Opinion – Planning for the future: Planting the seeds of growth

It takes time, energy and food for a seed to sprout, and it looks like one has germinated in Charlotte. Based on the impressive turnout at the Community Heart & Soul meet and greet on Jan. 20 and 27, Charlotters are ready to break bread and share ideas, desires and opinions about the future of our town. What was originally planned as one event, became two due to high attendance. Who would have thought?

Paula and I attended the second event, graciously hosted by the senior center; the previous event was hosted by the Congregational Church. At both events, music, chili, cornbread, salad and dessert were the prelude to an introduction to Community Heart & Soul and a brief overview of how it assists towns in organizing and planning for the future.

Photo by Scooter MacMillanIt was chilly on the outside and chili on the inside at the second Community Heart & Soul kick-off event on Friday, Jan. 27. Inside the senior center, the counters were laden with chili, cornbread, deserts and warm conversations.
Photo by Scooter MacMillan
It was chilly on the outside and chili on the inside at the second Community Heart & Soul kick-off event on Friday, Jan. 27. Inside the senior center, the counters were laden with chili, cornbread, deserts and warm conversations.

Kyra Wegman and Bob Bloch, members of the Charlotte Planning Commission, kicked off the event with personal recollections of what drew them to Charlotte, and then introduced Patricia Sears and Steven Mason, who will be the town’s Community Heart & Soul coaches.

Mary Theodore, one of the six organizers of the events, guided attendees through the meeting and asked everyone to break up into small groups with folks we did not know. I was part of a group that included a sixth grader who moved to Charlotte from Turkey and two participants from the West Charlotte village area.

Our task was to share what we love about our town and things we would like to see in the future. After the groups finished, Theodore shared a summary of collected ideas of all the groups. There appeared to be general agreement on those things we cherish and what we would like to see in the future. According to Community Heart & Soul, it’s this kind of interaction, in small groups, that drives the process.

Kyra Wegman was encouraged by the success of the events: “That just the act of being asked to talk yielded such a strong response seems to reflect how much people care and want to have these substantive discussions about our town.”

Bob Bloch was also optimistic: “The unexpectedly large turnout of over 120 townspeople, their energy and interest in Community Heart & Soul was truly gratifying. I think we are on to something really good for our town.”

The idea of Community Heart & Soul — the who, what and how of it — may seem vague to some who haven’t attended these initial gatherings. What is the goal of working with Community Heart & Soul? It provides guidance through the process by which, collectively, we build a base of understanding about our desires for the future and how we can effect change, rather than letting change affect us. Charlotte is facing significant headwinds: the eventual formation of a fire and rescue department, highway department and a lack of housing. What better time than now to engage the community.

This bodes well for the future, but it will take a lot of work, volunteerism and long-term commitment to sustain and build on the momentum created thus far. Wegman and Bloch are hoping for 800 Charlotters to become involved in the process. Optimistic perhaps, but if the first two gatherings are any indication, we’re on the right path. Stay tuned for updates for next steps.

Another seed is germinating at Baptist Corners, in the East Village. Jonathan Maguire, who purchased 15.4 acres there, is in the thick of development. As mentioned in a previous article in The Charlotte News, the land includes the historic 1810 Sheehan house on the corner of Spear Street and Hinesburg Road. He plans adaptive reuse of the house as a restaurant and a new structure to be used as a cultural center and residential unit above.

In the future, he has plans for 20 units of senior housing in the southwest corner of the property. On a recent snowy Saturday morning, he gave me a tour of the house and an overview of the project with the energy and optimism of an entrepreneur. Maguire has submitted his application to the development review board, which has scheduled his sketch plan review for Wednesday evening, February 22.

A major facelift of the Sheehan house, on a very visible corner, is significant and will be a welcome sight, reinforcing the historic settlement pattern and increased vitality of the East Village — consistent with the town plan. Please consider showing your support at the development review board meeting, in person or via Zoom.

Two seeds, possibly becoming two trees?

(Peter Joslin is a new member of The Charlotte News’ board of directors and former chair of the planning commission.)