Mecklenburg standstill over vacant lot Uptown

by: Torie Wells Updated:


Mecklenburg County leaders voted to give Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools $7 million in tax money to buy a building in Uptown Charlotte.

It has sat vacant for years and it's in a prime spot for development.

Channel 9 uncovered some commissioners were confused by the vote and now want to pull back their support.

Years ago, plans were made to turn the area near Marshall Park into mixed-use housing. The county said that there were a series of land swaps and a developer was on board to help pay. But that developer pulled out and years later, the county is still left trying to figure out what's next.

"That's my concern, that we're moving forward without any plan for how it's going to be paid for," said Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour.

On Tuesday night, Ridenhour joined all but one of his colleagues in voting yes to start paying Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools back for the building sitting next to Marshall Park. He said he thought the $7 million was already available and allocated. But he later learned that money might have to come from other projects or funds.

"We're spending these dollars without realizing the effect it's going to have on other projects," he said.

This goes back years when a series of land swaps were made in 2007. The county manager says CMS gave the county the deed with the understanding the county would pay later once it had money from a developer. That developer pulled out. When that happened, Commissioner Bill James says he thinks the county should have walked away.

"Government is not equipped to be a developer," said James.

Some commissioners Eyewitness News spoke with admitted they wish they had more information about this complicated deal.

Chairwoman Pat Cotham said that once the developer pulled out, she thinks the county wasn't left with any good options.

"We don't have a lot of good choices and sometimes you have to do the best with what you've got," she said.

She said promises leaders made in the past should still be followed through on now. Commissioner Vilma Leake agreed.

"To give some visibility and put some life back into this community," she said.

Even more upsetting to some commissioners is the fact they essentially had to pay for the building twice. They paid to build it, like all school buildings but state law says once it's built it belongs to the district. The county then has to buy it back.

CMS said the Board of Education will vote on how that money will be used.

Eyewitness News asked the county if it will try to build the mixed-use space. The county manager said the county will look for another developer to do that, now that the economy is better.

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