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Saturday, July 19, 2008

City Decision-Makers Deaf Ear to Area Plans

July 19, 2008

Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC
City treats its plans as if they're on Kleenex
An Opinion from the Charlotte Observer
What's the point of plans if they get dumped to suit developers?
It was oddly appropriate that the article about a proposed apartment-hotel-office tower project in South End was positioned on the Observer's front-page right next to one about scams and counterfeit Panthers' tickets. You might view the City Council's 2005 approval of a 120-foot height limit for that part of South End as a similar scam, a sort of counterfeit assurance to neighbors.
The proposal, from Harris Development Group, has won a positive recommendation from the development-loving zoning committee of the city's Planning Commission and is due for a July 21 yes-or-no vote from the City Council.
The city planning staff also smiles upon it, because it's near a station on the light rail line. “That site can support that density,” planner Tim Manes told the Observer's Dan Tierney. “Sometimes when you have density you have to have height.”
So what's the problem? Simply this. The 120-foot height limit – which allows 10- to 11-story buildings – is common throughout many city plans adopted for older parts of town. It's the height limit in the city's MUDD, or mixed-use development, and TOD, or transit-oriented district, zonings. It's the limit in the Transit Station Area Principles. In reality, allowing buildings that tall is too lenient to be of any protection to the bungalow-filled neighborhoods such as Dilworth's historic district, that tend to border the light rail line, planned future rail lines and corridors where MUDD zoning is most likely.
City plans aren't legally binding. They're merely merely suggestions to developers. Even MUDD and TOD zoning, binding once applied to a property, offer generous wiggle room for developers who want taller buildings.
Some neighbors of the proposed 230-foot-tall South End tower complain that they bought condos in the 300-foot-tall Arlington (built before the 2005 plan adoption) because of views of uptown, which the new development would mostly block. You can always ask, of course, what else should they have expected in an area of booming development. However, the looming issue of tall buildings blocking light, air and views from existing buildings is one the city should study, and so far it has shown no appetite to do so. Already, uptown is becoming a canyon of shadow and wind tunnels, because of the city's unmitigated glee at over tall buildings. Further, the South End neighbors took part in good faith in meetings that produced the 2005 plan with its 120-foot height limit. Their dismay is understandable and, sadly, not unique to this plan. Why even bother with a plan if it only serves to let developers do what they'd do anyway, without the plan?
If the city approves this violation of the South End Transit Station Area Plan, it will be yet another in a lengthy litany of city decision-makers treating plans as if they're written on Kleenex. Residents all over town should take it as confirmation that even when the council approves an area plan, it might well be as counterfeit as a fake Panthers ticket. You might say it's the city's planning scam.
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC

Friday, July 18, 2008

Doing The Right Thing...

July 18, 2008
The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC
Doing the right thing…
North Carolina lawmakers have approved a bill that would give the state commissioner of banks the power to step in when homes with subprime mortgages are facing foreclosure.
The bill requires mortgage servicers to give at least 45 days notice before they start foreclosure proceedings on subprime loans.
Notice also must be filed with the state commissioner of banks, who will review individual loans to determine whether they can somehow avoid foreclosure. If that’s the case, the commissioner will have the right to extend by 30 days the date on which lenders can start foreclosure proceedings. The state banking office then will work with borrowers and servicers to work out a deal.
Problems with housing are much worse in most other areas of the country than they are in North Carolina. But the state isn’t immune to the crisis: Foreclosures across the state are expected to hit 60,000 this year, up from about 50,000 last year.
The bill passed the state House on Thursday. The Senate has already approved the measure. Gov. Mike Easley is expected to sign the bill.
And here’s applause for Spectrum…
Times are tough for developers seeking to build uptown, but acting in good faith now will surely lead to success when the market turns around. At least that’s the philosophy Charlotte-based Spectrum Properties is following by giving back the earnest money it collected from buyers.The company cited an uncertain economy when it shelved plans for a mixed-use tower at 300 S.Tryon Street, a 200 million, 32 story office and condo building.In February, Spectrum Chief Executive Darryl Dewberry said the project had been suspended. Not only does the delay pull 150 residential units out of the development pipeline but it also removes about 316,000 square feet of office space from future inventory.The company recently decided to return deposits to condo buyers, a move that spurred many real estate watchers in the community to assume the deal was dead. That’s not the case, says Steve McClure, Spectrum vice president.Our plans have not changed-it’s still on hold. We want to make sure the market circumstances are right, so we felt that the right thing to do was to give buyers their earnest money back.The company had more than 50 per cent of the condos under contract he says. Everyone in this town is waiting to see how the financial markets are going to turn out. We plan on trying to do a lot more deals in this town, and we want buyers to come to us.
Good for Spectrum. Atta guys!

The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Buying a New Condo?

July 17, 2008
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC

Buying a New Condo…
With almost all new construction, the contract originates with the builder. There is language specific to new construction that outlines the process, the steps, somewhat of a time line, substitution of like materials, delays, deposits…well, you get my drift.To my way of interpreting these documents, there is very little, if any, room for the buyer. Sure, there are the disclosures about having an attorney review them. I have never had anyone change them, alter them in any way. I think it is time.I am hoping that good will come of this mess we are all in…and that buyers will realize that they can be in the driver’s seat…or at least perhaps the playing field can be leveled.To this extent:I read this morning and I knew it…about the failure of The Park and how the buyers could probably kiss their good faith money goodbye because of the following: a clause in the contract which says the developer can spend owners' deposits once construction begins means the buyer’s deposit is gone. Maybe that should read that the good faith money is just that…and that it is held in a Trust account as in most real estate transactions.And another situation: a buyer gives 10,000 good faith money/deposit on a 200,000 condo that has yet to be started but was slated to start in less than 6 months. The market slowed, the sub-prime hit and the project was stopped. But it took incessant hounding to get that money back for the buyer. So maybe there should be a time-line for starting and one for finishing…because the buyer in this instance lost valuable time…interest deductions, etc. Who gambled here?And I think all buyers should hire an inspector as construction starts and goes along. And I would very definitely include radon testing because we are seeing more and more evidence even in the multiple stories. Maybe having an inspector routinely check the progress would call attention to poor building materials and shoddy construction. Maybe.And I also think in the offer to purchase there should be a clause about the rebate that would mandatory should the builder sell out the last small per cent of the units at a discounted price…a practice we have seen repeatedly.And I also firmly believe that there should be language that states the buyer will not close, does not have to close until all the repairs are made to his/her satisfaction. And that if this is not met, the builder is responsible for the buyer’s costs, movers, and lease, whatever.I am sure there will be other issues…and I will also address resales and steps you might want to consider.

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Real Estate Prices Are Rising! Hello! Out There...

July 16, 2008
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo, Charlotte NC

Real Estate Prices Rise for Four Straight Months - Is Anyone Noticing?

RISMEDIA, July 14, 2008-Amidst the gloom on Wall Street about housing someone forgot to check the stats. The National Association of Realtors® has now reported four straight months of rising housing prices, but it seems no one is listening.
According to NAR statistics, the median home price has fallen from a high of $230,200 in July 2006 to a low in February 2008 at $195,600, a drop of 15%. Since February, however, it has risen steadily every month. By May the index (which will be revised on July 24) had risen to $208,600, up $13,000 and a full 6.6%. Another indicator, the mean home price (otherwise known as the average home price), has also shown strength and has risen from a low of $242,000 also in February of this year to $253,100, a rise of $11,100 or 4.5%. It, too, has risen every month since February of this year.
“I just don’t know where Wall Street’s brains are today,” said David Michonski, CEO of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy in New York City. “Everyone on the Street is wringing their hands over housing when in fact the average American has been out this spring buying homes and pushing the median price higher. This has got to go down as one of Wall Street and Main Street’s biggest disconnects in history.”
In addition, on an annualized basis the volume of home sales has also risen somewhat from a low of 4,890,000 homes in January to 4,990,000 in May.
“Rising prices on expanding volume should not a crisis make on Wall Street,” says Michonski.
So why the crisis?
“They say that there are bulls and bears on Wall Street but there are also pigs. Pigs try not just to profit from a crisis but create one to profit from. Today there are just so many people who have positioned themselves to profit from a crisis that they refuse to admit the reality of what is happening on Main Street. It might hurt their positions.”
Is this the bottom?
“No one can know for sure, but the hard data is clear. The median price has risen four straight months. The average American is out there taking advantage of bargains in their local real estate market. They are not listening to Wall Street but following their own belief that the best time to buy is when no one else is, and they are out there buying. If this keeps up, February may prove to have been the low in prices.”
“It is possible that it will not be Hank Paulson or Ben Bernanke who will pull this country out of a housing recession, but the good common sense of the average American whose affordability to buy a home is at a five year high and is acting on it.”

The Americans Are Coming. The Americans Are Coming!

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Charlotte's Rainwater Harvesting System

July 15, 2008
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC

Charlotte’s Rainwater Harvesting System…Grant helps ministry reap the rainfall
Organic Gardening magazine helps Charlotte group use runoff to grow produce.
By Catherine Carlock/The Charlotte Observer

To serve the needy with fresh produce from their garden, the Urban Ministry Center in uptown Charlotte used a $9,000 grant from Organic Gardening magazine to install a 1,600-gallon cistern. Rainwater from the center's roof will irrigate the garden.
Fried green tomatoes aren't just the stuff of summertime chick flicks. They're one of the staple foods of the Urban Ministry Center's soup kitchen. And with the help of a new grant, the kitchen can serve the goodies all summer long.
The center received a $9,000 grant from Organic Gardening magazine to install a rainwater harvesting system. The 1,600-gallon cistern collects runoff water from the Urban Ministry Center's roof and cleanses it of debris, to water the center's garden.
The roof is the perfect rain collector, garden program director Don Boekelheide said.
Urban Ministry Center, located on College Street close to uptown, provides a daytime home and a daily meal for many of Charlotte's homeless. Its on-site organic garden was recognized by Organic Gardening's WaterWorks program, an effort to provide community gardens across the country with money to store and harvest rainwater.
The Urban Ministry Center's 3,000 square foot garden produces what Boekelheide called some of the freshest and best organic food in the whole county.
Instead of using only donated food, which is often close to expiration, the center can grow much of its own food for its soup kitchen.
We grow things that people like to eat, said Boekelheide. That includes okra, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, squash, cucumbers, and a summer mainstay – tomatoes.
Last summer's water restrictions forced the garden's food production to a bare minimum. And Mecklenburg County is currently under extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“That's where the cistern comes in,” said Boekelheide.
This summer, instead of battling short periods of heavy rain followed by weeks of no rain at all, the cistern provides a consistent source of irrigation for the center's garden.
This week's thunderstorms have provided enough water to fill the entire tank.
“The cistern gives us the water to carry us between rainstorms,” Boekelheide said.
Boekelheide knows it's a small solution. But it's saving Charlotte thousands of gallons of treated water and providing food along the way.
“We're feeding people who are hungry here,” he said.

A great story on a day when we are just plain hungry for some good news.
Back to the grind tomorrow.

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

Charlotte's Light Rail, the Dough and Discussion...

Monday, July 14, 2008
Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo, Charlotte, NC
Senate earmarks $18M for Charlotte light rail extension
The U.S. Senate’s proposed transportation budget for 2009 contains $18 million for expanding Charlotte’s light-rail system. That’s $8 million more than the Charlotte Area Transit System requested. The proposed 11-mile rail line extension would run from Ninth Street in uptown Charlotte to Interstate 485 on the northeast side of town. The federal money would be used for preliminary engineering and assessing the environmental impact of construction and operation of the transit line.
This is great news for the Lynx Blue Line extension and residents of the Charlotte region as we continue to provide them with more transportation choices, says Keith Parker, chief executive of CATS. While we do not expect the transportation appropriations legislation to be enacted until after the presidential election in November, and there is no guarantee that the funding level will hold, this is a step in the right direction.
If the $18 million is approved, CATS will have received capital funding commitments of $40 million since March for bus, rail and rapid-transit projects. The funding has come from a range of sources, including the N.C. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Transit Administration.
The light rail extension would be a continuation of the 9-mile track that parallels South Boulevard from I-485 near Pineville to uptown Charlotte.

But Wait, Wait…Monday, July 14, 2008
Transit's threat to NoDa
This excerpt from Mary Newsome, Charlotte Observer
How to route the to-be-built northeast light rail line? CATS officials are pondering that question. I was hoping CATS would route the northeast corridor up North Tryon Street instead of the railroad corridor that parallels North Davidson Street. Apparently that's not to be, at least between uptown and NoDa. CATS is still considering whether to put a section of the line along North Tryon between Sugar Creek Road and Eastway Drive. North of Eastway, the route follows North Tryon Street.I'm very worried about the NoDa business district being beset by the same forces that are hitting South End and threatening the Dilworth historic district and its bungalows. Except the NoDa retail area is closer to the rail line than much of Dilworth, and NoDa's business district has a better preserved Main Street-type feel to it than anything that was in Dilworth. That's all at huge risk, because the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zoning that applies to transit station areas allows high-rise buildings of up to 120 feet -- or higher if your developer asks for an exemption.

And it will happen
. We don't yet know how to curb the developer's voracious appetites.

Still…the growth and discussion is with us. It’s a good thing.

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