Sep 21, 2023 - Development

Little brick building underscores Charlotte’s big battles to preserve history, manage growth and find parking


Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

In the late 19th century, Dilworth was built as a suburb centered on a streetcar, with wide roads and driveway-less houses. Today those avenues are lined with rows and rows and rows of cars.

  • It’s a problem that has plagued the neighborhood — one that prides itself on its past and touts its historic designation — to the point that neighbors are questioning whether it’s worth sacrificing history for a 25-space surface parking lot.

Driving the news: A 1903 building that tells a story about Charlotte is in jeopardy. The Leeper-Wyatt building is on South Boulevard, surrounded by towers of concrete and beams going up and maturing into skyscrapers. Soon the land it’s on will be home to a mixed-use high-rise. Nearby, Tyber Creek Pub will be torn down and rebuilt as part of the project.

Dilworth couple and restaurateurs Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown are hoping to pick up the Leeper-Wyatt building and move it before that happens. They own a surface lot around the corner on Cleveland Avenue, next to a 1915 church they’re renovating for their next restaurant venture, Leluia Hall.

  • “This is so much more compelling than having a flat parking lot sitting there,” Brown said. “We’re trying to be visionary as the city grows so fast.”

Yes, but: To do that, the couple needs to seek a rezoning from the city. It’s clear the petition doesn’t have the support it needs right now to pass ahead of a vote in October. Council members, who have final say, are concerned the current plans will harm the neighborhood’s character. Several neighbors spoke against the project during a hearing on Tuesday.

  • Meanwhile, developer Southern Land Company is ready to tear down the structure if progress to save it stalls. They already have a demolition permit, Brown says. For now, there are no set start dates for demolition and construction, the Nashville-based developer tells Axios.

“If the rezoning’s a no, I couldn’t imagine any prospect where that building could be revived,” Tonidandel says. “We are the last hope.”

Cars cram Cleveland Avenue for blocks. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

As of Wednesday afternoon, Tonidandel and Brown were nearing a compromise with the Dilworth Community Association, which will be influential in city council’s decision. Their deadline for submitting a final site plan to the city is Thursday.

Why it matters: The debate that’s ensued over the Leeper-Wyatt building highlights a problem in Dilworth and other Charlotte neighborhoods as they struggle to preserve their history and mitigate new development.

Zoom in: The city’s development regulations require 22 off-street spaces for Leluia Hall. Moving the building would reduce the Cleveland Avenue lot to four spaces. Tonidandel and Brown also have eight on-street parking spots and a lease agreement for 10 spaces. The lease is for five years and is within 800 feet of the site.

  • “While we don’t have 22 spots sitting in a parking lot, we do have 22 spots (overall),” Tonidandel said.
  • In a statement, Dilworth Community Association president Valerie Preston said their only opposition to the rezoning petition is that “language regarding the 10 leased off-site parking places was unenforceable.”

Flashback: The Leeper-Wyatt Building is the oldest retail brick commercial building from Dilworth’s first business district, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. It was designated as a local historic landmark in 1989.

  • The store was built for mill workers by D.A. Tompkins, who also built Atherton Mill, Optimist Hall and hundreds of other textile mills and industrial plants across the Carolinas.
  • The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission supports the rezoning.
The Leeper-Wyatt Building on South Boulevard. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

“One of the things that Charlotte’s known for is that we don’t keep our old buildings and we tear them down,” Tonidandel said. “Why don’t we try and rewrite that?”

The other side: “What we have to do is consider people over places,” a resident said to council during this week’s hearing.

Although Dilworth is feeling the South End development boom pouring over, this is the first rezoning in four years that has prompted the Dilworth Community Association to speak before council.

  • Opponents of the project say taking away the parking will be at expense of residents and safety of their children.
  • Proponents say parking is a short-term issue. They say it will be resolved once construction of nearby parking decks wraps up, and the construction workers working on them are no longer park in the vicinity.

The big picture: The story of change in Dilworth is much bigger than a half acre. Tom Donaldson, who owns the historic Walter Brem House in Dilworth, supports moving the Leeper-Wyatt to the new location. The historic buildings will serve as a buffer protecting the residences from being swallowed by towers, he says.

  • “There needs to be some type of natural barrier that can hold up the test of time, and a surface lot is not going to be (it),” Donaldson says. “I view this as a long-term solution that benefits the neighborhood, and I’m not as worried about the convenience of the short-term parking.”

The city appears in need of a master plan around parking, as similar issues arise elsewhere. Leaders have floated the idea of a neighborhood permit program to regulate non-resident parking in front of their homes. Charlotte has yet to expand its program in Uptown’s wards.

What’s next: Council is slated to make a decision on the rezoning on Oct. 17.

The under-construction Leluia Hall site. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

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