Biggest new Charlotte development in decades approved west of the airport

Ely Portillo

Development

What’s new in commercial and residential real estate in the Charlotte region.

BY ELY PORTILLO

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The Catawba River seen from Dixie River Road, which will be part of the new River District area just west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

The Catawba River seen from Dixie River Road, which will be part of the new River District area just west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Dixie River Road, part of the area which will be part of the new River District just west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com
Charlotte City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve the city’s biggest new development in at least two decades, setting the stage to bring millions of square feet of new office space, thousands of homes and hundreds of shops and restaurants to a quiet corner of the county.

Just west of Charlotte’s airport, the River District, as it’s known, will rise in an area that’s largely undeveloped and forested. Charlotte-based developers Lincoln Harris and Crescent Communities are partnering on the plan, which is expected to take 20 to 30 years to fully build out.

“This is a multiphase, multiyear project,” said Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield, who said she plans to ask for more affordable housing at the site in the future. “At each phase there will be additional discussions. … There are some concerns and challenges.”

Democrat Patsy Kinsey said the city should have taken more time to weigh the proposal but said she “reluctantly” supported the plan. “It is huge. I think this council should have a little more time to consider it,” said Kinsey.

Covering nearly 1,400 acres, the River District will be the city’s largest new master-planned development since Ballantyne reshaped fields and woodlands on the city’s southern edge, starting in the mid-1990s. A complex web of infrastructure will be required to bring the project to fruition, including new roads to handle an estimated 120,000 additional vehicle trips per day, new schools, a new police station and sewage facilities for millions of gallons of wastewater.

The next step: figuring out exactly who pays for what. The development will be broken down into phases, with specific infrastructure required before each phase and the developers reimbursed for some costs from tax receipts. The preliminary estimated cost for road improvements, such as extending West Boulevard and enlarging the I-485 interchange, was $131 million, city staff said at a meeting last month.

The total is likely to change. Preliminary plans show the developers would pay for $53 million, with the rest paid for by state and local governments or financed through a tax increment grant subsidy. The city’s capital investment program currently calls for spending $44.7 million worth of bond money to improve roads in the area. City staff will fine-tune the agreement with the developers and bring it to City Council next spring.

A transformational development

When it’s completed, the River District will include 8 million square feet of office space (about double the current size of Ballantyne Corporate Park), 500,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 1,000 new hotel rooms and almost 5,000 new residences, including apartments, single-family houses and retirement units. The plan calls for keeping about 552 acres as open space, largely as buffers around sensitive streams that could be damaged by erosion.

In total, the developers estimate the River District will generate more than $3 billion worth of new, taxable property in the city.

At earlier hearings on the proposal, some City Council members expressed concerns about additional traffic generated by the development and how the area – largely undeveloped now – will handle the influx. There isn’t currently funding for a new bridge across the Catawba River into Gaston County (the planned Garden Parkway was officially scrapped earlier this year) or rail transit to the development.

“This is the wave of the future,” said Claire Fallon, who said the mixed-use development will function as a “satellite city” on Charlotte’s edge. “You cannot shove anything more into Charlotte.”

The developers are setting aside two sites for schools, a fire station and a police station. They’ll offer those for sale to the county and Charlotte for 10 years, at 80 percent of their appraised value. The plan also includes about 3,500 linear feet of waterfront along the Catawba that will be used for public recreational space, as well as two miles of planned greenway and more than 20 acres of public park space.

The developers asked City Council not to delay the vote scheduled for Monday, as often happens with complex rezoning requests. Lincoln Harris is under contract with 17 different property owners, and developers warned that a delay “jeopardizes the petitioner’s ability to maintain contractual control over the 1,300 acre land assemblage and the associated master plan commitments.”

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