An open letter to the Charlotte City Council on Sustainability Issues & The NoDa Mill Projects
Dear Mayor Foxx & Honorable Charlotte City Council members:
My name is Marguerite Arnold. I am the CEO of a cleantech company located in NoDa.
Because our work is bipartisan if not, frankly “political” at all (it improves the lives of everyone, promotes inclusivity and takes into account the proper strategies for fundraising, project structuring, if not sustainable development in a way that helps both the city and ameliorates the worst parts of over gentrification), we try to stay out of taking sides, lobbying, or taking “political” stands on issues because ultimately we believe that results, not rhetoric, are the only benchmark that matters.
However, the issues now before the Council are large enough both in this one instance, but will in fact affect sustainability for decades to come, is why we are writing this open letter and distributing it to our community.
The only goal we seek to advance is the betterment of our community, our city, and our economy if not the lives of our friends, neighbors, customers and fellow business community. This is not a “political” statement of any kind, unless one accepts the axiom that politics is economics by another approach, much like war is an extension of politics by other means (per one Baron Von Clausewitz).
That is not our perspective or the point we wish to be heard and evaluated.
From a personal perspective, I have been involved in brownfield if not superfund issues if not sustainable community development for most of my career in one way or another (from a legislative, technical, financing and community development angle) internationally, and for most of my professional career if not formal international schooling. I attended by competitive exam, the best Grammar School in the UK in London, at the age of 11, and founded by the grandmother of the modern sustainable community movement, Dame Henrietta Barnett. It’s gone on from there, for at this point, 34 years.
Professionally, this also spans legislative action in DC where I spearheaded the successful fight to save the largest area of high desert pristine ecosystem left in the lower 48 in Idaho (home to ranchers, small farmers, the Shoshone Paiute Indian Tribe, and 12 endangered species including the bald eagle) from becoming a bombed out wasteland for the Air Force to practice strategies that have long ago been proved outdated and were even at the time they were proposed. The Owyhee Canyon lands, the land in question, were subsequently the largest area of federal land given federal wilderness protection by Obama in his first months in office. I also stopped similar projects in Colorado.
My experience in brownfield redevelopment and green energy if not Telco which is relevant here as well, also spans a business career that includes the skills necessary to pull a truly green, highly competive, private company together and we are a real triple bottom line company which cares deeply about our community and is dedicated to creating opportunity and increasing accessibility for everyone.
We are in fact a “trigger company” designed to change things (also called “switches” in the economy) that may seem small, but in effect create something akin to the “100th Monkey Syndrome” in that they look for key, core but small and easy to implement change required to speed up a required transition to a green and sustainable economy on a regional if not national basis – in this case, sustainable community development that creates jobs, is good for the environment, strengthens smart grid and emergency planning and latency,has implications for all internet and VOIP communications, and creates other benefits absolutely in line with all the major elements of sustainability as well as create tax revenue for the city that is far greater than any other brownfield redevelopment project has ever created.
We are a bipartisan, private company, designed to be a public private partnership, female run, and also, since my 40th birthday five years ago, headed by a person with a rare neurological disability that is visible.
I am also familiar with all civil rights laws that cover this community (I helped pass the ADA 1.0 and 1991 Civil Rights Bill as well during my time in DC) and was even given a letter of commendation from Supreme Court Justice Brennan for my work on civil liberties issues at the age of 25.
My mother’s family is from this region, and two years ago, after a lifetime mostly spent in London, New York and Washington, I returned to North Carolina to try and start a business close to 20 years in the making. I chose the NoDa neighborhood because it fit our urban model perfectly.
Unfortunately, image is not always what it seems to be. And even in the year I have lived and worked in this neighborhood, I have seen negative changes that frankly I attribute to the NoDa Neighborhood Board, who has yet to master Roberts Rules of Order, but apparently also feels it has a right to use their positions of authority to pursue interests that mostly benefit them personally rather than the entire community.
During this time, in particular, I have been appalled frankly, at the actions of the NoDa board, since I was introduced to Hollis Nixon, NoDa neighborhood association president , in August 2011, by the owner of real estate I was planning on buying in NoDa that would have cleaned up one of the most important water tables in the area, provided backup power to the light rail, and created additional income for the city in unique ways that would offset the “damage” we did to the municipal tax base from tax incentives that would help us get up and running. It would also have been a much needed compressed natural gas pump in an area of Charlotte where traditionally the most commercial, non-airport bound break pointing and transportation takes place.
Oh, and created a four letter word (or so it would seem) AKA JOBS, which pay higher than the average salary of those who live and work in NoDa.
In other words, we knew we are in the right location to serve the customers who want to switch to another fuel besides gasoline (predicted by the World Bank to reach $8 a gallon next year). And that includes the government as well as the private sector.
Despite this, we were subsequently banned from presenting anything in the NoDa board meetings for a full year, had deliberate attacks on us from the NoDa board (including releasing confidential information to try to make us lose our funding in the HUD Nofa Grant) and in other ways discriminated against if not harassed, if not humiliated by precisely the same people who presented at Monday’s Council Meeting claiming to represent the community.
They do not.
The Board and those who presented their opinions to the City Council on Monday are only interested in falsely re-inflating real estate values in this area, which was the focus of over speculation before the real estate crash. And will be the main beneficiaries on several levels, personally and professionally.
The rest of the neighborhood will only suffer.
In fact, this current Mill renovation project is designed to create an unfair benchmark to falsely re-inflate a housing market and tax base that was not only unsustainable at its peak in 2006, but will not magically reappear (probably in our lifetimes) because of the damage that the collapse did to neighborhoods like NoDa but certainly not limited to it (such as in New York, for example, Harlem if not parts of Brooklyn during the last decade). In other words, they will use the $300K figure that the current developer is planning on spending per apartment as justification for raising property taxes neighborhood wide, which will only benefit the richer, white members of the NoDa board and hurt everyone else.
I have now formally asked to present to the Council the other side of the story at the next meeting. Further, I plan on describing the growing anger in the community if not beyond about this situation (on a bipartisan basis) simply because people know what is going on, saw it on TV on the news that night (and apparently ALL paid attention, because there is a definate buzz building about this issue) and saw through this whole thing for what it is.
The developer wears no clothes (metaphorically speaking), and we have ALL seen this before, even those who do not work in this vertical.
I have and do now. Nationally.
Including in DC. I don’t like this company, what they are trying to do, and frankly the excuses they used during the Council Meeting were disingenuous at best. Why do I know that? Because the “mistakes” and excuses on full display at the Council meeting were like a broken record. I have heard them before. This is the oldest scam in the book. And they are precisely the kind of brownfield developer we are not.
First of all, if they really knew what they were doing, and not just in this as a property to develop (at great expense using OTHER PEOPLE’s money which includes something called YOUR TAXES) and then flip as soon as they can for profit (as evidenced by the amount of private funding they have managed to at least connect to this once the dirty work is paid for by taxpayers) then they would have conducted a proper inspection and priced their bid much closer to the other firms, who bid lower precisely because they, like I, know that this kind of property often has serious damage and priced their bids accordingly. Personally, I still thought those bids were too high. But the obvious differential in their bids vs. the winning bidder was immediately a red flag for me that has only become more obvious and accurate the more I learn about the project if not the NoDa Board who is supporting it.
Further, the argument that the developer “didn’t know” about the damage they have now “uncovered” for various bogus excuses also does not hold water.
First, they knew the history of the building or should have, since it is public information held by the City. If they are not familiar with the amount of damage termites can do, in a closed up and abandoned building, in a subtropical climate, not to mention the mold issue (which was used by the city to evict residents in the first place) then they should have at least done an inspection that included a basic appraisal of likely places this might be an issue (accomplished by a small and cheap demolition in areas where this is always a problem and in fact where it came up.) And/or asked for extra time for another inspection BEFORE they entered the auction. That is called common industry practice if not common sense.
In addition, the excuse that there “wasn’t enough light” (used as another excuse at the Council Meeting by the developer) is also highly disingenuous. They knew they were walking into a boarded up, dark building. Any professional, committed brownfield developer with a shred of competency, if not morality, not to mention a commitment to the community (not in search of a quick buck at the taxpayer and community expense in the long term) would have brought as many high power industrial flashlights and cameras with them as they needed. If not asked for permission to knock down sections of walls and supporting columns where such problems usually occur and of course appeared as soon as they gutted the building, but were predictable way before this occurred. This is not rocket science, in as much it is a very specialized sector of real estate development, if not smart grid and green energy production.
Those problems would have become immediately evident. Not only that, it is standard practice in this industry vertical to do so.
Further, the individual who expressed concern that the developer will only be back for more money at the Council Meeting on Monday, because they haven’t addressed additional issues that I also know exist just on MY surveying of that property, as far as I know and in a public forum is absolutely correct based not only on my own evaluation of the property, if not my own experience in this industry NATIONALLY and over a span of about 25 years.
Specifically that that area is also a brownfield (with no remediation of that issue even discussed so far in a public forum, so that is another place they will come back for more money.) It is inevitable. And common practice by this kind of developer.
This is also an area of town where the $300K condos built across from Amelie’s on N. Davidson, less than a mile from this new Mill Development, and right across the street from the planned 27th Street Lynx Stop will be, were repossessed by the bank who issued the financing, and even the bank couldn’t sell THOSE condos (which were not low income) for a “fire sale” price of $99K. That is further evidence that this idea is a plan to use the ridiculously inflated costs as described by the Honorable Council Member on Monday night, that add up to $300K of construction costs per apartment, to justify a tax base that will drive every single person who isn’t rich, white, owns or even rents property here and NOT on the NoDa board out of the neighborhood.
They won’t be able to afford those ridiculously high property taxes if not rent. I would point out that down the street, once you travel down 36th Street to Plaza, WHOLE HOUSES are usually about $60K, making the overpricing and continued attempts at falsely inflating property values in NoDa even more ridiculous. If not unsustainable and unjustified. We are not in 2006 anymore and won’t be anytime soon.
Further, the developer doesn’t care about this neighborhood. They are only interested in developing a property they will flip, as was very evident from the numbers they presented at the Council Meeting.
Their set asides for low income are too low.
And further, the developer wouldn’t get that kind of private investment support unless they were planning on getting rid of as many low income apartments as they can as quickly as possible. This is a project that while needed, has been structured in a way that always leads to failure, fraud, cost overruns, no ongoing and decent maintenance and was flawed from the start.
It is also a model that when implemented in New York City during the last decade, caused the worst affordable housing and homeless crisis in the City’s history.
Finally, I have asked to present THE OTHER SIDE at the next council meeting. There are others who will too. Our voices have not been presented at all by the NoDa Board. But then what do you expect from a neighborhood board that thinks it’s not covered by the ADA (Title III and §508 and further dismisses the fact that I might be right even though they also know I helped pass such legislation if not have a disability now).
And since we’re on the topic of civil rights, the Council should also know that the Noda Neighborhood committee has actually instituted A POLL TAX as a way to get membership fees. Specifically, anyone can attend, but to VOTE, you have to pay a fee. That is the classic definition of a poll tax, and illegal not only in political elections but particularly in the South, in neighborhood group meetings just like The NoDa Community Association. Not to mention a major priority for one Federal Attorney General, one Mr. Holder.
Board members of that Association have also repeatedly harassed me, caused economic damage, released deliberately false and damaging information about me (also called, at minimum defamation) which has cost me a great deal of time and money if not potentially my life if I am not able to repair the damage they have deliberately caused me by their continued discriminatory treatment, redlining activity, and refusal to accept economic reality.
But I am not the only one who is angry about this, as should have been clear on Monday from other speakers (who I did not know before I saw them speak at the meeting).
Beyond that, the anger in the community is palpable, bipartisan, and destructive in that it is just another sign that democracy does not work and only the rich and powerful have clout if not representation in a political system. They all saw it on the news that night. And EVERYONE was angry about it.
Our suggestion is to get rid of those developers, even if it means refunding the money.
I personally will volunteer to help the city identify strategies to address the issue not to mention create income FOR the city. Not continually ask for more funds that is a tactic so common, I can’t believe these developers are brazen enough to continue this practice.
We are not in ANY way denigrating the Council’s commitment and laudable goals of creating affordable housing within ¼ mile of the Lynx. Nor do we oppose public housing or think that the poor and those with disabilities don’t deserve decent, nice places to live particularly in a location so close to green transportation and in a neighborhood that for Charlotte, is very, very accessible. Furthermore, our mission as a company is to support the preservation of historical buildings like those Mills.
None of those laudable goals are objectionable to us.
But $300K per unit is excessive, as one council member pointed out. That money should in fact go to fixing up other housing projects which desperately need the funds, and the developer needs to face up to the fact that either they come up with the cash or get out of the project. You bought it. You made promises. Now deliver, or get out of the way.
Their approach is the opposite of sustainable community development, as is the current “support” of the NoDa Board (which is NOT, to correct Mayor Foxx, representative of even the majority of the neighborhood), will be bad for the city, the neighborhood and regional goals to address issues the developer is claiming to solve, but in fact is exacerbating.
We hope, as NoDa residents and business owners, if not members of the Char-Meck community, that OUR voices will finally be heard by the Council. And that this kind of duplicitous robbing of the public purse stop now and be recognized for what it is.
We further encourage our community to show up at the next council meeting (approximately two weeks from now) if they want to support the OTHER side to this issue if not have a chance to articulate it.
Those wishing to speak must contact the Mayor’s office City Clerk as soon as possible. Her name is Angela Davis. Her number is 704-336-7493.
Sincerely and Respectfully
FREEDOM RIDERS LLC