Two miles from Uptown, the Druid Hills neighborhood is in line for massive change

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Charlotte’s center city is ringed by formerly low-income, minority neighborhoods that are drawing attention from developers.

It’s arguably the biggest trend in real estate in Charlotte, and the redevelopment has touched these neighborhoods one by one: Plaza Midwood, NoDa, Cherry, Wilmore, Belmont, Seversville, and now Grier Heights.

The neighborhood that appears to be one of the next in line? Druid Hills.

Over the next 10 years, neighborhood leaders are expecting massive change as growth spills out from Uptown and already-redeveloped neighborhoods nearby.

“We know that it’s an up-and-coming area,” said Darryl Gaston, president of the Druid Hills Neighborhood Association. “I just want everybody to be OK.”

Once upon a time, the neighborhood was firmly middle-class and home to grocery stores, a bowling alley and a few restaurants. But it gradually fell onto hard times and earned a reputation as a high-crime area.

Druid Hills has been the subject of several efforts to bolster its fortunes. There’s been a long-running partnership with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, which has put $4 million into renovating homes, working with Habitat Humanity to build 24 new ones, and acquiring land for a park.

The housing partnership just announced that it has received a new $500,000 grant to buy up blighted or vacant properties, clean them up and build new houses for sale to people making less than 80 percent of the area median income.

[Agenda story: What does affordable housing mean in Charlotte?]

This Norris Avenue home in Druid Hills was recently build by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership. Photo via CMHP

Across the street lies Brightwalk, the massively successful affordable and mixed-income housing development. And next to that, the county just built a beautiful new aquatic center.

Two big new developments, though, have neighborhood leaders expecting massive change in the coming two to 10 years.

One is Camp North End, the project led by New York-based developer ATCO on 75 acres of industrial land north of Uptown. It backs up to the south end of Druid Hills and will ultimately be an uber-trendy area with offices, event space, retail, food/beverage, apartments and potentially a hotel.

[Agenda story: The developers of Camp North End are smart and will make a ton of money]

While Camp North End is private development, the city of Charlotte has also included Druid Hills as part of its revitalization plans for the north side of Uptown. The city has pre-emptively labeled it the “Applied Innovation Corridor,” a series of projects that will be paid for with a portion of $146 million in bonds approved by city voters.

The idea is to recruit creative-type businesses, restaurants, artists, software firms, breweries, bakeries and other industry clusters to this area between Uptown and University City. Camp North End fits perfectly into that vision.

Some of this proposed development is already being reflected in real estate prices with the expectation that drawing more creative urban professionals to the area will drive demand for housing there.

Though property values in the neighborhood reached their peak in 2008 and still haven’t recovered, they’ve recently been on the upswing.

Property values in Druid Hills North, as defined by Zillow, are up nearly 13 percent year over year. In Druid Hills South, they’re up about 15 percent.

Investors have already begun the early stages of buying up properties in Druid Hills. Some are flipping them, others renting them out.

“They are knocking, they are sending postcards,” Gaston said. “They are doing everything to let people know that they’re interested in purchasing their properties.”

That has Gaston constantly asking whether the next decade of Druid Hills will be a reinvestment that will lift up the community or a redevelopment that will lead to painful displacement and gentrification.

Gaston, 56, grew up in Druid Hills in a home his grandparents first owned. He’s seen the neighborhood at its best and at its worst. And he says there’s plenty to look forward to with redevelopment; for example, Druid Hills is in desperate need of a grocery store.

Gaston says he will also speak in favor of the Camp North End rezoning petition this week. ATCO has worked closely with Druid Hills leaders and is actively looking to get redevelopment right.

“We’ve had many opportunities where we failed to get it right,” Gaston said. “I’m just reminding people.”

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Andrew Dunn
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