Op-Ed: Eastland needs way more than a school
The 80 acres at the former Eastland Mall should be redeveloped with its maximum potential in mind.
The Charlotte City Council is considering approving the sale of land at Eastland to CMS for a K-8 magnet school. But whether it is a partial magnet or conventional school, a K-8 school is not the appropriate anchor for transformational economic development. Some residents are willing to settle on what is being sold as a school that is the anchor of a mixed use development – with a park.
In real life, I expect the plan will result in an affordable housing subdivision that is located between a school and a park. I assure you that a magnet school will not address the systemic issues in the larger Eastland area. Those issues relate to a lower than average: median income; lower home prices; poor performing existing schools; and limited retail.
Schools are not places that businesses tend to develop around. There are no schools that are the anchor of a mixed use development in Charlotte. That isn’t even factoring in the economic issues Eastland is facing. If your own eyes don’t convince you, then maybe this will.
On October 20, the Planning Committee recommended that City Council not approve the sale to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and bluntly outlined the limitations a school has as an anchor, in regards to future development options and economic development. The City Council basically ignored that expert advice and moved forward with the magnet school as an anchor.
Proponents of the magnet school as an anchor predict a bump in home prices in the immediate area. That is hardly the answer to the larger area around Eastland’s woes. Addressing these systemic problems requires a much more intense revenue generating solution.
Here is why the magnet school at Eastland is a carrot on a stick:
- If CMS wants to put a magnet school in the area, there are plenty of options to do so, while preserving the true potential of economic development at Eastland.
- The magnet school will not be the answer to improving six existing nearby schools that are struggling. The magnet could be applied to any of the six existing nearby schools.
- The expected bump in home prices will not impact the neighborhoods for the other six existing nearby schools. Such a bump can be achieved by locating the magnet at any of the six existing schools.
- The argument that “voters approved a magnet a school at Eastland in the 2013 school bonds” is misleading at best. The bonds were never earmarked for Eastland and Eastland actually wasn’t a consideration at that time. CMS has an overflow option for Albemarle Road schools, and room for expansion at all of its nearby schools. They also have potential sites in the area where they can put a new school. If CMS wants to address overcrowding they have other options.
- 33 acres of the 80 acres are proposed as a school and a park. 41% of the site will not be generating tax revenue or be part of an economic engine. The County Commission has opted out of funding the park, citing a lack of creativity and investment by the city, and there is an existing waiting list. We could be waiting 10 to 15 years for the park.
I am not going to tell you exactly what the anchor at Eastland should be. I can’t give you a definitive answer. There are sports uses, college and trade schools, and medical facilities just to name a few potential anchors.
I believe the issue here is a lack of marketing and unwillingness to stick it out and go big. Eastland is not even listed for sale on the internet! Meanwhile, the consultants draw all sorts of underwhelming plans.
The city should be actively marketing the property, not trying to analyze what common use will fill space with primarily local developers, just so they can get it off their hands. It may take a while, but the stakes are high for east Charlotte and we have to do what it takes to be a part of Charlotte’s booming future.
Cover image via Facebook
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