Crime ridden properties targeted for seizure in Charlotte; history teaches lesson in what doesn’t work

City leaders address crime hot spots

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Some of the biggest hotspots for crime in Charlotte are in the crosshairs of city leaders. Those properties may even be targeted for takeover.

Over the last year there have been thousands of calls to police, related to just sixteen addresses in the Queen City. It’s been years since the City of Charlotte actively pursued a nuisance abatement strategy on troubled properties, but the lessons of the past will be pertinent to finding success today.

Community activist Rickey Hall can remember one such project on West Boulevard.

“I’ve been involved in community development for all of my adult life and a lot of it’s been focused on creating community change here in the West Boulevard corridor,” Hall said.

In 1989 the federal government seized the West Boulevard Shopping Center from a drug ring. The property immediately became an opportunity for revitalization.

“It was considered a problem area, it was dilapidated and in decline,” Hall said.

“When the US Marshals seized the property, we immediately call forth a vision for a change.”

It took 11 years to build something, turning into a shopping plaza with Family Dollar as the anchor store and, for a while, CMPD’s Westover station.

But Hall had bigger dreams that never came to pass. Plans for a grocery store never materialized and Hall says the area remains a food desert.

“More could have been done, but at the same time I think that looking at the overall area it was less favorable for investment,” Hall said.

Right across the street from that property, seized 30 years ago by the federal government and deeded to the City of Charlotte, is yet another address that is in the crosshairs for a government intervention.

According to CMPD, 1533 West Blvd has had 149 calls for service in 2020 alone. Most of the calls are related to drug sales. A memo sent to city councilmembers referred to it as an open air drug market.

It’s one of 16 properties identified by CMPD’s NEST Unit as an area in need of help and possibly a takeover.

“First of all I live near one of them, I live off of West Boulevard,” Charlotte City Councilwoman Victoria Watlington said.

Watlington is one of the elected leaders pushing for the city to take over problem properties using the nuisance abatement process.

It’s been a year since the idea was first discussed. Watlington says the pandemic slowed progress.

It requires the city to sue the owner and padlock the property. It’s much easier to just convince property owners to play a part in fixing the crime problems.

Nuisance abatement is considered a last resort, a nuclear option. Watlington said it likely won’t be a solution for all of the properties, but potentially some of them.

“I’m absolutely prepared to support anything that’s going to protect our residents, so if push comes to shove, absolutely nothing is off the table.,” Watlington said.

Sources with the city tell WBTV that there’s a renewed effort to start sending letters to property owners from the city to get the ball rolling on an abatement case.

Even if the city does not fully pursue taking ownership of the property, a judge could limit the use of the property, giving the city leverage in deciding what business or operation would take its place.

But nuisance abatement is far from a fix all. It’s why both Hall and Watlington emphasize there’s a greater strategy to revitalizing the West Boulevard corridor that includes affordable housing, keeping families in place and a merchant’s association to help invest in business owners in the neighborhood.

“This is not a displacement model. It is not a gentrification model,” Hall said.

“It is a community vision and so we’re going to plant that seed right here.”

When WBTV spoke with Hall, CMPD was conducting a community roll call visit with the owner in a laundromat on the very same property the federal government seized thirty years ago. A CMPD officer said the owner had been having problems with people in the store.

Community activists and city leaders are hoping a newer more nuanced model can keep history from repeating itself.

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