The rate at which Charlotte urban neighborhoods like Belmont and Villa Heights are changing is no secret, and growth there doesn’t appear to be grinding to a halt anytime soon.
Modest craftsman-style homes have been redeveloped to make way for large, new-construction houses that loom over neighboring bungalows. Some newly built homes in Villa Heights measure 3,000-plus square feet, with those larger ones listed today for more than $600,000. This year, the Belmont neighborhood saw home prices increase 68% year over year.
Areas like Optimist Park and Belmont have historically been mill neighborhoods, characterized by small, one-story homes — some less than 1,000 square feet — built decades ago. But with a hot real estate market, the neighborhoods’ proximity to uptown and, as of March, a new transit line running through the area, it’s become a prime target for home flipping and redevelopment.
CoHab, a residential developer that says it builds sustainable row homes and townhouses near transit, has filed three separate rezoning petitions this year to bring its concept to small plots of land — no more than one-third of an acre — in Optimist Park and Belmont. One of those petitions, pegged for a 0.2-acre site at the corner of East 17th and North McDowell streets, spurred a lengthy discussion among Charlotte City Council members at Monday’s zoning meeting.
At that site, CoHab has proposed five residential units in two buildings. One unit would be eligible for the city’s HouseCharlotte program and affordable for a household earning 80% of the area median income. The units would vary in height from two-and-a-half to three stories and range in size from 1,100 to 1,500 square feet.
Harrison Tucker, founder and CEO at CoHab, said during the petition’s public hearing on Monday that CoHab is aiming to address the “missing middle” housing market — something between high-density development at a light-rail stop (a multifamily development, for instance) and single-family homes. Tucker said the price points are expected to be affordable for those earning between 80% and 120% of the AMI, and the project will be net-zero, meaning the energy usage of a building is roughly equal to the amount of energy generated by a building (typically accomplished through features like solar panels).
“There’s a big hole on the Blue Line Extension around the Parkwood Station,” Tucker said, adding his belief that it’s “really important” for the city to encourage mixed-income development close to downtown and make neighborhoods more walkable.
City planning staff does not currently recommend approval of the petition. Ed McKinney, assistant planning director, said the scale and massing of the proposal is inconsistent with the guidelines of the adopted Belmont area plan.
But some council members questioned when and where moderate density would be allowed in relation to Charlotte’s light-rail line — the Parkwood Station is about a half-mile from the proposed development — and whether current area plans fit with how the neighborhood and area around the transit line have evolved.
“Look at the monstrosities being built on Matheson Avenue and convince me that fits in,” said council member Larken Egleston. “No one is going to build a new 1,300-square-foot craftsman home (on this lot).”
He continued, saying the proposed project would fit in better than “the other option” — likely one large, single-family house. Tucker said there are multifamily developments and by-right three-story homes “within blocks” of the proposed site.
The Belmont area plan was adopted in 2003, Egleston said, noting the original Blue Line wasn’t open at that point.
“If we build lines around single-family neighborhoods and then try to dig our heels in on keeping those single family for all eternity, we will not have a successful rail line,” he said. “I have trouble being convinced that a monster mansion on this site fits in better with what’s being proposed here.”
McKinney said the goal of the station area plans was to encourage transit-oriented development directly on the light rail — within a quarter-mile — while also protecting established neighborhoods. He said the greenway, which runs through Belmont, is essentially the demarcation line for the Parkwood Station area plan, which was adopted four or five years ago.
“We could argue that the policies in the Belmont area plan may need to be re-looked at in today’s context,” he continued.
Tucker said CoHab has worked with the neighborhood to make the buildings more architecturally in keeping with the surrounding homes, including porches at the front of units and pitched roofs. He said the Belmont Community Association has signaled support for the project.
Some council members, including Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt, echoed staff’s comments, indicating the density was a challenge, considering the residential character of the Belmont neighborhood. Council member Ed Driggs asked whether the developer is a for-profit group, which Tucker said it was.
“Your sales pitch sounds like a nonprofit,” Driggs said. “At the end of the day, you’re trying to move forward what is basically a commercial development. I’m a little sensitive about the density here and how it’s being sold, frankly.”
Council member Braxton Winston inquired whether similar projects would be proposed by the developer in the area, citing other rezoning petitions filed by Tucker in the surrounding neighborhoods. Tucker said because of the neighborhoods’ mixed-income character, CoHab has been looking for “underutilized” lots in the area for their type of project.
“One of things we ask for is not only diversity of price points but diversity of housing types,” Winston said. “We have to think about how we get there. … there are a lot of types of housing and types of neighborhoods that have never been (in Charlotte) before. We’ll have to do things that are weird to get those townhomes that aren’t suburban townhomes but really do have a walkable, urban feel.”
The petition, along with another CoHab proposal, will come before City Council again at a future meeting for a vote.