked.

Based on initial surveys of residents, ideas for what the Belmont project could feature (temporarily, at least at first) include:

  • Bus stop shelters
  • A grocery store or market
  • Additional retail
  • A café/restaurant
  • A coffee shop
  • A “community living room”
  • A new mural developed and painted by the community

The neighborhood group plans to finalize their ideas at an Aug. 29 meeting.

Originally posted in the Charlotte Observer by Ely Portillo on August 9, 2016

You can read more about the Belmont Avenue Better Block here.

Belmont Avenue Better Block

This is Belmont’s opportunity to be proactive, gather community input, and have a collective vision for the future of the neighborhood. Major support provided by the City of Charlotte Neighborhood Matching Grants Program.

The goal for the Belmont Avenue Better Block is to educate, equip, and empower the Belmont community to reshape and reactivate the existing built environment. Community members will share ideas and turn those them into tangible, actionable results in one weekend.

From this, the community will identify what is needed, what is wanted, and what will also work for the Belmont neighborhood. The Better Block project will also help inform future land use guidelines and provide a basis to work with the City and developers on future improvements in the community.

Upcoming Events

Community Survey – July through August 6th, 2017

Better Block Volunteer Workshop – August 29th, 2017

Volunteer Building Days – September 20th-22nd, 2017

Neighborhood Exchange & Leadership Awards featuring Krista Nightengale of Better Block Foundation – September 23rd, 2017

Belmont Avenue Better Block – September 23rd – 24th, 2017


Belmont Avenue Better Block Flyer »

Facebook Event »

What is a “Better Block?

Example of Painted bike lanes at Better Block in Akron, OH

Belmont residents, businesses, friends, and volunteers will work together to plan, build, and test ideas that will temporarily transform Belmont Avenue into a neighborhood main street with shops, cafés, and business created by the community.

How does it work?

Assisted by the Better Block Foundation, the community will lead the planning and construction that will result in a weekend event of testing ideas and changes that the community wants to see along Belmont Avenue. The Better Block Foundation is a nonprofit urban design firm with a mission to educate, equip, and empower communities to reshape and reactivate built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods.

What to expect?

Example of a coffee shop is tested in a plywood kiosk made by the community for the Better Block in Akron, OH

This is an opportunity, for one weekend, to transform a portion of Belmont Avenue into a neighborhood main street with businesses that are dreamed up and created by Belmont residents. The components that make up the weekend transformation are called interventions.

Based on the engagement feedback, a conceptual plan is drafted and confirmed with the community. Using materials and resources in the community, the temporary interventions are built the week before the Better Block.

Beyond the one weekend, relationships will be built and beneficial development types will be identified, informing future rezoning requests. In other Better Block projects, community members have decided to open their own business and become better advocates for their communities.

How to get involved

Tell us how you want to experience Belmont Avenue and what activities you to see in the community.

To share your input you can complete this questionnaire.

To stay informed about Belmont Avenue Better Block activities and events, please email or subscribe below.

Take the Survey

This project will only succeed with participation from all members in the Belmont neighborhood. So it’s important to share your visions of how, or what, you would like to see Belmont Avenue become.

Take the Survey

“Being Neighborly” – Belmont Held as an Example

The story first appeared on Charlotte Agenda by on  Any views or opinions represented in this story are personal and belong solely to the writer and do not represent the Belmont Community of Charlotte, unless explicitly stated.

One day in May, a small group of teenagers were doing what kids sometimes do — walking aimlessly up and down the street, ringing doorbells and running away.

Until the teens approached one particular door. The man inside confronted them, yelling at the teenagers and warning them to stay away.

They scattered, running through a stand of trees one street over to tell their parents. And at least one woman went back over to yell at the man who had shouted at the kids.

The scene quickly devolved, and it ultimately took law enforcement to de-escalate the situation.

What turned this seemingly minor neighborhood incident into a scene requiring police response? A bubbling over of tensions involving race, class and culture.

The neighborhood was Grier Heights. The teenagers were black. The street they were walking on is made up of newly built houses, full of families making much more money than their neighbors — and predominately white.

[Agenda story: Grier Heights is nearing a tipping point. Will another black community vanish?]

For most of the past century, Charlotte has existed as a segregated city. Affluent white families mostly live in the triangle of south Charlotte between roughly South Boulevard and Monroe Road — known locally as “the wedge.” Lower income, mostly minority families are concentrated in “the crescent” to the west, north and east.

[Agenda story: How Charlotte came to be a segregated city]

Those boundaries are beginning to break down. Nationally, there’s a renewed interest among young professionals in the urban core of cities and their surrounding neighborhoods. The same is holding true in Charlotte.

The biggest changes are happening in formerly low-income, minority neighborhoods around the center city. Property values are spiking in crescent neighborhoods like Plaza Midwood, NoDa, Cherry, Wilmore, Belmont, Seversville, Wesley Heights, Grier Heights and Druid Hills.

More affluent families are buying homes and rehabbing them or tearing them down to build bigger ones. Investors are flipping homes into high-priced rentals and developers are demolishing low-slung duplexes to build high-priced townhomes.

Cherry development

These shifts mean that for the first time in decades, black and white, rich and poor are living next to each other on a larger scale.

The process isn’t always smooth. Interviews with both predominately black long-time residents and white newcomers illustrate some of the bumps in the road.

The situations are nuanced, but to paint a broad brush: White families often come in with expectations — usually well-intentioned — of what a neighborhood should be and how an area should develop.

In turn, minority families who often have lived there for generations have described themselves as unwelcome in their own home. Sometimes they feel like they’re viewed as negative forces on property values instead of as human beings.

These culture clashes have left neighborhood groups struggling to find ways to bridge the divide. It’s difficult — but in some cases, like in the Belmont neighborhood just north and east of Uptown, there have been tangible steps made to bring the two sides together.

A home in the Belmont neighborhood

‘They look at us like we don’t belong here’

These macrotrends playing out across Charlotte can feel intensely personal to the people living them. In these neighborhoods, “gentrification” is not an abstract term. The changes play out in everyday life.

One African-American woman who lives off Tuckaseegee Road in west Charlotte said her part of town used to be a place where people rolled up their windows and drove through as fast as possible. One day, she saw a white woman running down the street and her first thought was to wonder what she was running from. Turns out, she was just jogging.

But the differences can manifest in more painful ways as well. In Grier Heights, long-time residents watched as new residents moved in who didn’t look like them. In some cases, Grier Heights natives tried to get mortgages for the new homes but didn’t qualify.

The frustration bubbled over at a neighborhood meeting.  “When are people who deserve these houses going to get them?” one woman asked.

The pocket of Grier Heights where newcomers are moving in also has its own name — Elizabeth Heights. That itself is jarring to some people who have called the neighborhood home for years, even if there are historic roots to the name (the original name for the area was Elizabeth Acres).

But Elizabeth Heights has also closed itself off in some ways that are painful to the neighboring streets. Many community events are organized through private Facebook groups or email lists that leave others uninvited.

Both of those issues were an undercurrent to the ding-dong-ditch incident and remain just below the surface today.

“I don’t have a problem with them moving here, but it’s about respect,” said Antoinette Wallace, who lives in Grier Heights in a home her husband’s family has lived in for several generations. “They look at us like we don’t belong here.”

In many cases, the concern is not with individual people moving in, but the larger trend as a whole.

On Darryl Gaston’s street in Druid Hills, there are four white families who recently moved in to what is a predominantly black neighborhood. In one case, one of Gaston’s friends sold their house to a “wonderful white gentleman” after more than 60 years there.

Gaston said there is no real racial divide in the neighborhood right now. But he does see a difference in motivations. Some of the newcomers to the neighborhood are buying there because they know what’s coming, he said. They know that Heist Brewery will soon open a location in the area. They know about the massive development coming at Camp North End.

[Agenda story: Two miles from Uptown, the Druid Hills neighborhood is in line for massive change]

“Black folk, overall, don’t have a problem with white folk moving in, per se,” said Gaston, who grew up in Druid Hills and is now the neighborhood association president. “If there is a problem, the problem is, are you pushing me out?”

A difference in expectations

A key difference often comes in how people view neighborhood development.

Many affluent families are drawn to the tree-lined streets and quaint houses that many of these neighborhoods have. They see potential in the more run-down properties and eagerly await the progress that comes from more of them being fixed up.

But some of the conversations about that can carry racial overtones, even if unintended.

“Racism and racial bias, it gets hidden under a conversation that purports to be about aesthetics,” said Amalia Deloney, who lives in west Charlotte.

She said she often hears conversations loaded with coded words or phrases, like comments about a home where the grass is high, or the walls have chipped paint, or where there are toys across the yard. She said that homes get labeled as “bad properties” that need to be changed.

“It is often, and almost exclusively, white folks making comments about black homeowners,” Deloney said.

Sometimes, the people making these comments don’t realize the racial tensions hanging in those words. Gaston, from Druid Hills, said he often has conversations with new, white neighbors about these differences.

“You have to be very careful when you start talking about ‘those people,’” Gaston said. “It’s not that they’re being offensive. It’s just that they just don’t know.”

But these differences in neighborhood expectations can also spill beyond community meetings and into calls to law enforcement.

Noise complaints, loitering, multiple cars in a driveway, people coming and going at odd hours in the night — all have resulted in calls to the police. This, too, can be grating to long-time residents to whom these “problems” are just how the neighborhood is.

“You have a vision of what you want the neighborhood to become. What you are doing is enacting your vision using the infrastructure the city gives you,” Deloney said.

“This idea of coming with the intention to stay and make it what you want, that’s really what the tension is.”

Being neighborly

In several neighborhoods, community groups, nonprofits and homeowners associations are working to bridge the divide.

In Grier Heights, there’s an active movement to bring people together.

“We do study and fellowship programs just to get people together,” said Don Gately, who leads CrossRoads Corp., the nonprofit that’s building the new homes in the neighborhood with the goal of improving the quality of life without displacement. “Just to tear down barriers and build relationships.”

Several large steps forward are already evident in the Belmont neighborhood, a rapidly changing area next to Plaza Midwood.

The relationship between long-time African-American residents and white newcomers there started off rocky. In the early 2010s, as people first began moving into the neighborhood in earnest, a neighborhood group that was largely led by black residents decided to disband. A new organization led by newcomers and some long-time residents built a new organization.

Many neighbors observed the discrepancies between nicer new houses being built next door to smaller homes in need of repair.

Early efforts to bridge the divide weren’t very successful, admits Vicki Jones, the president of the Belmont Community Association. She is white and moved to the neighborhood in 2007.

More recent events have been much more successful. In June, they shut down Belmont Avenue for a block party, where people came together to eat, draw with chalk, and otherwise mingle. The event was extremely well-attended, Jones said.

Photo by the Belmont Community Association via Facebook

The Belmont neighborhood is now working on a project that will survey all residents of the neighborhood about what they’d like to see there — from coffee shops to laundromats to groceries. It will lead to a temporary installation of some of the concepts they come up with.

Jones says she believes there will be differences of opinion on what people want to see, but ultimately there will be plenty to agree on.

“We take baby steps forward all the time,” she said. “It takes a while to build trust and we are trying to do it by getting people together.”

‘We try to go about all of it delicately’

Once those events are over, though, day-to-day life continues. And that’s where the real connections are made.

There are barriers. It can be hard to relate to people with a much different upbringing and personal history, several people said.

“Particularly across race and class lines, people tend to have some fear of one another,” said Greg Jarrell, a pastor and co-founder of QC Family Tree. He is white and has lived in west Charlotte for years.

“For somebody who’s moving into that, at the very minimum, you have to recognize that you are walking into a place that you haven’t belonged. Maybe you could belong, but the only way you can do that is by being careful, paying attention and showing the hospitality that makes a good neighborhood work.”

It can also be hard to know how to reach out.

“You gather with people you’re comfortable with,” said Ben Page of some of his newer neighbors.

Though Page admits he could be perceived as part of the problem — he is white and has lived in the Grier Heights neighborhood for six years — he says there’s a difference between people who move into the neighborhood for the real estate investment and those who move in to become a true part of it.

Even white families with the best of intentions are working to figure out how to responsibly integrate into these formerly minority neighborhoods.

Johnny Wakefield moved into Grier Heights earlier this year. When his realtor first showed him Heflin Street, the boulevard of rebuilt homes, he initially recoiled. The kids playing on the street were all white in one of Charlotte’s most historic black neighborhoods.

But his family gets by on a single teacher’s income, so they qualified for downpayment assistance that comes with the affordable housing program managing these new homes. After a year of credit checks and paperwork, they ultimately moved in.

[Agenda story: What does affordable housing mean in Charlotte?]

The Wakefields are trying their best to be neighborly. Johnny and his wife Abbey play with his daughter in an inflatable pool and invite neighbors from both Heflin and surrounding streets to sit down and connect. He’ll soon put a picnic table there as well to help build those relationships.

“It’s delicate,” he said. “We try to go about all of it delicately, slowly, and intentionally, recognizing our privilege here and trying to leverage that for some good.”

The story first appeared on Charlotte Agenda by on  Any views or opinions represented in this story are personal and belong solely to the writer and do not represent the Belmont Community of Charlotte, unless explicitly stated. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only. The owner of this website makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

Into axe-throwing? You will soon be able to try it in Belmont this fall

Axe-throwing bars are a thing, and there’s one coming to Charlotte this fall

Now, people are just doing it for fun.

via Facebook

The activity has taken on a competitive feel and its popularity has recently exploded in the Northeast in places like Massachusetts, New York and Canada.

When Scott Gadd and his wife Ashleigh found it in Boston, they were immediately hooked — so hooked that they created a setup in their own backyard, which they threw at for a while before realizing that they wanted all of Charlotte to experience it.

Get ready, Charlotte: The Gadds are bringing the region’s first axe-throwing facility to the Belmont neighborhood.

In order to stay true to form, the pair has taken notes from other throwing clubs all over the map and put what they’ve learned into Lumberjaxe to guarantee that everything is up to the National Axe Throwing Federation‘s standards, down to axe weight and size as well as scoring.

Never thrown an axe? No worries — coaches will be on-site to teach the correct form and method to those 18 and over.

via Facebook

Equipment will be free to use and provided by the facility (the only thing you need is a pair of close-toed shoes) but each walk-in customer will pay $20 for an hour of play. Prices for group play are still being hammered out, but lanes can hold up to 100 people at a time.

And, yes, you can drink while you play. For the meantime, the facility is BYOB, though the Gadds are considering selling beer and wine on the premises. Until then, they’ll keep your drinks cold and serve them when you’re ready.

It’ll be located at 933 Louise Avenue, which used to be home to the old Kellogg’s factory.

Though a tenant is currently in the space, the lease begins September 1 and, with an expected 10-day buildout, the range should be up and running by early October.


via Google Maps

If you can’t wait that long, neither can the Gadds, which is why they’ve converted a ’66 Continental into a mobile throwing facility.

You can find it at multiple businesses this summer – keep up with the calendar of events on Facebook.

Connect with Lumberjaxe


Feature photo via Facebook

Original story ran on Charlotte Agenda by  on 

Belmont neighborhood is hosting Charlotte’s first Better Block

Many people want to bring in a Whole Foods or a Chipotle when they’re trying to revitalize a neighborhood, but Jason Roberts tries to prompt residents to generate more creative ideas about how to fix their streets themselves.

Temporary bicycle lanes. Pop-up dog parks. Coffee shops in abandoned buildings, with sidewalk seating. Art displays and outdoor music. Whatever improvements residents want to see on their block, Roberts’ Better Block Foundation wants them to build it themselves, and fast, without waiting for plans to clear red tape and bureaucracy.

“You can break any rule you want, as long as you wear an orange vest,” Roberts joked this week in Charlotte, showing a picture of residents in safety vests drawing a temporary crosswalk in Dallas. “If we create the right environment, people will go out.”

The Dallas-based Better Block Foundation plans to hold its first Charlotte “Better Block” event Sept. 23 and 24 in the Belmont neighborhood, a fast-changing area just north of uptown. Roberts was in Charlotte this week as part of the Building Community speaker series sponsored by the Knight Foundation, Charlotte Center City Partners and the city of Charlotte.

Roberts got his start a decade ago in Oak Cliff, a Dallas neighborhood, when he grew frustrated with the strip malls, spaghetti highway interchanges and narrow, inhospitable sidewalks.

 “We innately know how to make great places,” he said. “It’s just interesting how often we don’t.”

Jason Roberts (center) of the Better Block Foundation, touring neighborhoods in Charlotte. Courtesy Monica Holmes

Comparing street scenes in Paris with photos of strip malls and a Walmart parking lot, Roberts quipped, “It takes a lot of Prozac to be OK with places that look like this.”

When he approached city officials about things he’d like to see – more sidewalk seating or bicycle lanes, for example – he was either told Dallas was a car city where that wouldn’t work, or directed to join study committees that produced tidy plans that sat on shelves. So Roberts, an IT professional by trade, started working with his neighbors to build the kind of places they wanted to see, without waiting for the official go-ahead.

They blocked off bike lanes, set up trees in moveable pots for shade, built sidewalk seating and opened pop-up coffee shops in abandoned buildings, all on short notice with shoestring budgets. Although it was temporary, usually just for a weekend, the proof-of-concept events spurred conversation and led to the easing of zoning and permitting rules in Oak Cliff, making it easier to do things like sell food and other wares from sidewalk stands.

Roberts’ work grew into the Better Block Foundation, and they’ve since done similar projects in Detroit; Macon, Ga.; Akron, Ohio, and other cities. Now, they’re coming to Charlotte’s Belmont neighborhood. The changes they’re looking at might be temporary, but they’re hoping some of the ideas stick, and inspire people to change the area.

The foundation will seek ideas from residents about how to improve the area. As Belmont changes – with new residents, new houses and apartments, and the approaching Blue Line light rail extension – Roberts said they won’t be outsiders imposing ideas on Belmont.

“It we find out we’re not getting a lot of folks from the neighborhood and we feel like outsiders coming in, we don’t want to do it,” said Roberts.


Construction on a site at the corner of Allen and 19th Streets in the Belmont neighborhood on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. David T. Foster III

Curtis Bridges, vice president of the Belmont Neighborhood Association, said he’s looking forward to the two-day event, which he hopes can help bridge the divide between newer and older residents. He wants to see something like a pop-up coffee shop or art gallery in some of the vacant commercial buildings, to get people excited about the idea of shopping and reusing old buildings in Belmont again.

“I’d love to see something set up in those buildings, even just for a day,” he said. “They’re beautiful, they’re very unique. You don’t see a lot of old commercial buildings in Charlotte.”

Bridges also wants to see temporary bike lanes, trees to shade the streets and places for people to sit outside and talk. He’s also a fan of Roberts’ make-changes-now, seek-permission-later credo.

Original story by the Charlotte Observer by Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041@ESPortillo.


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