Whenever I talk about development with my neighbors in Prosperity Village, the first question is always “When are they going to widen the roads around here?” It’s a logical question. You expect a road adjustment to follow with any influx of new residents. However, “widening” a road is not always the best answer as it can sometimes cause more problems than it solves. We are experiencing this issue in Prosperity Village right now.
Here are some key facts for you to take in:
In May 2019, rezoning petition 2018-132, was approved by city council. This rezoning petition will add 260 apartments to 11 acres of property directly across the street from the Shoppes at Highland Creek. The developer is Alliance Residential.
Together, these two projects will be adding 339 housing units to the northern core of Prosperity Village. The seven-acre site currently houses the fresh farmers market/flower stand on its western edge at the corner of Prosperity Church Road and Old Ridge Road.
(Hint: if you’re wondering where this is but don’t want to click on the links to see the site plans and get oriented, just think of the combined area as all of the currently undeveloped space across the street from Harris Teeter on Ridge Road.)
Ok, are you with me so far? Great! Now, here’s where it gets interesting:
As part of the approved rezoning petition, Alliance Residential (2018-132) is required to make road improvements. Those road improvements will widen Ridge Road from a two-lane street to a five-lane thoroughfare from Prosperity Church Road to the Highland Creek Shoppes.
Creating a five-lane road in the very center of Prosperity Village should be a concern for every resident of the area. Why?
It contradicts the adopted Area Plan
It makes future growth more difficult and
It negatively affects our local economics
THE AREA PLAN
In 2012, Charlotte’s Planning department set out to develop an area plan for the Prosperity Hucks area in anticipation of the development that was poised to follow the completion of I-485 in 2015. In order to develop the area plan, the planning department held numerous meetings, forums, focus groups and outreach sessions with area residents. After almost three years of work with the surrounding communities, dozens of community meetings, hundreds of hours of planning staff time and hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars, the completed Prosperity Hucks Area Plan was adopted by City Council on July 27, 2015. As stated in its opening pages, the area plan “establishes a framework for a walkable, pedestrian friendly, mixed use center that supports and is connected to the surrounding neighborhoods.”
With the area plan, we have a city policy actively encouraging the connections to neighborhoods and development through walkable, pedestrian friendly streets. However, the road widening decisions included in rezoning petition 2018-132 are in direct opposition to that policy.
The proposed road design increases the chances for conflict at an already tenuous traffic intersection in front of the Shoppes at Highland Creek by adding three lanes of traffic and three left turn only lanes.
These left turn only lanes will not be controlled by a traffic light because this intersection is too close to the existing traffic lights at Prosperity Church Road/Ridge Road and at Ridge Road/Prosperity Ridge Road. I don’t know about you, but I already find it difficult to make a left turn on to Ridge Road from the Shoppes at Highland Creek.
BYE BYE OLD RIDGE ROAD
Yes, you read that correctly. In order to accommodate 2019-177 - the townhome residences - Old Ridge Road will be demolished. This road was originally scheduled to be abandoned in 2016 but then the rezoning petition for the restaurant across the street from the flower stand was approved. As a result, it remained as the only way to exit the site. But the developers for the restaurant knew on approval that one day, this access would be changed, and that day has come.
The proposed removal of Old Ridge Road complicates the approved road design for the Alliance property, 2018-132. Under the approved road design, a left turn lane was included for access to Old Ridge Road. However, removing Old Ridge Road eliminates the need for that left turn lane. That’s great right? But wait, because unfortunately, there is a proposed street in rezoning petition 2019-177 – called “Street A” - which opens onto Ridge Road that will now require revising the entire intersection.
Essentially, the 2019-177 rezoning proposal has rendered the approved road design for 2018-132 obsolete because the design didn’t accurately anticipate future growth. If left as a five-lane road, this intersection will only alienate two new and largely residential areas from the very reason they are being developed: the close proximity to area amenities like a grocery store and a coffee shop.
Speaking of area amenities, the one thing that seems to always get lost in rezoning decisions are the affects a new development will have on the local economy. The business in the Shoppes at Highland Creek are obviously interested in the proposed developments across the street. These businesses are in a prime location across from potential new customers who will be within walking distance of the entire shopping center. More people, more business, right? But the proposed road redesign will put those businesses at a disadvantage because it will be difficult for those potential customers to reach them and, dare I say, some long-time Prosperity Village residents may also get tired of running the gauntlet of this intersection and partake in other similar amenity options in Prosperity Village that are easier to access.
I know what you’re thinking: there is a light controlled crosswalk at the Prosperity Church Road/Ridge Road and the Ridge Road/Prosperity Ridge Road intersections. That’s very true. But taking basic human behaviors – right or wrong – into account, I think it’s both safe and smart to anticipate that the majority of the new residents in these developments are simply not going to walk out of their way to use either one of these crossings just to get their groceries at Harris Teeter. Here’s what is most likely to happen: A determined pedestrian wanting to venture across Ridge Road will find their only assistance to be a flashing pedestrian beacon. They will be reliant upon the kindness of drivers in order to cross the thoroughfare. And while there is an area of refuge for pedestrians halfway across the thoroughfare, it will not be comfortable to be in the midst of that much traffic. The reality will be that many of these close proximity customers will choose to drive across the street to the Shoppes at Highland Creek, resulting in an increase in car traffic at this intersection.
THE WAY FORWARD
Safety is a core tenet of the area plan. We want pedestrians to be safe in Prosperity Village. Adding three additional lanes of traffic to Ridge Road isn’t safe. When we all decided to embrace “a network of appropriately scaled streets,” we didn’t ever envision changing an existing road into a major thoroughfare.
All that being said, this section of Ridge Road will need to change. Keeping it the same and doing absolutely nothing is not an option. What we need is a solution that is appropriately scaled for the area. What we need is a traffic circle.
The PVAA are advocating for changing the approved road design from a five-lane intersection into a single-lane traffic circle. A traffic circle will still allow traffic to flow, but at reduced speeds. It also makes for a less complicated situation for both drivers and pedestrians.
While our current traffic circles have been praised, derided, complained about and enjoyed since they were installed, they are effective at lowering vehicle speeds. They also lead to fewer and less severe accidents and increase pedestrian safety. In fact, statistics from the North Carolina Department of Transportation show that traffic circles have reduced total crashes at intersections by 46%, while fatal and injury crashes were reduced by 76%.
HOW TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN
This can only happen if all stakeholders involved come together, decide it’s the right thing to do and figure out the logistics of changing the current plan. We are aware that the first necessary step would be a traffic study to analyze future needs. We’re also aware that typically traffic circles require more space than an average intersection. This is why the PVAA is already encouraging discussions and partnerships between all stakeholders involved in order to make this intersection safer, including city council representatives, the developers, CDOT and the business owners and property management of the Shoppes at Highland Creek.
If you’d like to get involved, here are some key dates to be aware of where we will state the case in planned public forums:
2019-177 Encore’s required community meeting – Wednesday, Feb 5, at 6pm at Crossway Community Church, 6400 Prosperity Church Road. Please attend this meeting so your voice can be heard!
2019 -177 City Hearing, March 16, 5:30pm, Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 East Fourth St., Meeting Chambers. This is the ONLY rezoning hearing where the public is allowed to speak.