Mar 19, 2023 - Development

Huntersville growth pains Birkdale Village as developers propose office tower, 7-story parking deck

North American Properties and Charlotte-based Gresham Smith Birkdale

Rendering: North American Properties and Charlotte-based Gresham Smith

Editor’s note: The Birkdale Village proposal was rejected by town commissioners Monday in a 4-2 vote.

Birkdale Village operators want to continue drawing people to its shops, restaurants and community spaces with a future $90-million office tower and seven-story parking garage.

Why it matters: Birkdale was Mecklenburg County’s pioneer, “New Urbanist” mixed-used development when it opened in the early 2000s. But some residents fear high rises will disrupt the beloved development’s small-town feel and charm.

  • “They would look fine in SouthPark,” one neighbor told the town board last month. “This is ugly,” another remarked.
  • Cincinnati-based North American Properties partnered with Nuveen Real Estate to buy in Birkdale in 2020. Constructing a new office building and accompanying parking garage would help maintain a vibrant and walkable atmosphere, the new owners say.

Driving the news: Town commissioners will have the final say Monday.

Yes, but: Huntersville is at a crossroads. Some neighbors want town leaders to resist the rapid change. The town’s population has grown from 46,773 to 61,220 people since 2010, according to its 2040 plan. That number is expected to surpass 100,000 over the next two decades.

  • “Some citizens who live next door, I think, are just really against the growth in general of Huntersville,” NAP managing partner Tim Perry told Axios.

Details: The office tower would replace Barnes & Noble, which will vacate its space in about 18 months. The building would reach 110 feet in height, with 150,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor. (The maximum allowable height of a structure in Huntersville is 48 feet.)

  • The parking deck would be built onto a garage directly behind the bookstore. Visitors could park in the 450 new spaces for free after 5pm, NAP has said.

“We’re being accused of just not wanting development,” neighbor Brian Rice told me. “That is the furthest thing from the truth … We love the Village, and we know it can thrive, and we know it can be successful, and it doesn’t need this type of development.”

The big picture: Office development has grown in areas outside Uptown, and employers have followed suit.

The office building would replace the Barnes & Noble. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios
  • “It’s a long drive to downtown Charlotte and to South End,” said Michael Lant, SVP of development at NAP. “There’s a lot of folks who would like a more suburban location closer to home.”

Zoom out: NAP originally pitched much grander plans for Birkdale’s expansion. It scaled back because of opposition. The former version of the proposal included a 12-story hotel and 350 apartments. The office tower was originally 145 feet tall.

The other side: Residents are skeptical these tall buildings will jibe with Birkdale’s personality. They’re concerned about traffic, too.

North American Properties and Charlotte-based Gresham Smith Birkdale
There would be retail on the ground floor of the office building. Rendering: North American Properties and Gresham Smith Birkdale

“It’s going to make the experience for the customers worse, which could drive traffic away from Birkdale, not towards it,” Rice said.

  • Residents who live behind Birkdale drive through the development to get in and out. Sam Furr Road is set to be widened, but it will be at least three years before construction starts.

More than 1,600 people have signed an online petition against the project. Birkdale Village has its own petition with just over 150 supporters.

  • A private Facebook group called “Birkdale Village Ridiculousness” has nearly 1,000 members.

By the numbers: The proposed project would generate $170,000 annually in property taxes, according to NAP. Plus, there would be construction gigs, new jobs in the office and potentially increased sales tax revenue.

  • NAP believes there’s a strong demand for Class A office space in Huntersville. While Birkdale has some office space already, it’s full and “more of a Class B-type office.”
  • No businesses are lined up to fill the proposed building, but there is interest, NAP says. “People will be surprised how many of those are Fortune 500 companies that want to be in a mixed-use environment that’s easy to park and is close to their employee base that’s staying at home more,” Perry said.

Some residents fear that if the town approves this project, it’ll be more likely to approve future proposals for high rises.

  • NAP says a new tenant is replacing Pier 1, where the hotel was supposed to go. Dick’s has re-signed for another five years onsite where the multi-family housing would have gone.

Catch up quick: NAP says it partnered with Nuveen to “rejuvenate” Birkdale through $20-million worth of investments. When it came on, tenant vacancies were up and sales per square foot were down, NAP tells Axios.

  • Changes included a stage and gathering space called The Plaza, concierge and valet, a community garden, a dog park and fresh paint.
  • Since the redevelopment, NAP has signed leases with national chains like Kendra Scott and Sephora as well as locally owned franchises like Foxcroft Wine Co, owned by Conrad Hunter, a member of the family Huntersville is named after.
  • Signs for incoming businesses like The Good Wurst Company and bartaco hang from construction fences around the complex.

But some neighbors feel like there’s been a shift from local businesses to chains since NAP came in. Corkscrew, a wine pub, told WBTV it was forced to leave by management.

  • “What are they bringing in instead? A Cheesecake Factory,” Rice said.
Birkdale The Cheesecake Factory Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios
A sign advertising a new Cheesecake Factory hangs from a construction fence. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Between the lines: The rezoning process has gotten drawn out and messy.

NAP pursued a conditional zoning instead of a special use permit. That way, they were allowed to legally speak with commissioners on designs and get their feedback. They said the planning board asked specifically that they work with town leaders on the aesthetics.

Town planning staff is now recommending denial of the projects.

  • “They were asking for modifications to the height, not by changing the law, but just asking for an exception to the law,” explains Brian Richards, Huntersville assistant planning director.

What’s next: If the rezoning fails, NAP could reapply and restart the process. If approved, NAP would spend the next six to nine months marketing the building to get it at least 50% pre-leased. Then they’d begin final designs and construction.

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