Apr 24, 2023 - News

The Triangle's growing debate around neighborhood zoning

Illustration of construction workers analyzing a house on top of a stack of money.

Illustration: Trent Joaquin/Axios

All corners of the Triangle are currently debating — sometimes contentiously — the future of housing regulations in their neighborhoods.

Driving the news: The city councils of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill will, over the course of the next few months, make decisions about the codes and regulations that guide residential construction.

Why it matters: The debates come as the Triangle faces rising unaffordability and an undersupply of new housing.

  • A surging population has placed pressure on housing of all kinds — and city leaders are increasingly trying to grapple with its ramifications.

By the numbers: The median sales price in the region in March 2020 was $287,000, according to numbers from Triangle Multiple Listing Services.

  • Three years later, the median sales price was $387,000 — a 43.4% increase.

What's happening: Raleigh changed its zoning laws in 2021 to allow the construction of what it calls "missing middle" housing — like duplexes and triplexes — in single-family neighborhoods.

Raleigh is now considering making tweaks to the 2021 changes in part because of the response from neighborhoods.

  • "It's really just about finding that right balance … or maybe tweak or refine those provisions," Patrick Young, Raleigh's director of planning and development, told Axios.

In Durham, the city council is considering changes to its unified development ordinance.

  • The proposal seeks to eliminate some rules to speed up development and offers some incentives to build affordable housing.
  • But opponents have balked at the sheer amount of text changes being proposed and say the incentives don't require the units to be affordable for a long enough period.

And Chapel Hill is considering upzoning many of its single-family neighborhoods to allow for more accessory dwelling units and duplexes.

What they're saying: The debates "reflect the fact that there's widespread acknowledgement of the affordability crisis we're confronting as a region," Young, who also previously served as Durham's planning director, told Axios.

  • "We've been so successful at attracting new residents and new jobs, and that has, of course, tremendous benefits for everybody, both new and old residents," he added. "But it is really impacting affordability and access, and I think particularly in our core cities … there's an interest from residents and political leaders to try to find solutions."

Zoom out: The Triangle is hardly alone in the debate. States and local governments across the country are moving to encourage denser development in traditionally single-family neighborhoods, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

  • "There certainly is a widespread fear of housing becoming increasingly unaffordable to a large share of the population, and the remedy that is being discussed nationwide [is] changing zoning rules," Yonah Freemark, a researcher at the Urban Institute, told Axios.

Go deeper: Housing politics are dividing cities


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