Aug 15, 2022 - Development

5 ways Charlotte is rewriting development rules, besides single-family zoning

Cranes in South End Construction development

Construction cranes in South End. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Charlotte City Council is slated to vote on a nearly 700-page rewrite of the rules that guide development in our fast-growing city, but most of the attention has focused on one controversial aspect: allowing duplexes and triplexes by-right in single-family areas.

Yes, but: If approved, the document, known as the Unified Development Ordinance, would regulate nearly every aspect of development, from open space to parking.

Why it matters: Charlotte’s development regulations are scattered and have been adopted over time. The goal is to have one document that aligns with leaders’ vision for the city’s growth, outlined in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

  • “This should make the development process a lot more streamlined and understandable,” mayor pro tem Julie Eiselt tells Axios.

City council will vote on the UDO on Aug. 22. Catch up on the controversial single-family zoning debate here. In the meantime, here are five other things in the UDO:

1. Parking rules for cars, EVs and bikes

What’s happening: The UDO lays out ground rules for how many (or how few) parking spaces developers must include.

  • These regulations are known as parking minimums. Some cities, like Raleigh, have completely eliminated them to discourage reliance on cars.

Charlotte’s proposed UDO does not include any parking minimums on most properties within a half-mile walk of transit stations. Some new developments that are close to residential areas, however, will still need to set aside space for cars.

Details: Restaurants, nightclubs and similar businesses will need to create spaces when they’re within 400 feet of a residential neighborhood.

  • Plus, multi-family projects must build at least one spot per dwelling unit, which could deter future “carless” developments.
  • Both of these strategies are to prevent cars from lining the outside of people’s homes when drivers show up to eat or drink somewhere.
The Joinery, Charlotte’s first carless apartment development. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Of note: City planners are watching other cities that have ended parking minimums to see how things go.

Go deeper: Charlotte is stopping short of eliminating parking minimums

EV parking: Some new developments — multi-family stacked dwellings, residential mixed-use developments, hotels, and parking lots and parking structures (when that’s the primary purpose of the land) — will need to make room for electric vehicle chargers.

  • If a project has more than nine off-street parking spaces, 20% of those spots must be capable of hooking up to an EV charger in the future.

Bicycle parking: A table in the drafted UDO tells builders how much bicycle parking they must provide.

  • For example, a multi-family project needs one bike spot for every five dwellings.
  • Most commercial businesses will need at least one bike space for every 1,500 square feet of gross floor area.
  • Some uses may call for waterproof areas to store bikes for long periods of time.

2. Intentions to preserve history, character

The city of Charlotte is in talks with several neighborhoods about achieving historic status for the community, historic districts program manager Kristi Harpst told city council last month after it considered the honor for McCrorey Heights.

Driving the news: Once adopted, the UDO will expand the ways residents can advocate to preserve their neighborhood’s character.

Why it matters: Charlotte has a reputation for bulldozing its history.

On Van Buren Street in McCrorey Heights, an entire section of homes was removed (left-hand side) to make way for construction of the Brookshire Freeway
Van Buren Street in McCrorey Heights. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Details: The new UDO will allow the implementation of “streetside historic districts.” It’s a similar preservation tactic as a regular historic district but only protects what is viewable from the street.

  • Regulations apply to 50% of buildings and properties.
  • The process to establish the district would be the same as a regular historic district.

Separately, communities can petition to establish a “neighborhood character overlay,” essentially creating a box in which designs for new construction or redevelopment must fit.

  • Staff and community representatives would craft a “Neighborhood Character Plan” with guidelines for building heights, setbacks and possible tree protections. The designated area must be at least 15 contiguous acres and have similar scale, proportion and rhythm throughout.

Of note: Neighborhoods can’t use the character overlay to prevent residential structures like duplexes and triplexes from being built, says Alyson Craig, interim planning director.

3. Affordable housing incentives

The big picture: The UDO takes the carrot approach with affordable housing by providing incentives to developers.

For instance, in addition to duplexes and triplexes in residential areas, developers may also build quadraplexes on arterial streets if they provide an affordable unit. The UDO allows developers to construct taller buildings and/or reduce the amount of open space they must build on-site if they include affordable housing.

How it works: In some zoning districts, developers earn points for certain things like including affordable housing on-site, donating land for affordable housing or paying a fee-in-lieu toward affordable housing.

  • Developers can also receive points for efforts like providing additional open space, street connections or electric vehicle ready or capable spaces beyond what is required. One point translates to one foot of additional building height.

Of note: There are still maximum heights, even with the bonus, depending on the zoning category the building is part of. And the bonus table doesn’t apply to the lowest-density residential neighborhoods, but there is a provision in those areas that allows for an increase in density to the next zoning category if a project includes a certain percentage of affordable units.

Zoom out: Charlotte has long relied on a softer, voluntary approach to affordable housing than many cities.

4. New zoning categories

The UDO also reclassifies the current zoning districts under new names.

Residential areas fall under Neighborhoods 1 and 2, and within that, there are several sub categories for each.

  • In order of lowest to highest density, within Neighborhood 1, there’s: N1-A, N1-B, N1-C, N1-D, N1-E and N1-F. They range from allowing development on lots of 10,000 square feet or more for N1-A, to 3,000 square feet or greater in N1-F, which is designed to be along main roads.
  • Single-family, duplex and triplexes are allowed on all lots in Neighborhood 1 districts, as well as quadraplexes per the rules listed above. N1-F permits small-scale townhouse and multifamily dwellings.
  • Within Neighborhood 2, there’s N2-A, N2-B, N2-C. These districts primarily are designed for townhouses and multifamily homes.

There are two commercial zoning districts, and four campus zoning districts, which guide development for campuses for government, medical, education and other institutions, as well as office and research campuses.

Other categories include manufacturing and logistics, transit-oriented development (the city passed a separate but related policy for those areas in 2019) and community activity centers.

5. Saving trees and creating open space

Charlotte’s tree canopy is shrinking, and the UDO implements stricter requirements for removing trees.

Tree-lined street in McCrorey Heights. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Context: Developers seeking to take down a heritage tree (a tree native to North Carolina with a diameter of 30 inches or more) must obtain a permit to do so, per the UDO. There are exceptions for trees that are sufficiently diseased, injured or dead or are in danger of falling.

  • If they do receive approval, owners are required to plant a tree on the property and pay a mitigation fee, though that fee may be reduced or eliminated if additional trees are planted beyond the one required.

Zoom out: In 2018, 45% of Charlotte was covered by tree canopy, a decline from 49% in 2012, a recent study found. The city has backed off of a goal of 50% tree canopy by 2050.

Open space: Developers are also required to dedicate 10% of a site as open space, and it must be usable. Craig tells Axios in an email that is stronger than the current requirements, which allow for open space that isn’t usable, like landscaping areas or buffers.

  • Half of the required open space can be a tree save area, as long as they are next to each other and provide opportunities for “passive recreation.”

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