Charlotte's New, Controversial Comprehensive Plan to End Single-Family Zoning

A tight vote after months of controversy has produced a major zoning reform effort that differs significantly from recent examples on the West Coast and in Minneapolis.

June 30, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


digidreamgrafix / Shutterstock

The city of Charlotte last week approved a new comprehensive plan that joins a small but growing list of cities to take steps toward abolishing single-family zoning.

"With a tight 6-5 vote, the City Council on Monday adopted the plan, which Mayor Vi Lyles has said is intended to disrupt the “status quo” and ensure equitable growth over the next two decades," reports Alison Kuznitz for the Charlotte Observer.

The Comprehensive Plan took years to gain approval, including a rough final few months in the City Council. A separate article by Kuznitz details four stumbling blocks the plan navigated on the way to approval: Covid-19, personal attacks, and controversies about density (i.e., duplexes and triplexes in single-family residential neighborhoods) and development agreements. "The final draft, according to Jaiyeoba, tries to better distinguish between community benefit agreements with developers — as a formal tool that leads to projects like childcare or open space — versus more general 'benefits to the community,' such as affordable housing," explains Kunitz.

The new density to be allowed in single-family residential neighborhoods also includes tiny homes and accessory dwelling units, reports Kuznitz. The opposition criticized the new density enabled by the plan, citing concerns about gentrification and neighborhood character.

Among the other goals laid out by the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan and reported by Kunitz is a target to create 10-minute neighborhoods, "where residents can access key amenities such supermarkets and child care within a 10-minute walk, bike ride or transit trip."

Notably: zoning changes targeted by the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan will not be implemented until the city also approves a Unified Development Ordinance—a process which must be complete by next year.

Charlotte's new comprehensive plan has also attracted national media attention. Henry Grabar writes for Slate that Charlotte's zoning reform effort now becomes the most significant effort in the country. According to Grabar, Charlotte's effort is more significant because it is growing faster than the other cities that have implemented this kind of reform: Berkeley, Portland, and Minneapolis. Among other factors, housing in Charlotte is still relatively cheap, too. Making the case for the reform in Charlotte, according to Grabar's assessment of the politics of the new comp plan, required a "dynamic city planning director, Taiwo Jaiyeoba," and repeated attention to single-family zoning as a tool of racial segregation.

Monday, June 21, 2021 in Charlotte Observer

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