Planning Commission Begins Discussing Vision for Zoning Ordinance Revamp

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission continued its discussions this week about how to improve the city’s zoning ordinance and entitlement process, offering a preview of the broader debate that lies ahead regarding land use and growth.

At its monthly work session Monday afternoon, the Planning Commission heard from a panel of community stakeholders about what worked – and what could be improved – with the city’s zoning ordinance. The panel included developers Jim Merrifield and Darrel Williams, zoning attorney John Carmichael, REBIC executive director Joe Padilla, University City Partners planning director Tobe Holmes, and neighborhood representative Darrell Bonapart. 

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Consultant Recommends Comprehensive Changes to Charlotte’s Zoning Ordinance

Charlotte Skyline

Charlotte planners may be getting ready to undertake what could become a comprehensive revision to its Zoning Ordinancefollowing a nine-month assessment of the existing code by Denver-based consulting firm Clarion Partners.

In its assessment, the Clarion team says the current 830-page zoning ordinance “has become outdated and is not user-friendly.” Describing the feedback they received last fall from builders, developers, zoning attorneys and neighborhood representatives, they said, “many believe (the ordinance) is not well aligned with the City’s planning and development goals. adopted plans and policies, and modern best practices.”

Some of the other highlights of the report:

  • The zoning code is inconsistent in many ways with the city’s Small Area Plans, and lacks many of the tools needed to bring about the community vision called for in the plans.
  • The consultants praise the flexibility provided by the TOD, PED and MUDD districts, but says they’re not broadly enough utilized to make an impact citywide.
  • The report encourages the City to consider adopting Residential Design Standards to protect the character of existing neighborhoods. It acknowledges that the legal authority for these standards is “unclear.”
  • The mixed-use districts in the ordinance are inadequate to accommodate the broad range of uses and higher-intensity development envisioned by the area plans.
  • The report criticizes the organization of the zoning ordinance, calling it “challenging to use.” It recommends Charlotte consider consolidating its zoning and development regulations (a Unified Development Ordinance) for greater clarity.

REBIC has been engaged in this effort since its launch last fall, and will continue to work with the City in the months ahead to revise the ordinance in a way that better protects property rights and promotes economic development. Look for a more detailed analysis of the consultant’s reports in the coming weeks.

Both reports, the Zoning Ordinance Assessment Report and Zoning Ordinance Approach Report, are now available for download HERE.

Legislation Advancing to Streamline Zoning Boards of Adjustment

A bill recently introduced in Raleigh would give property owners and land developers better standing when they bring a case before their local Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), and make it easier for them to obtain relief from restrictive regulations and policies.

HB 276 unanimously passed the North Carolina House of Representatives on April 9, and is presently awaiting a hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee. If it becomes law as expected, it would standardize ZBA procedures statewide, and provide greater clarity for applicants bringing land use appeals before their local body. Crafted by Greensboro zoning attorney Tom Terrell, the bill has the support of the North Carolina Home Builders Association (NCHBA), the NC Association of County Commissioners and the NC League of Municipalities.

Some of the key changes included in the bill are:

  • Would clarify that a ZBA shall hear appeals of any decision made by a local official charged with administering a zoning or unified development ordinance, and gives the board latitude to hear any appeal of a development or land use administrative decision;
  • Would require a local official whose decision is appealed to the ZBA to provide the appellant with all documents and records used to reach that decision. In a court of law, this is called “discovery,” but currently it is not required in a ZBA case unless the appellant specifically makes the request;
  • Would require the official who made the decision to be present at the ZBA hearing as a witness;
  • Would clarify the standards by which a variance may be granted by the ZBA, removing any need for the appellant to proved that, if denied, no reasonable use may be made of the property; and,
  • Would allow for a simple majority vote of the board to overturn an administrative decision, instead of the 4/5 “supermajority” required today.

Charlotte’s ZBA only hears administrative appeals and variances, leaving conditional and special use permits to the City Council. HB 276 would not require this to change.

REBIC will continue to follow the progress of this legislation and update you when it is scheduled for a hearing in the State Senate.