Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Riding the New Rails in Charlotte

Dateline: 2:17 pm September 21, 2008 Filed under:

On a recent visit to Charlotte, I took some time to ride their new light rail line and check out some good old fashioned transit oriented development. The line connects Charlotte’s strong central business district with the South End neighborhood and on towards the southwest of the city. Ridership has already exceeded forecasts for years from now, and the day I was there a newspaper article noted that transit ridership in Charlotte is at record levels. I was impressed by development I saw around stations, and of the train operation itself. It seems the good people of Charlotte have a success story on their hands.

I have included photos that can be viewed here on Picasaweb.

My visit focused on the South End neighborhood. The transit corridor runs through the South End along a former freight line between former and current industrial properties with a history rich in the textile business. Old mills are being replaced by imported furniture stores, galleries and architects offices. On either side are stable residential neighborhoods, and the South End is seeing substantial redevelopment. In this portion of the corridor alone, there are nearly 5,000 residential units built or planned, although today’s financial climate will no doubt delay some of these units at best. What endeared me most to the neighborhood was the mix of old and new, including bars, coffee shops and barbecue joints that have clearly served a wide range of customers over the years. They add immeasurably to the urban fabric of Charlotte.

Notable new projects include the Ashton South End, an 11-story, 310-unit apartment project scheduled to open in 2009, a 115-unit for-sale project called 3030 South, and Southborough, a mixed-use commercial and 69-unit project that “wraps” a new Lowe’s store.

3030 South, a development by Heath Partners, is immediately adjacent to the New Bern station. It is mostly complete and sold, with just one phase remaining. Buyers get a five-year tax abatement. The site plan is pedestrian-friendly, with public and interior sidewalks providing easy access to the train platform.

Southborough, developed by the Conformity Corporation, is impressive due to its complexity. A 30,000 square foot office building with ground floor retail complements 69 flats and rowhomes to line a 140,000 square foot Lowe’s store, effectively hiding the store from the surrounding residential neighborhood. Some of the residential buildings actually share a common wall with the store, and in some cases the emergency exits from the store are the residential stairwells.

I met with staff from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning authority, and they are busy completing plans for each of the station areas along the line to meet the demand for development. And so Charlotte hits the ground running with a popular new light rail line, and they already have transit-oriented developments that will serve as models for the industry.

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