MATTHEWS – A proposed one-story bank branch and drive-thru ATM isn’t what town leaders originally had in mind when they created a small-area plan for what is now known as the North End district of Matthews.
The site, which is located at 435 N. Trade St., is part of a larger rezoning from 2002 and was amended in 2005, which included the Walgreen’s next door. The original plan called for a one- or two-story building of up to 20,000 square feet. But applicant Charlotte Metro Credit Union is asking town leaders for a change that would allow for the construction of an approximately 11,000-square-foot, two-sectioned building for a bank branch and office space. The building would front North Trade Street and include a pocket park between the bank branch portion of the building and a three-story North End community building next door. Additionally, the plan calls for a drive-thru ATM lane and two drive-thru banking lanes on a freestanding structure in the middle of the site’s parking lot, which will include more than 50 parking spaces.
But town leaders, who had their first chance to discuss the plan at a public hearing Monday, March 10, aren’t convinced the one-story, one-use plan is the right fit for the ever-growing, multi-use community. With development of nearby North End and Matthews Gateway communities, the area has been flourishing, town leaders said, with amenities and layouts that attract residents looking for more urban living. In addition to housing, the communities include restaurants, fitness centers, office space and medical offices. That area is walkable, leaders said, and a bank with no standalone ATM for pedestrians conflicts with that mission.
“I think it needs to go back to a multi-story building because this doesn’t fit what I thought we were going to put on that property for our downtown,” Commissioner Kress Query said to the petitioner. “Not that your building isn’t pretty – we just wanted to get more people downtown.”
But adding a second story, likely for residential housing, is just out of the question for the credit union, Dennis Williams, the architect of the project, said. Not only is there a safety concern, but Williams said geo-technical testing done on the site’s soil showed the ground is in bad shape.
“We did extensive technical testing on this site. We work all over the Southeast and this site has the worst geo-technical conditions I’ve seen in Piedmont, N.C. There is nothing here that will support a building.”
In hopes of sufficing the idea for two levels, developers designed the credit union facility “as a very tall one-story building,” Williams said. The building, with heights of 28 feet and 24 feet, is comparable to the next-door North End building whose three-story sections “are actually in the mid-30s,” Williams said.
“If we are taking away in one area,” Commissioner John Ross said about the loss of a second-story, “I think I would like to counteract that with other benefits… some kind of walkable ATM – I think I was looking for that.”
Two area architects, including former Matthews commissioner John Urban, spoke at the public hearing against the proposal. While the plan would include new sidewalks that would wrap around the entire site, more trees, more lighting and a potential pocket park – an initiative laid out in the town’s master plan – Urban said he doesn’t feel town leaders are looking at the “big picture.”
“It’s projects like these that slip through the cracks. There are multi-family dwellers that are there now that like urban living. Banking services are great, but you can bank with (a cell phone) now,” Urban said. “A bank is a 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) business and maybe open on Saturdays. This is not what we intended for downtown.”
Garry Smith, with real estate development company BrookeChase Properties, LLC, developer of the mixed-use Matthews Gateway community, also spoke in opposition to the project.
“Matthews North End has turned out to be a cool area that was something that was really needed for Matthews. I would certainly like to see a two-story or even three-story,” Smith said. “And I would much prefer a mixed-use building. This business is a great compliment to the community, but I wish there was a different way to tie them into the community.”
The proposal will come back before the board for a vote likely on April 14.