Jul 26, 2022 - Development

A reality check on Charlotte’s single-family zoning changes

A rendering of what the "neighborhood 1" district could look like. Courtesy city of Charlotte

Charlotte’s proposed changes to single-family zoning rules have become a lightning rod in Tuesday’s election.

Driving the news: Republicans have campaigned on criticizing the single-family zoning changes in the Unified Development Ordinance, raising concerns about its impacts on gentrification. Charlotte City Council will vote to adopt the complex document on Aug. 22.

  • Meanwhile, some Democrats, though not all agree on the policy, say allowing duplexes and triplexes in single-family neighborhoods will allow for more housing options.
  • In the process, both sides have accused each other of lying.

The intrigue: Last week, a tweet from City Council District 2 candidate Mary Lineberger Barnett ignited a debate. She claimed on Twitter “anything could be built next to your home” if the UDO is adopted as drafted, which is not true.

  • Lineberger Barnett did not respond to requests for comment.

Reality check: The UDO will change residential zoning in some ways but still only allows limited uses.

Yes, but: It significantly broadens where duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes can be built.

The main change the UDO proposes is allowing duplexes and triplexes by right throughout residential areas. “By right” means builders wouldn’t need a rezoning from the city before constructing these housing types in a Neighborhood 1 district, which is the proposed new name for the traditional residential zones that exist today.

  • As of today, duplexes are permitted in all residential districts, though in some districts only on corner lots, as long as they meet predetermined conditions. That narrows where they can be built.

The intention: The city’s goal is to promote more affordable living and fill a gap in middle-density housing.

  • The drafted UDO also simplifies standards for accessory dwelling units, such as in-law suites.

Between the lines: Under the UDO, quadraplexes would also be allowed but may need to meet certain conditions depending on the density of the neighborhood. Those standards include designating at least one unit as affordable for households earning 80% of the average median income.

  • By right, the UDO would also allow churches, domestic violence shelters and golf courses in Neighborhood 1 districts.
  • Other uses that are permitted — assuming each meets the extra prescribed conditions — are parks, schools, childcare centers, landfills, public transit facilities and “neighborhood commercial establishments.”

Context: The UDO, a rewrite of the city’s rules for development, puts the visionary 2040 plan, approved in a slim 6-5 margin last year, into law.

  • It also outlines rules about parking, stormwater and building height.
  • Buildings in Neighborhood 1 districts could be as tall as 40 or 48 feet, depending on the zone and use. But the heights of duplexes and triplexes are restricted further than they are today, says the city’s interim planning director Alyson Craig.

The debate: The argument over what belongs in majority single-family neighborhoods has divided Charlotte. Democrats have accused the GOP of spreading misinformation. Council member Tariq Bokhari, who organized a “slate” of GOP candidates for office, claims there are attempts to make it seem as if Republican council candidates wrongly believe single-family housing is up for abolishment.

  • In an interview with Axios earlier this month, council member Braxton Winston accused Republicans of lying and suggesting that the council is trying to eliminate the ability to build a single-family home. “I think it’s sad that you kind of have a group of folks blowing a dog whistle to tell people something that just isn’t true,” he says. “It’s fine, again, to have a contest of ideas. But let’s operate in truth.”
  • Last week, in response to Lineberger Barnett’s tweet on the UDO, Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt, who is not running for reelection, tweeted: “Wrong. There never was a category that only allowed single family houses. This is a campaign scare tactic.”

What they’re saying: Bokhari argues the city is “100%” attempting to abolish single-family zoning by allowing duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes.

  • “Any single-family zone that was protected yesterday would not be protected after August 22 from being torn down by right without any approvals and putting a quadplex up,” Bokhari said.

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