A complex of four or five auto dealerships is being proposed for 40 acres of land near where the new light rail will run through University City.
On Monday night, the Charlotte City Council will hold a public hearing on a proposal to rezone the property, which is currently approved for apartments, not auto sales.
It's obvious why the parcel is attractive for an automall: it's right off the I-85 the exit, across the street from IKEA, which is a big draw in University City. But a quarter of a mile east is North Tryon, where a major light rail stop is planned for the Blue Line Extension. And that is what troubles transportation planner and bicycle advocate Martin Zimmerman.
"The city council has to stick with the direction that it's already chartered and not backtrack," says Zimmerman.
He points to the densely-packed mix of restaurants, shops and apartments that have sprung up along the light rail in South End as the type of projects the city should nurture to the north. Auto dealerships are the opposite, says Zimmerman, "and this project, I believe, can set a very bad precedent if it starts a domino effect that will lead to other rezoning that get further and further away from what needs to be done on the corridor."
City Councilman Michael Barnes, who represents University City, says he, too, is unsure the automall "will be consistent with (his) vision for the area."
But economic development group University City Partners supports the plan because it will relocate several dealerships, including Parks Chevrolet, which are right on North Tryon, says Janelle Goodrich.
"The idea being to clean up North Tryon," says Goodrich. "Instead of having auto dealership after auto dealership along the road similar to Independence Boulevard, this consolidates it," and still leaves a strip of land right next to the light rail stop for a mix of shops and housing.
"You would be surprised what you can do in a quarter of a mile," says Goodrich.
The city's planning department supports rezoning the 40-acre site to accommodate an automall, but has asked developer The Arden Group to tweak its architectural designs. And while a complex of auto dealers doesn't seem like an obvious pairing for a major light rail stop, Paul Williams of the Arden Group says it's a perfect fit.
"It will allow customers an opportunity to drop their car for maintenance or service and catch the rail downtown," says Williams.
The city council will take public comment on this convergence of light rail and auto sales Monday night at 6:00.