Greenways Too Close For Some?

The Charlotte Observer
Carrie Levine
Feb 22, 2006

Greenways are popular on the ballot, but not in the backyard.

Mecklenburg voters have agreed to borrow millions for creekside trails, and the county is hoping to spend it on a major greenway expansion to connect neighborhoods and give residents a new way to get around. The problem? Folks don't always want them behind their houses.

Homeowners around the county, from south Charlotte neighborhoods such as Touchstone to wealthy enclaves such as Eastover, are objecting to the paths, saying they will bring crime and disrupt privacy. These neighborhood battles are increasing as the county's plans for greenways grow.

Some of the highest-profile sections of existing trails pass along Kings Drive and other urban areas. But most run along creeks and through neighborhoods, sometimes just behind backyard property lines.

The county master plan includes a greenway along Briar Creek that would pass through Eastover. Some residents there aren't pleased that public paths are so, well, public.

Nancy Carlton sees greenways as convenient escape routes. If someone wants to break into a home without being spotted by police, "it's the perfect place to do it. Just get on the greenway."

Greenway advocates say the paths don't increase crime, and they cite national research and a study by UNC Charlotte professors to prove their point.

"Nobody is going to steal a widescreen TV and haul it down a greenway," said former county commissioner Ruth Samuelson, a greenway backer.

Still, neighborhood concerns are a barrier for any greenway, which is pitched as a local amenity and built on public land.

Neighborhood opposition hasn't stopped the paths. But it has changed plans, said park and recreation director Wayne Weston. For instance, in 1991, planners moved a stretch along Little Sugar Creek to keep it out of sight of Kings Drive homes.

Julie Clark, the county's greenway planner, says she wants to be sensitive to residents, and has tweaked trail routes when possible if neighbors feel they crowd homes.

"We're all comfortable with sidewalks and streets," Clark said, "but a greenway, it feels maybe a little more different."

The county now has 21 miles of greenway, with two more miles scheduled to open in the spring. Plans call for almost doubling that in the next four years. Voters passed $25 million for the project in 2004. The county's master plan calls for eventually connecting to greenway systems in neighboring counties and across the S.C. border.

People whose property borders proposed greenways say they aren't necessarily opposed to the paths, but they want more answers about trails planned a few feet from their property.

Residents in the Touchstone area in south Charlotte, for example, petitioned the parks department over, among other things, the nearness of the trail and the number of greenway entrances in their neighborhood, along with concerns about crime and congestion.

The homes along Stoney Hill Lane now have backyards at the top of the hill, looking down on the creek. Some residents support the greenway, and say their neighbors have grown too accustomed to exclusive use of the pristine, forested creek beds in their backyards.

"They've been spoiled for so long," said Denise Fenimore, who lives across the street.

Last week, Clark and three Touchstone residents ventured out along the creek, to walk the path of the proposed Four Mile greenway so the neighbors could point out their concerns.

The route wound through the trees, past deer tracks fresh enough to have been left that day. The group emerged, covered with mud, at a point where the greenway would come closest to Stoney Hill Lane backyards.

Bryant Galusha pointed to his shed, and the patio where he and his wife entertain in the summer.

It is only about 15 steps away from the proposed path, he said - something he is afraid would damage the value of his home.

This week, Clark received new plans that move the trail farther from homes, with more greenery in between.

Clark said she hopes the changes ease fears.

Last week, along the creek, neighbors said they were struggling to understand why the greenway trail had to be near their homes.

"All you're doing is putting a path in," neighbor Fred Thomas told Clark.

"I wish that were all," Clark replied.

Want to Weigh In?

The next public meeting about the proposed Four Mile Creek Greenway will be at 7 p.m. today at Davie Conference Center in William R. Davie Park, 4635 Pineville- Matthews Road.

Safe or Not?

A group of researchers at UNC Charlotte studied crime along Charlotte greenways from 1994 to 2003. Their findings: Homes near greenways were just as safe as homes in the same neighborhoods farther removed from the paths.

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