News & Views » Citizen Servatius

Citizen Servatius

Just Leave Us Alone

comment
Can Ann Wooten be legally barred from returning to Charlotte? It's something we may want to look into. The former Southpark socialite who managed to alienate every one of the dozens of neighborhoods that once belonged to the Southpark Coalition simply won't give up. She's one of a handful of folks still pushing a lawsuit to stop the rezoning of the city's biggest mall through the court system. On February 12, a panel of judges with the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Raleigh will hear an appeal of a March decision that upheld a city council vote to rezone some mall land so a developer could expand the mall. The expansion would add specialty shops, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom in what is essentially a package deal. Although Wooten has since moved to Raleigh, she and Southpark resident Jeff Pease obsessively continue to fight the expansion of SouthPark Mall even as new parking decks rise before their eyes and vacant Mobie buses zoom through the parking jam they claimed renovation and expansion of the mall would cause.

As usual, the arguments made by their attorney, Ken Davies, are off-the-wall at best. Though the anti-mall expansion folks got reams of ink and hours with council members both individually and in public, they claim that the city's zoning process didn't allow them to be heard, that the council ignored them and that the city's rezoning program is unconstitutional.

Well, the council did ignore them, but it was because their data and arguments didn't make any sense, they had no support from the surrounding neighborhoods which wanted the rezoning, and people in general had had quite enough of them.

Their input wasn't wanted then, and it isn't wanted now. On behalf of the people of this city, Wooten, Pease and their attorney should drop this case after the NC Court of Appeals rules unanimously against them, rather than trying to drag it and the mall's developer to the state supreme court.

Wooten once told me that it was scary how much influence developers had over the Charlotte City Council, and in particular over the zoning process. I agree with her. But what's even scarier is the fact that two people with a few thousand dollars and a publicity hound attorney willing to work on the case pro-bono could potentially bring building and development in Charlotte to a grinding halt because they didn't get their way.

Keeping it straight

Someone once told me it's easier to keep your story straight if you always tell the truth. In covering the new arena shenanigans of three councils over five years, I've seen the city estimate of what the thing will cost change more times than I care to remember. Over the last year or so, the oft-cited, semi-official cost of the arena, especially as reported in the media, dipped as low as $190 million in the weeks before the people killed off the sports and cultural facility referendum. That was, of course, the lowest I've seen the projected arena cost go in several years. (The laws of economics don't apply to city budgets, so inflation only happens if it's convenient.) Anyway, six months ago when the arena only cost $190 million, it was acknowledged that a $15 million land swap and $15 million in infrastructure costs could bring the cost of the thing to something like $220 million.

But now that the council seems committed to cramming some form of arena down our throats whether the Hornets stay or not, and now that they don't need our votes for re-election or to pass some stupid referendum, the official cost of the arena is now growing by leaps and bounds.

This is interesting not because of the arena issue itself, but because of a city capital investment pattern in which the real cost of things gets "discovered" after they are approved, after an election in which just about everyone is returned to their seats, or after enough money is already spent on new projects to commit us to their completion -- which almost always means forking over millions extra in funding.

So goes it with the arena. Over the last month or so, the cost of the arena project has been forecast to run as high as $240 million -- I've even heard $260 million once or twice. Had the $342 million referendum package been approved back in June, they'd now be slashing arts and cultural funding left and right to find money to pay for the parking no one seemed concerned about back then.

Infrastructure? The neat $15 million estimate they gave us a year ago has been replaced by admissions by council members that they can't exactly be certain what infrastructure could cost.

What does it all mean? They didn't know then, and no matter what they say, they don't know now. Nor, I suspect, does it matter. *

Add a comment