Setting aside thoughts of tinsel and holiday errands still beckoning, participants in today’s Forum engaged in a review of a nearly three-year controversy over 800 feet of a mile-long road widening.
Beatties Ford Road was a once-sleepy two-lane road bisecting the westside African-American community that grew up around Johnson C. Smith University and the post-World War II neighborhoods spurred by urban renewal in the city’s center. Part residential with scattered service businesses and several strip shopping centers, today’s Beatties Ford Road of is a major commuter artery to suburban enclaves closer to Lake Norman, and is served by one of the city’s busiest bus routes.
Four-laning of Beatties Ford closer to I-77 and downtown began years ago. A section adjacent to the Food Lion shopping center at LaSalle Street was completed earlier this year. Now the city is designing and building a mile-long section north of I-85 to Slater Road.
Forum regular Paul Holmes, who lives along that section, has broached the subject of the median in front of his property for years at the Forum. On Tuesday, as in the past, his stance was that any raised median blocking any vehicular movements was unacceptable to protesting property owners and community residents who support them. In his presentation to the Forum, he focused on the property owners’ desire to have their City Council member, Al Austin, represent their interests.
The city’s presentation, led by Austin but also involving Department of Transportation engineer Dennis Rorie and Assistant City Manager Debra Campbell, made clear how much the plans for that median have changed as citizens spoke out at community meetings, and as various staff and elected officials have met with Holmes and other property owners. The King Funeral Home will have median cuts in front of its business to accommodate funeral processions. The city will build a new driveway for Holmes’ property so he can enter Beatties Ford at the Capps Hill Mine Road intersection and avoid the median entirely.
And in part addressing earlier suggestions at the Forum that Holmes was complaining even after accepting city money to resolve the situation, Assistant City Manager Debra Campbell said that the use of eminent domain is the city’s last resort, and that property owners have been compensated for their land, both for the right-of-way needed for the widening and, more recently, for creation of Holmes new driveway, which is to be built on land purchased by the city from Holmes.
What also appeared to emerge from the session was a difference in long-term vision, between property owners who say there is no pedestrian traffic now in this section of the road and no need for a median; and city planners who are looking out toward how Beatties Ford is developing as a pedestrian-heavy, busy commuting corridor. Every time a pedestrian is hit anywhere in Charlotte, said Rorie, officials redouble their efforts to get ahead and create infrastructure that separates busy lanes of traffic, minimizes ad hoc vehicle turns, and offers pedestrians “safe haven” in mid-roadway when traffic makes it impossible to cross the whole roadway at once.
One major property owner in the sector did not appear to be in the room. That is Martin Marietta, which continues to work a 60-plus acre quarry on the west side of Beatties Ford Road, in the heart of a growing part of the city. The question of how long it would be before the quarry would be closed and the land redeveloped was not raised.
During the Q&A, Holmes said a church owns wooded land next to his property, and plans to start building a facility shortly and will find the median in front of their property a barrier. City officials did not appear to be aware that construction was imminent, and it did not appear that any accommodations for a new church have been built into the construction plans.
Forum facilitators announced at the beginning of the session that the session had been scheduled so that the median issue could be thoroughly aired, and then laid to rest. They asked Holmes to agree that he would not raise the issue after the session. Holmes refused, saying he understood the request but did not agree with it.
Video from the session is in four pieces below.