Aug 14, 2023 - Development

No mad dash to build duplexes in Charlotte despite new rules — and years of bickering

There hasn’t been a mad dash to build duplexes since restrictions loosened earlier this summer on where they can be built, but the city is vetting a number of higher-density housing proposals.

  • There were seven building permits filed for duplexes with Mecklenburg County in June and July. Six were in a Neighborhood 1 district, the new name for a traditional residential zone.
  • By comparison, there were 20 new construction permits for duplexes in June and July of last year and 29 in 2021. The county did not provide data for triplexes.

Yes, but: The city reviewed 21 sketch plans for projects that incorporate duplexes, triplexes and/or quadruplexes in June and July. Sketch plans are preliminary ideas for developments.

  • The projects range from single triplexes to a proposed triplex subdivision totaling 231 units off Harrisburg Road.
  • It’s unclear how that number compares to years prior and if the projects would have been allowed under the old development ordinance.

Why it matters: The city is still divided over whether it should allow duplexes and triplexes in single-family neighborhoods. The policy was even a focal point in the last local election.

  • Proponents say by allowing multi-family housing in more places, the market can better meet housing demand for the 400,000 residents expected to move here over the next two decades. Opponents fear the increased density could harm an established neighborhood’s character.

There could be a few reasons the duplex construction rate didn’t increase.

1) Construction costs and interest rates remain relatively high.

The effects of COVID-19 inflated the costs of labor and materials. The total cost of residential construction projects soared from $1.3 billion in 2018 to nearly $2 billion in 2022, according to Mecklenburg County Code Enforcement.

2) Architects and designers are still figuring out the new rules.

Although duplexes and triplexes are now allowed in more zoning, they still need to meet standards related to height and driveways. Sometimes having to meet extra design criteria, or use more of a lot, makes them no longer financially feasible.

3) Deed restrictions and homeowner’s associations are regulating multi-family housing.

Higher density housing makes the most sense in south Charlotte where land values are higher, land use and zoning attorney Collin Brown tells Axios. But that’s the part of the city where deed restrictions are more likely to prohibit multi-family housing.

  • Plus, up to 67% of single-family lots in Charlotte are under homeowners associations as well, and many of those are in south Charlotte, data from the city shows. 95% of those associations prohibit types of housing other than single family.
  • “That’s going to put the pressure on some of the crescent neighborhoods that may not have the deed restrictions or they may not have HOAs that are active or funded well enough,” Brown says. HOAs would need to hire a lawyer to privately enforce their regulations.
  • Of the seven construction permits filed, one was in Sedgefield and another was in Myers Park. The others were scattered throughout the city.

State of play: The North Carolina Supreme Court recently ruled that certain deed restrictions excluding multi-family homes are no longer valid, The Charlotte Ledger reported. The case stemmed from a lawsuit over a property line in Charlotte’s historic Eastover neighborhood; the original developer placed a “no apartment house” rule in the 1920s deed restrictions.

  • It remains to be seen what impact this ruling will have on neighborhoods like Dilworth and Myers Park.

The latest: Charlotte City Council recently began rethinking its policy since it’s been confronted with higher-density, multi-family projects. One that raised concern in particular was for 186 townhomes next to the Lexington neighborhood. South Charlotte neighbors have also pushed back against a proposed 1,100-unit complex.

  • At the request of the sitting members, some of whom did not support the policy when it was adopted in the 2040 plan, city planners are looking at an alternative to the loosened duplex and triplex regulations. It is exploring a requirement to include single-family housing in any new large projects where duplexes and triplexes are built.

Zoom out: Minneapolis was one of the first cities to eliminate single-family zoning. Its policy resulted in the new construction of 16 duplexes and four triplexes in 2020, Axios Twin Cities reported. 22 existing properties were also converted to duplexes and triplexes.

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