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'A stupid mistake nobody wants to admit to': Charlotte neighbors oppose new fire station near their homes

City planners predicted a road would develop 20 years ago. It didn't. Now, thanks to that misclassification, a new fire station can be built in a quiet neighborhood.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A decision by the city of Charlotte at the beginning of the millennium has some homeowners mounting a "Not in My Backyard" campaign, trying to keep out an incoming neighbor.

But it's not just any neighbor. It's a new fire department. 

David Hannes has enjoyed 40 years of "country" life right outside Charlotte on Woody Point Road, but much to his disappointment, the quiet neighborhood street will soon be home to a new fire station. 

"It's just nice and peaceful," Hannes said. "I think that's going to change drastically if this fire station's built. We'll have additional noise, we'll have additional congestion."

Misclassification by the city of Charlotte two decades ago is the only reason the Steele Creek Volunteer Fire Department can build on his street. Hannes says city leaders refuse to own their mistake. 

"The issue is with the city of Charlotte and the position they put us in," he said. "I think, at the least, it's just a stupid mistake that nobody wants to admit to."

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Credit: WCNC Charlotte

The fire department wants to build a fire station near the top of a two-lane, dead-end road just over the city limits in Mecklenburg County. Hannes says it just isn't the right place for a fire station.

He's far from the only one concerned. Several of Hannes' neighbors have voiced their objection to the development, citing similar concerns. No matter their opinions, the fire department is within its rights to build on Woody Point Road, but only because in hindsight, the city classified the wrong road. 

Woody Point Road isn't in Charlotte, but since it's so close to the city limits, it has remained under Charlotte's authority under an extraterritorial jurisdiction. Instead of designation the road as a residential local street, which it clearly is today, planners labeled the road a minor collector around 2000, anticipating the road would one day become developed and connected. 

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Why does that matter? Charlotte's ordinance prohibits government buildings on residential local streets but not collectors. Through a spokesperson, the city of Charlotte said staff members haven't been able to find documentation from 2000 of the evaluation performed. 

"Woody Point Road was designated as a collector street approximately 20 years ago utilizing the delegated authority granted by the Subdivision Ordinance based upon the criteria in place at that time for designating collector streets," Senior Public Relations Specialist Scierra Bratton said. "Following this designation, the subject street, along with other streets, were mapped as collector streets and placed on the city's online mapping system (i.e. Charlotte Explorer) for public access."

Click here to see the city of Charlotte's street map to see how your road is classified

Sam Spencer is the former chairperson of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission. The outgoing planning commission member said even the best planners are at the mercy of outside forces.

"Planning's not a perfect science, but we have an amazing planning staff in Charlotte," Spencer said. "We can't predict exactly where the market's going to go. We can't predict where people are going to live."

Credit: WCNC Charlotte
Sam Spencer

Spencer believes there's a lesson here for others. He said people should voice their concerns on the front end, and the city needs to properly engage the public, too. He said Charlotte's improved engagement efforts in recent years. 

"There's no excuse not to be engaged," Spencer said. "If you get your input in there, you might not stop a project from happening, but almost always you're going to make it better and get it closer to what you want."

Woody Point Road is a prime example of how a decision years ago can create problems down the road. Click here to learn more about giving city leaders feedback on street designations and transportation plans.

"We were supposed to be notified," Hannes said. "I never got a notice."

Hannes said the city did not involve him two decades ago, but is trying now in response to his questions. After all, Charlotte is updating its street maps and the first draft no longer classifies Woody Point Road as a collector street. Even so, the change will most likely take place too late to stop the fire station.

"The city is currently in the process of reevaluating street designations through the Streets Map public adoption process which is scheduled to go before City Council this summer," Bratton said. "This is the appropriate process in which to reevaluate and determine the most appropriate designation for Woody Point Road along with other collector streets."

Spencer said homeowners should express their concerns with City Council members. Hannes sent a letter to the mayor and Charlotte City Council and is encouraging his neighbors to do the same.

Credit: WCNC Charlotte

In a statement, Steele Creek VFD said the fire station location is needed to improve emergency response times.

"To better serve the growing Steele Creek community, the Steele Creek Fire Department purchased property on Woody Point Road," Steele Creek VFD Secretary/Treasurer Bob Fredrickson said. "This new site will be a relocation of the current Fire Station #2, located at 13225 South Tryon St. The new location better supports our incident response plan and will greatly reduce response times to emergencies for residents living in and around the Shopton Rd West corridor. The Steele Creek Fire Department consulted with various local agencies and community members before pursuing the purchase of the land at this location. Further, Steele Creek Fire Department is abiding by all zoning ordinances, building codes and regulations. Without an increase to budget, this new fire station location improves our ability to accomplish our mission; to provide the best service to our community members with their safety as our top priority."

Contact Nate Morabito at nmorabito@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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