Monday, February 18, 2013

Tanger outlet mall wants public money

The developers for the much-ballyhooed Tanger/Simon outlet mall proposed for southwest Mecklenburg County are seeking some $5 million in property tax rebates from the city and the county. The Charlotte City Council a few minutes ago voted unanimously to send the proposal to its Economic Development Committee, which meets Thursday.

(Update, Tuesday, Feb. 19: Read more about the request in this article in today's Charlotte Observer. "Developer seeks $5 million in tax breaks for Steele Creek outlet mall." For those who don't see the physical newspaper, this was the biggest front-page headline, making it the lead Page 1 article.)

Attorney Jeff Brown, who represents the developers, told me the request is for $5.1 million, to be repaid over 10 years, plus 3.2 percent interest. In other words, the developer would be paid through the expected increase in property tax revenues if the shopping center is built. The site is in unincorporated Mecklenburg County, not yet inside the city limits, although it's expected to be annexed through voluntary annexation.

It's not unusual for the City Council to grant such arrangements, especially if a developer puts in infrastructure such as new street improvements. However, the county has been wary of entering such arrangements, especially for retail developments. One high-ranking county official said it would be the first time that sort of incentive has been given for retail; I'm sitting in a City Council meeting and can't check that out this minute.

The Mecklenburg board of county commissioners is scheduled to discuss the request Tuesday, Brown said.
Here's more on the outlet mall.
And here's a link to the rezoning request. At the public hearing (going on right now) on the rezoning, the Steele Creek Residents' Association said they're OK with the rezoning.

Sitting right in front of me is a row of city and county water quality and erosion-control staffers, including Rusty Rozzelle, who heads the county's water quality section, and John Geer, who heads the city's erosion control department.  They've not spoken yet, so they may just be here in case questions arise.

But here's a link to a strong article in Sunday's Charlotte Observer, by environmental reporter Bruce Henderson, about how development in southwest Mecklenburg has all but destroyed Brown's Cove.
The underlying message is that even when developers follow "the rules" by and large, sedimentation still destroys the lake's coves. Council member Michael Barnes just said that he's seen the silt fences and seen the mud sometimes just overrun them. The anti-Tanger segment of the audience just applauded. And Rusty Rozzelle, sitting in front of me, nodded his head at that applause.

Dale Stewart of the site-plannng firm LandDesign is now describing the extra water protection measures they are planning. LandDesign's Meg Nealon sits on the Charlotte planning commission, which will make a recommendation to the City Council on this proposal. Why is the city taking the lead on a development not in the city limits? Because so little undeveloped county land remains that is not inside Charlotte but is inside the city's so-called "sphere of influence," (the area eventually to be annexed) that the county has agreed to let the city have planning and zoning jurisdiction in those areas.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Legislature 2013: Most 'pro-business session in N.C. history'?

'Snout houses' in Indiana. Photo: John Delano,
Ran across an interesting post from the blog of the local Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, reporting the doings at a Friday forum the lobbying group held for legislators from Mecklenburg, Union and Iredell counties. Sponsors were REBIC and the N.C. Home Builders Association.

The session "gave home builders many reasons to be optimistic that 2013 would be one of the most pro-business sessions in North Carolina history," reports the blog.  Read it in full here.

All the legislators on the panel agreed they'd support legislation similar to Senate Bill 731, which passed the Senate in 2011 but didn't make it through the House before the session died. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, would have limited munipalities' ability to regulate architectural details such as windows, doors and garage doors for single-family residential developments with five or fewer units an acre.

Planners informally called it the "snout-house bill," because one of the most contentious items in some zoning ordinances, including Davidson's, is a provision forbidding garages to project far in front of the rest of the house, dwarfing the front door and windows. Planners call those "snout houses," and say they create a street view that emphasizes cars over people.  Home builders counter that on small lots it's more economical to build garages that way, and that cities shouldn't get so deep into architectural details.

Download the text here.
Read its history in the 2011-12 General Assembly here.

Back to the Friday forum:
A bill requiring a sunset provision for "all state administrative rules" won plaudits as well. Primary sponsors include Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, and Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bigger than the streetcar spat. No, really

Yes, the City Council's debate/argument/shouting match over whether to include money in the city budget to expand a starter streetcar route has gotten plenty of publicity. But the streetcar is really just one tool being proposed by Mayor Anthony Foxx and streetcar supporters as a way to spark development in some parts of the city that could use a boost.

A much bigger problem lies ahead, for the whole city.  I wrote about it yesterday, after hearing Foxx's state of the city speech Monday and while I was dipping in and out (via Twitter) of the City Council's discussions at their yearly retreat. Here's what I wrote: "Growth challenge dwarfs the streetcar spat."

My point, and it's one Foxx alluded to in his Monday speech, was this: The way Charlotte grew until now is not the way the city will grow in the future. Annexation has all but ended. So how can we keep the city's property tax base healthy without easy population and territory growth? Since 2003, large parts of the city have shown property value decreases.

And today I came across a scary statistic that I wish I'd had yesterday. It was deep in the agenda packet for next Monday's Transportation and Planning Committee meeting. (Am I a policy geek or what?) It said:

"Growth in the last decade due to annexations:
Charlotte grew in the last decade (2000-2010) by 190,596 people or 35.2%. Out of this 123,916 people or 22.9% were due to annexations since 2000."

In other words, 123,916 out of a total of 190,596 new Charlotte residents, or 65 percent, came through annexation. Annexation is effectively over (due to a new N.C. legislation - read my article for more information). So how does Charlotte grow for the next 10 years?

Arguing while Rome burns?

Though I was trying to spend Thursday working on Important Memos About Funding, I kept getting distracted by reports on Twitter from those attending the Charlotte City Council yearly retreat.

It was so interesting I decided to try a "Storify" story a way to compile Twitter accounts for people who may not be familiar with Twitter or who may not want to take the time to wade through everything. In other words, people who are neither as geekily interested in local politics or as easily distracted as I am.

Here's my account. "What's the City Council hearing, saying at its retreat?"  I didn't include all the Tweets; I selected those from reliable reporters and others, and tried to catch the most important topics and remarks.

The retreat started out in routine, dutiful fashion, as the council members heard growth projections and reports about each of the council's seven districts. But after lunch, at the end of the day, it seems tempers frayed, and council members some of them at least began accusing each other of lying. Voices were raised. Following it on Twitter was not as riveting as being there, I'm sure, but you can catch the flavor easily enough.

The result, unfortunately, was an extremely lengthy Storify story. But to get to the testy exchanges, you can skim to the end. For a more pointed account, read Charlotte Business Journal reporter Erik Spanberg's "Charlotte city leaders duke it out over spending, streetcar at Thursday retreat."