Key decision on auto mall rezoning is deferred

A key city advisory committee Monday deferred a recommendation on a proposed rezoning to allow for an auto mall near a proposed light rail station in University City.

The deferral by the Zoning Committee of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission until its Oct. 30 meeting means the decision on the proposal will fall to a newly elected City Council whose members take office in December. Ordinarily the council votes on rezonings at its next zoning meeting, but council policy bars a lame duck council from rezoning decisions the month before a council election.

Read more on auto mall proposal

See documents about the rezoning application here.

—See commentary: “Don’t derail transit areas with an auto mall.”

 

The City Council could choose to hold a new public hearing on the matter, although that would be unusual. The 11-member council will lose at least four council members: Beth Pickering, James Mitchell, Andy Dulin and Warren Cooksey. In addition, it won’t be known until Nov. 5 whether incumbents Michael Barnes, Claire Fallon and David Howard will return to the council.

The auto mall proposal has been controversial; the site is about a quarter mile from a proposed light rail station on the yet-unbuilt Blue Line Extension.  City policy for areas within a half-mile of stations is for development that, through its design, encourages people to walk or bicycle, not drive, including to the transit station. That means putting housing, shopping, restaurants and offices within an easy walk of each other.  A cluster of auto sales lots on expanses of asphalt parking lots doesn’t fit that pattern.

Yet the planning staff, while not recommending approval of the proposal – yet – isn’t challenging the use. Instead it has pushed for a long list of changes to the design and to the site plan. Most have been resolved, but a new plan from the developer elicited new staff suggestions, so staff and the developer agreed to seek the deferral.

Planning commissioner Deb Ryan, an associate professor of architecture and urban design at UNC Charlotte, voted Monday against the deferral, saying: “I continue to think that this is the wrong land use in the wrong place. ... My vote’s not going to change. I’m going to be against it today and against it a month from now.” But the others on the zoning committee agreed to the deferral.

The developer is the Arden Group from Winston-Salem, which owns Parks Chevrolet on North Tryon Street, which would move to the auto mall if it’s built. The company has more than 20 car dealerships, including one in Huntersville. The mall would have room for several other auto dealerships, but Parks Chevrolet is the only one publicly committed to moving.

The site is across University City Boulevard from the IKEA big box store and a new shopping center. Besides being close to the planned light rail station, it’s also next to an Interstate 85 interchange.

Assistant Planning Director Ed McKinney told the commission that planning staff is trying to work through “a larger set of issues related to land use in the corridor, overall.” He noted that a number of properties along the Blue Line Extension corridor carry zoning that allows forms of development that aren’t considered transit-friendly. (North Tryon Street has a number of auto dealers and used car lots, as well as vacant buildings, aging strip shopping centers and newer suburban-style buildings.) “We do have a long-term challenge that we have to face,” he said, and said planners will be trying to develop a strategy for dealing with them.