Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tearing Down Charlotte

Observer Forum: Letters to the Editor
Teardowns destroying what drew me to city

In response to "Tearing down Charlotte" (Feb. 5 editorial): On business trips from New York during the '70s, I arrived in Charlotte a day early just to admire the stately homes and landscapes in Myers Park and Eastover.

The beauty of these neighborhoods was instrumental in my deciding to move here.

Now, however, I try to avoid driving through them, because it breaks my heart to see the loss of symmetry.

Posted on Tue, Feb. 05, 2008 | The Charlotte Observer | Editorial

Tearing down Charlotte
Don't let one of city's most valuable assets turn to rubble
It happened again this month on Morningside. On Belvedere. On Queens Road West. And on any number of streets in Charlotte's established neighborhoods. One day there's a modest bungalow or brick colonial. The next? An empty lot that soon will sport a residential behemoth out of scale and out of keeping with its surroundings.

Unchecked, the practice of teardowns can undermine one of the city's primary assets. But that doesn't have to happen, and it shouldn't. City Council should get out in front of this issue by doing two things: First, add a step for approving teardowns and disproportionate home additions. Next, begin work on long-term solutions.

Teardowns aren't new, but they're rampant in Charlotte's older neighborhoods. Sturdy arts and crafts homes and post-war brick ranches are being supplanted by huge houses that tower over neighboring residences.

What's the harm? It's simple. When you cram a three-story, 6,000-square-foot home onto a narrow lot designed to hold a story-and-a-half, 1,500 square-footer, you create a structure that dwarfs its neighbors and changes the streetscape. Repeat that again and again and you change the character, tradition and income mix that helps make these neighborhoods so appealing.

You'd think that fact would get the attention of City Council and Mayor Pat McCrory. But so far there's nothing but stony silence.

This isn't just about architecture or preservation. It's about economics, too. The value of the city's close-in neighborhoods is tied to their character, their mix of people and the quality of life they sustain. Lose that, and Charlotte has lost a key asset.

City Council ought to be acting aggressively to keep it from happening. For starters, the city could require Planning Commission approval for additions or new construction 25 percent bigger than the original structure. That won't keep people from developing their property or adding on to their house. But it will provide oversight until City Council can develop sensible, permanent measures and put them in place.

Of course the rising value of land is pushing this trend. But there are ways to handle this evolution that benefit a neighborhood and ways that don't. Teardowns are changing the character and diversity of thriving, older, close-in neighborhoods at an astounding rate. We stand by and watch those assets turn to rubble at our own risk.

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