Exclusive: What council Republicans really think of Charlotte’s big 2040 plan

Exclusive: What council Republicans really think of Charlotte’s big 2040 plan

Tariq Bokhari and Ed Driggs at a Mecklenburg Young Republicans meeting on April 27. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

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Publicly, Charlotte’s two Republican city council members have kept it collegial with Democrats while working to get the 2040 Comprehensive Plan revised. But when surrounded by like minds at a Mecklenburg Young Republicans meeting last week, they let loose.

Ed Driggs called the plan “basically an attempt at a socialist takeover of the city of Charlotte.”

  • Driggs then said he and Tariq Bokhari have been able to stall the plan’s progress because “smart people can outmaneuver dumb people.”

Why it matters: The 2040 plan is a non-binding set of policies that will guide how Charlotte develops as it adds an expected 400,000 people in the next two decades.

  • Progressives see it as a chance to correct generations of bad policy like redlining and urban renewal that have contributed to our economic mobility struggles.

Driving the news: Developers, real estate groups and neighborhood organizations have pushed back on parts of the plan, and ultimately drove the mayor and council to move a vote on it from April to June.

Republicans, outnumbered 9-2 on council, saw the delay as a victory.

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“Even this deep in enemy territory, smart people can outmaneuver dumb people,” Driggs said at last week’s meeting at Dilworth Neighborhood Grille. “And frankly that is often what it’s about. A lot of the time you’re not talking partisan. You’re talking ‘smart’ versus ‘stupid.'”

Driggs, who in an April 21 council meeting told Democrat Braxton Winston to “show a little respect for your colleagues,” approached me afterward and said he didn’t know any reporters were in the room. He said it was “just trash-talking,” so we set up a time to talk Thursday to give him a chance to clarify.

“My point was, we do not have a situation where Republicans are irrelevant just because there are only two of us,” he said. “Sometimes you can have influence by virtue of having a good idea. So sometimes people will recognize the difference between smart and stupid and they won’t think of it as Democrat or Republican. I wasn’t intending to call people stupid.”

When I asked whether he still thought the plan was a step toward socialism, he said, “In that moment when I was putting on a show for that audience I wasn’t being as thoughtful about it. But socialism, what it connotes to me in this context is just an overreach of government.”

(Note: After this story ran, Driggs issued a public apology at a Charlotte City Council meeting, saying “I did say those things. And I think it comes from a passion that we all feel for our work and I believe we all experience a sense of frustration at times. And this was an occasion in which I vented. Full statement.)

City council members Ed Driggs (left) and Tariq Bokhari. Photos: City of Charlotte

Context: As Republicans search for ways to gain political clout in urban areas like Charlotte, they usually steer clear of fighting words common in the national party. But here they see the 2040 plan as a crucial spot for conservative principles.

Between the lines: Bokhari often says that he and Driggs might be the last two Republican council members for a generation. Redistricting will take place this year or next, and both worry that the new lines and changing demographics will leave them scribbled out.

Bokhari told the young Republicans in the room that they might want to plan for a 2060 plan, and joked that “Braxton Winston the 10th” will probably be mayor then.

In between the snips, they outlined their reasons for tossing sticks into the plan’s spokes. They both agree that the city needs a new plan, but:

  • They say the idea of creating “10-minute neighborhoods,” where all residents would be within a 10-minute walk or train ride from essential services, is overreach because some neighborhoods might not want that. “This plan goes too far to tell people that this is the kind of neighborhood you’re going to live in,” Driggs told me.
  • On removing exclusionary single-family zoning, Bokhari says he sees it infringing not just on the wishes of people in his wealthier south Charlotte district, but also in less affluent neighborhoods where developers might scoop up lots of single-family lots and turn them into triplexes.
  • They’re also not sold on rail being a transportation of the future, and say investing billions in fixed lines could prove faulty thinking years from now.
  • While proponents say the 2040 plan will create a more equitable city, the Republicans worry it discourages development and the city’s breakneck growth.

What they’re saying: “The 2040 plan sends out a message of hostility,” Driggs said. “It talks about opportunity. And it talks about equity and equality. All of which belong there. I don’t dispute it, but the precedence it’s given to those things in the formulation of this plan is not encouraging.”

  • Said Bokhari at the meeting: “I don’t know if it’s Stockholm syndrome or what, but I am empathizing with my captors. But I think they truly, truly believe that this is the right answer. … I truly think they believe that there’s some restorative justice in this.”

Be smart: The plan now calls for creating two neighborhood “place types.” One would be for higher-density housing like apartments. And the other would allow for duplexes and triplexes to be sprinkled in, but “where single-family housing is still the predominant use.”

Flashback: This city council spent much of 2020 swiping at each other, filing ethics complaints, and sitting through meetings that dragged on for hours. But it opened this year trying to push several huge initiatives that could shape the city for decades — from this 2040 plan to a sweeping $8-$12 billion transportation plan.

  • Mayor Vi Lyles and other leading Democrats hoped to have bipartisan support for the efforts, to present a unified front for a council that hasn’t been able to get along.

What’s next: Planning director Taiwo Jaiyeoba and his staff have been working on a revision of the plan, and they hope to present it in mid-May. It will likely include some changes to the single-family zoning lines.

“I think we’ve honed in on the major things that need to be addressed in order to get six people to pass it,” mayor pro tem Julie Eiselt told me last week. “I think we can reach some kind of a compromise on the single-family zoning issue.”

Yes, but: Bokhari and Driggs aren’t likely to be among those six yays. Bokhari says future generations will look back on this plan like we currently look back on redlining from the mid-1900s.

“The fact is, now people are trying to do everything in their power to essentially make land-use-based reparations,” Bokhari said. “When in reality what we should be asking [is], is there some kind of outcome 30-40 years from now, when Braxton Winston the 10th, who’s the mayor of Charlotte at that point, looks back on all this and says, ‘Our founding fathers in Charlotte in the 2020 timeframe did the equivalent of redlining?’ That is the question.”

He went on to explain how developers of duplexes and triplexes will be more likely to look at less affluent neighborhoods than those in his district, saying they’d buy the property for $200,000 then split it up and sell each unit for “$200-225,000 or more a pop.”

“If you rent in those parts of town, guess what? You better hope Tariq Bokhari the 8th, District 6 member of council 50 years from now is around to say, ‘My great-great grandpa told you guys this was dumb.'”

This story was updated with Driggs’ apology.

 

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