Coronavirus crisis disrupts planning, development schedules
Everything from the NCAA basketball tournament to this spring’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace has been canceled, and the disruptions have also reached into the rhythm of meetings and public input sessions that drives much of planning and development in Charlotte.
It might seem like a comparatively minor impact, but the disruptions to public input and engagement threaten to upend what was shaping up to be a busy year of formulating plans that will drive the city’s development for decades.
The Charlotte Area Transit System canceled meetings for this week about the Silver Line, the planned east-west light rail from Belmont through uptown to Union County. The system is planning online options instead. The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department also postponed meetings about its new master plan for parks.
The LYNX Silver Line public meetings scheduled for Tuesday, March 17 and Thursday, March 19 have been postponed. CATS will launch an online presentation & survey to collect public feedback which will be available soon.— CATSRideTransit (@CATSRideTransit) March 16, 2020
In light of the restrictions for public gatherings due to COVID-19 we're postponing all planned public meetings til further notice. They'll be rescheduled when it is safe for us meet and gather your input. New dates will post on the County’s calendar: https://t.co/or1VG0vjI3 pic.twitter.com/h0sP2TCxUG— Park and Recreation (@MeckParkRec) March 16, 2020
And after a hasty vote on pending rezoning petitions, Charlotte City Council on Monday deferred future hearings to an undetermined date. It’s unclear when council might consider future rezonings.
Government meetings have to be open to the public, and rezoning hearings often draw hundreds of supporters and opponents to the council’s meeting chamber. Given official guidance to avoid large gatherings, it could be a long time before City Council holds such hearings again, leaving future projects potentially in limbo.
Only 4 people in the Chamber watching the #CLTCC meeting- Devan Wells (WSOC photographer), @hodgesreporting, the man in the back and me. The one member of the public says he thought it was important to attend since this could be the last meeting for a while pic.twitter.com/64j71XFHwR— Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) March 16, 2020
In a testy exchange at Monday’s meeting, City Council member at-large Braxton Winston said the group should postpone all its rezoning work to a later date, including the brief votes council held this week.
“We as City Council and as a city should be focused on essential issues,” said Winson. “We set a bad example if we finalize these rezonings to tell folks they should go about their business as usual, to try and get permits tomorrow, push along the development process and possibly start new projects when we are literally telling people to do the opposite and socially separate.”
City Manager Marcus Jones said it was increasingly likely that the council’s upcoming meetings, at least in the immediate future, will be canceled or postponed.
“Is there a plan so that we can meet as a body to discuss official business?” asked Winston.
Jones said the city is working on the technology and coordinating with the city attorney to make sure they can conduct business in compliance with state law around meetings.
“For us, what’s normal is maybe a tornado or a hurricane, something along those lines,” Jones said. “This is really a public health crisis, which, as a community, is something different for all of us.”