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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Charlotte Restrictions Will Protect Open Space, Area Waters

June 14, 2008
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC
Restrictions will protect open space, area waters
Charlotte Business Journal - by Susan Stabley Staff writer

The landscape for real estate development is dramatically changing next month when new rules designed to protect area streams and rivers take effect.
New projects will be required to include open space on nearly every site, bigger buffers for streams and new systems for capturing and cleaning rainfall.
Developers are chafing at the law taking effect July 1. They say it will substantially increase the price of future homes, apartments, offices and industrial buildings. City officials say the rules follow federal requirements and provide a long-term benefit that prevents flooding, slows erosion and cleans Charlotte's polluted streams.
Charlotte is the last municipality in Mecklenburg County to comply, with similar laws already in effect in Cornelius, Davidson, Mint Hill, Matthews, Huntersville, and Pineville.
Developers contend the Queen City's version is too stringent. But the city says without the new rules, the cost of fixing the damage to the streams -- if forced by federal officials -- could be exponentially greater because restoration is more expensive than prevention.
"Pay now, or pay later," says Daryl Hammock, water quality and environmental permitting manager with Charlotte's stormwater services division.
The impending change has prompted a surge of applications to Charlotte permitting offices in advance of citywide implementation of the post-construction controls ordinance, as it's known. Recent conversations between government staffers and site designers suggest a serious spike will start soon.
"Since this is a very deadline-oriented business, I expect the last week of June will be the time where we really see an unusually high number of new plan submittals," says Tom Ferguson, Charlotte's land development permitting manager.
Federal mandates tied to the Clean Water Act required city adoption of stormwater rules by June 2009 for engineering controls for stormwater. The goal is to remove 85% of the pollutants picked up by rain water pooling on pavement before it flows into a city stream.
It was only after three years of negotiating among government staff and the development community that Charlotte City Council found the rules palatable enough for approval in November.
Many developers have been forced to follow the post-construction controls ordinance ahead of the implementation date. That's been the case in the past few years for any project that required a rezoning. For example, Beacon Partners wrestled with the city over a 75,000-square-foot industrial park in north Charlotte. The local development company turned in four versions of its site plan earlier this year before finally agreeing to the stormwater requirements and gaining approval.
Now all developers will have to embrace the rules.
Those who haven't realized it are in for a "very unpleasant and expensive surprise," warns real estate consultant Karla Knotts, a local industry figure since 1986.
The dramatic change in requirements directly impacts development costs, she says. "If you didn't realize you were subject to these rules, you can lose money and go belly up."
Extra expenses come from building new stormwater infrastructure plus the loss of land -- as much as 25% of a site will need to be set aside for undisturbed woods. In some cases, developers may have to add plants or remove them. A project site that contains an invasive species, such Japanese honeysuckle or kudzu, in natural areas must be removed before the developer can get a certificate of occupation and be allowed to open.
And the new rules mean developers now have to worry about things such as goose poop. As silly as it sounds, animal waste running off into the area's water supply is a serious matter. Fecal matter from animals and sewer overflows havecontributed to the impairment of most of the county's 3,000 miles of waterways.
About 30% of Mecklenburg County's watersheds contain streams and creeks considered unfit for human contact. And about 70% are deemed too dangerous for prolonged exposure.
Sediment clogging the county's water, often caused by construction, only worsens the situation.
Then there are concerns over flooding, erosion of creeks and damage to habitats, says Hammock of the city's stormwater division. Plus, Mecklenburg has the responsibility of passing clean water back into the Catawba River, the water source for York County and our other neighbors to the south, he adds.
Hammock says it's a tricky balancing act to accomplish the goals of the stormwater rules. Calling for undisturbed tree growth along streams conflicts with plans to build trails along greenways.
On the flipside, the post-construction controls ordinance helps developers meet state environmental requirements for projects that could impact the endangered Carolina Heelsplitter mussel, he says.
But that still doesn't mean developers have to like it.
"First and foremost, the ordinance is something we had to do," says Beacon Partners' Jon Morris. "There's nothing more important than the water we drink. What we were doing wasn't sustainable. In theory, it's a great idea."
But, Morris adds, "this will affect pro formas in a significant way."
The new requirements could add up to $15,000 an acre to the cost of a single-family subdivision, according to estimates from the development community. Using an industry standard multiplier, that extra development expense means home buyers could have to pay as much as $160,000 more per house.
City officials counter that development costs could be factored into the value of land, with the market adjusting to new costs.
Also at issue: conflicts between the post-construction controls ordinance and urban street design guidelines that require more sidewalks and pavement areas, exacerbating the amount of rainfall that runs off a property.
Nor do the stormwater rules do enough to address velocity, says Jim Medall, president and partner at the Charlotte-based Carolinas division of Rhein Medall Communities and developer of The Palisades, a master-planned golf community on 1,600 acres along Lake Wylie in southwest Mecklenburg County.
"This could be as simple as figuring out how to slow the water down," Medall says of the stormwater rules. "It's not going to apply to everything that's been built already. It's not going to fix the existing issues, and it may create new ones we don't know about."
Morris, Medall and others also find fault with some of the newly required infrastructure systems, arguing that they don't consider the nature of the Carolina's red clay dirt, which can't quickly absorb water.
Hammock says many of the concerns broached by developers are often from a lack of understanding of how the ordinance and the new stormwater controls work: "The engineers don't ask these questions."
What doesn't work can always be revisited, he adds. And better ways of controlling and cleaning stormwater can be added. Currently under consideration: "green" roofs and porous pavement.
"We wouldn't propose these things if they were going to be a huge nuisance," Hammock says. "This technology has been used in other parts of the country for decades."
Federal law mandated city adoption of stricter stormwater rules by June 2009. After three years of negotiating with residential and commercial developers, City Council approved the new rules in November 2007.
The regulations generally require undisturbed natural land on every site and the engineering of infrastructure that captures and cleans rainfall.
Among their options, developers can install:
* Rain gardens, which use plants and sandy soil to absorb and filter stormwater into an
underground drainage system.
* Wet ponds, or man-made wetlands, that detain stormwater and collect sediment.
* Underground sand filters.
Other types of stormwater protections under consideration include:
* "Green" rooftops that absorb and clean rainfall.
* Porous pavement that aids in the absorption of stormwater.
Thnaks to the Business Journal for this excellent article.
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC

Friday, June 13, 2008

Two Sides To Every Story

June 13, 2008

Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC
Two Sides To Every Story…
I am immersed in all the details and stories, the reports and the surveys, the announcements and the statistics of condominiums, real estate and the sub-prime mess.My days are spent between being an active full-time real estate broker and an inquisitive, sleuth, fact-finding, digging, interviewing, photographing web master.I look for balance inside and outside without being critical or cynical…and try to refrain from being what our culture loves being best, the Monday morning quarterback.
At best, I am the observer.
So when people ask me why am I so animate about quality building products and quality construction because, after all, those people know what they are doing. Those architects and contractors and developers…those home owner’s associations and boards. We cannot assume they do. As consumers I feel that we have a responsibility to ourselves to ask questions…and yes, to question authority. At the end of the day…it is your bottom line.
I still get perturbed when I see stucco on a house or condo or office building and especially synthetic stucco when it was used knowingly. I get agitated when I am told that sloppy construction is “urban construction”. What happens in five or ten years when siding needs to be replaced, when severe plumbing problems impact a whole building?What do I want? Buyers to realize they are in the driver’s seat. Maybe buyers don’t really want granite and stainless, but they are touted so much, people think they have to have them. Maybe I want buyers to really sit and read all the documents, know about the budget, the financial statements and be prepared to walk. Maybe I want people to take as much time buying a condo as they do a car. And then I think…well, there are good developers and really good builders and really fabulous buildings. Why is it that 10% of the people still cause 90% of the problems? And seem to get away with it.
So maybe I know too much or too little. Maybe I am too direct and too serious.
But there are two sides to every story. Right?

Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Tack To Take With New Condos

June 12, 2008
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC
A Tack to Take With New Condos…
Pricing on real estate depends on the market and the circumstance. And recently I would also add the strength of the buyer. But it is not unusual to see new construction drop the prices on the last units or even the last single family homes. I can list projects where I have seen that happen…to my dismay and to the values of the folks who purchased at full price.
Existing condominium projects are starting to have concerns- and problems- where here are too many renters as compared to owner occupied units.Mortgage lenders are sometimes reluctant to approve loans where the investor ratios are higher than the owner occupied units. The secondary mortgage market such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have imposed certain restrictions, such as no more than 40 or 60 percent of the units’ owners can be landlords.Many community associations’ leaders believe renters do not have the same incentive as owners to honor and respect the rules and regulations of the association and do not take good care of the property. Maybe that is a grey area, but it is more possible than not.
So, if there are problems with existing condominiums, I suspect there will be even more issues when the association is brand new. Legally, the developer- as owner of the unsold, rented units-may be obligated to pay the condominium fees for the units that are rented, but the legal documents of the association have to be reviewed to make sure what he obligations of the developer are.The price was lowered to attract buyers. Do you have any guarantee the price will not be lowered more- after you buy?
Real estate is in flux now and maybe for a while to come. Your investment is no longer guaranteed to give you a good return. If you are considering living in the unit and can get some more perks from the developer, then it may be something to consider.
This is what you should ask the developer to do for you:
1. Pay all the closings costs and pre-paids, and
2.If the price of similar units is lowered within the next year, provide a proportionate rebate.If you are hesitant about number 2, ask them if they have ever practiced lowering the price on the last 10%...or look it up in your tax records.
Again, the web is a great tool.
As you know, I read a good bit about condos and about real estate and Benny Kass, a practicing attorney in Washington, has written some great articles on condominiums and I am learning a lot by being an avid reader of his columns. With thanks.

Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Promises Made Should Be Kept...

June 11, 2008

Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC
Promises Made Should Be Kept…Today is one of those days spent thinking, planning and reading, searching, and sorting through all the newspapers, the on-line reports from our local MLS and the then, the National Association of Realtors. Except for the storm we have been having since dinner time, it has been a quiet day.Quiet day seem to summon voices from the past…I had forgotten we were so close to Father’s Day. My Dad has been gone a long time…and we were distant even before he died. But sometimes he hangs around and I can hear him …or not hear him because he was always working. And that is probably one of the best gifts he gave me…working and working through the challenges of our jobs. He started in the textile mills at 12, got as far as 5th grade in school…and became one of the leading textile experts in the world. He taught himself. He liked to see how each piece of machinery in a textile plant worked. In every department. He would go back to work at night and work with the machines and the machinists. He could separate things and put them back together and he could see how they interfaced.So, two things…I have been reading and thinking about what is going on with our market…real estate…credit…banking…and as best as I can tell, the stop is in place for the kinds of loans that brought us to this point. Not perfectly, not 100%, but curtailed. It’s the defaults, the foreclosures and the inventory. So the next wheel that turns is how to make the best of this…foreclosures become, sometimes, good investments. Builders are doing everything to get approved buyers and their brokers in the door. And the spinsters are doing their work, too. There is always that…and we just need to be aware that they are out there.The apartment market will grow…building permits were up in that sector. Some condo projects have been changed and are heading towards being apartments. Some condos that have sat on the market are being offered with many kinds of incentives with even some giving a part of their profit to non-profits. My mantra is the same. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Be careful. Be patient. Have good representation. And walk away from a deal that doesn’t feel good.
The second thing…I broke a promise to myself the other day when I did a podcast that poked fun at a developer. It was the Bark, Bark one…what I should have said about that developer who wrote in such a condescending, holier than thou attitude…that he affirms what I think about his kind…if you don’t agree with them, you are wrong. I should have said something about honoring his viewpoint but agreeing with the Op-Ed writer who was dismayed over the bulldozing of ancient trees and fifty year old azaleas and an old but stately house that could have been saved or re-used, but not just crushed.I could have done better. I could have kept the promise I made to myself to refrain from being cynical and critical and snide. So, please accept my apologies.
That’s for My Dad and for me. Happy Father’s Day!
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Signs of Growth in Charlotte, NC…and Caution.

Water color by Warren Burgess, Urban Planner and Watercolorist
June 10, 2008
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC

Signs of growth in Charlotte, NC…and Caution.

I look for ways other than numbers to illustrate the energy in Charlotte, NC. While we face different challenges than most of the country, we still have our set of consuming issues. Our town is changing…but how it is changing concerns many of us as we watch the great trees fall, the historic houses get raised and the McMansions sprout up from tear downs…it’s not all bad…there just has to be a way to achieve balance before what makes Charlotte special melts away.So there’s the issue of the tear downs, and then there’s the applause for the Lite Rail…and we had to fight each other for that…even to the point of a special referendum hard fought…and now, well, now, Charlotte is the visionary.And because we tend to be cautious and conservative, there are some delays in building particularly the downtown towers or close in town large condo projects. In this case one is builder is nixing condos in favor of apartments. Of course, I look to those very apartments to convert later to condos…I wonder if there building quality will be that of apartments or of condos. Might want to make a note.So here we go, some stories gleaned from the daily:
Local neighborhoods could soon join forces to fight the spread of “McMansions,” newly built, giant homes that some people say damage the look and feel of older communities.
Residents from several neighborhoods, including Dilworth, Elizabeth and Plaza Midwood, are meeting tonight at the Midwood Baptist Church Fellowship Hall to discuss methods for stemming certain kinds of infill development.
Leaders are expected to focus much of the discussion on new city districts that would protect the established aesthetics of neighborhoods.
Tear-downs have become increasingly popular in the area. Developers buy small homes and replace them with large ones – with equally large price tags.
Last year in Mecklenburg County, 794 single-family houses were demolished. That's up from 697 in 2006.
The developers of a 75-unit condo project in South End have stopped sales and will build it as apartments instead."We designed Chelsea South End with multiple strategies, and one strategy was a condo building," said Terrence Llewellyn, whose Llewellyn Development is doing the project with Dean Kiriluk of Kirco.
Since condo sales began there in November, home sales have slowed, financial markets have become more volatile, and lenders have tightened mortgage lending requirements.

3. Charlotte-Mecklenburg's business, civic and government leaders worked for years to create a plan to both improve traffic flow and provide alternatives to the automobile. Then they asked voters to approve a local sales tax to fund it. In 2002 county voters passed a half-penny sales tax for transit funding, along with a $100 million road bond referendum. Now the road system is being improved, bus service is expanding, the first leg of a light rail system is carrying even more riders than expected and Charlotte-Mecklenburg has become a model for urban areas seeking to shape their own transportation future.

Our challenges are easy to bear given what most of the country is experiencing. Ours are those trying to shape growth and balance.

Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady® and Condo CanDo® in Charlotte, NC

Monday, June 9, 2008

Barking Dogs...That's Who They Are...

June 9, 2008
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC

Barking dogs…That’s Who They Are…

A wise person once said that builders and developers are like barking dogs...that's what they do and you can't change them. And the following proves that point quite well.
Peggy Porter wrote a letter to the editor about a condo project, The Vyne, where the developer did what most developers do…just bulldozed , tore down the old house and started construction. Well, the developer responded. This is the vernacular so well expressed by my housekeeper who often translates canine speak:
Bark, bark, bark….”forefront”….bark, bark, bark, “conservative”…bark, bark, “incrementalism…implementation tool”…bark, bark, bark, “developers” bark, bark, “public policy”…bark, bark, bark, “incremental steps” bark, bark, bark…”others jump on the bandwagon”…bark, bark, bark…”scale”…bark, bark, bark “market risks”….bark, bark, bark.
Did I hear “tree” anywhere? Oh, that’s right, they are gone.

On the newly announced front:
Ardsley CourtSize: 15 two-story townhomes and stacked flats in 3 buildings on 14 acres. Loaction: Park South Drive at Park Road Prices: $364,000 to $449,000 for units ranging from 1625 to 1987 square feet. Amenities: Private porches or balconies, private garages, vented gas fireplaces, stainless steel appliances, garden tubs with separate showers, double vanities, granite. Time table: Site work to begin in August, first model unit ready by March 2009.

We’ll take a look at everything on Park South and report back for a comparison.

Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC