May 24, 2023 - Development

Charlotte City Council is still bickering over the single-family-only zoning policy

A multifamily building in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Charlotte City Council is at odds again over one of its most controversial policies, nearly two years after it was first voted on and just days before it takes effect.

Catch up quick: In August, after years of debate, a divided council adopted the Unified Development Ordinance — nearly 700 pages of regulations that developers must follow when building anything in the city.

  • The new UDO allows for more duplexes and triplexes to be built where single-family housing is. There are some rules developers must still follow, including adhering to building height standards.

[Go deeper: A reality check on Charlotte’s single-family zoning changes]

Why it matters: The policy is intended to expand the housing stock with more multi-family construction. Ultimately the hope is to offer more affordable options besides single-family homes. But some council members argue the policy will adversely impact vulnerable neighborhoods while those with well-resourced homeowners associations are protected.

What’s happening: Council engaged in a chaotic discussion late Monday night. There were multiple motions related to re-thinking the policy, or keeping it as-is.

  • Only one passed. In a confusing and split vote, council directed staff to come up with alternatives to the policy and present them to the planning and development committee on June 5. The UDO is set to take effect June 1. The full city council would need to pass a text amendment to implement any changes to the UDO.
  • Any developments already in permitting by then would be governed under the regulations in place at the time of submittal, according to the city.

By the numbers: Up to 67% of single-family lots in Charlotte are under homeowners associations restrictions, according to a 2019 estimate. Of those, 95% prohibit different types of housing besides single family.

What they’re saying: Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston argues that council should let the UDO play out for at least six months before reassessing the policy. He says single-family zoning is a tool used to exclude certain communities.

“It would be embarrassing, embarrassing, to sit on a body that is going to blatantly, blatantly, champion segregation,” Winston said.

  • “I call BS on everything that Mr. Winston just said,” retorted council member Victoria Watlington. “You’re not going to tell me that this is an equity lens when the only people that are affected live in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. This is not about NIMBYism.”

“The people that don’t want you in their neighborhoods have HOAs,” she continued. “This is not going to affect them.”

Driving the news: Some of the revived concern over the policy is related to a rezoning request for townhomes, not duplexes or triplexes. For that reason, council will take a closer look at how the UDO allows “larger projects” near residential neighborhoods as well.

  • For example, the townhomes were going to be rentals, but the petitioner agreed to do for-sale units instead to support upward mobility.

Of note: City council legally isn’t supposed to discuss the specific rezoning petition outside of the public hearing.

Zoom in: The price of single-family homes has shot up since the ’90s while rents of two- to four-unit buildings have remained somewhat level, according to a presentation by city planning director Alyson Craig, citing research about missing middle housing.

  • Yet, over the last 20 years, only around 400 duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes were built citywide.
  • “We have vastly underproduced in this particular housing type,” Craig told council.
Chart courtesy of the city of Charlotte

Zoom out: Rental prices have stabilized in Minneapolis, a pioneer city in eliminating single-family zoning. But some have also attributed the success to a different policy change: eliminating parking minimums. If a developer isn’t forced to build parking, it significantly cuts the cost of their projects, and those savings can be passed onto renters.

  • Charlotte hasn’t ended parking minimum requirements, like Raleigh has.

[Go deeper: Charlotte is stopping short of eliminating parking minimums]

What’s next: Watlington is pushing to place neighborhood character overlays on neighborhoods with high risks of displacement. An overlay would add extra regulations to ensure future development fits in with the surrounding homes.

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