North Carolina State and Local Land Use Laws Under Revision to Prepare for the Future: The Charlotte UDO and NCGS §160D

Over the course of the last several years, we have seen movement at the state and local levels to revamp land use laws to prepare North Carolina for the future. Population growth in North Carolina has outpaced the nation during the last ten years and significant portions of that growth have been centered in Mecklenburg County and the Charlotte metropolitan area. Data reflects that North Carolina “ha[s] grown 8.5% compared to the nation’s 5.8%” since 2010. “From 2017 to 2018, the combined populations of Mecklenburg and Wake Counties grew by over 37,000 people, accounting for about 33% of the state’s net population increase,” and during that time, “[t]he Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) accounted for 63% of the state’s total growth.”

While our burgeoning state has undergone this rapid expansion, many of the laws and regulations governing land use and planning in the state have not been revisited to any substantial degree in several decades. The City of Charlotte currently is the process of developing its 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which is the first such plan for the City since 1975. We also are well into the process of developing a Unified Development Ordinance for Charlotte (CLTUDO) that will consolidate and update development regulations from eight ordinances into one. At the state level, the North Carolina General Assembly recently enacted NCGS §160D, An Act to Clarify, Consolidate, and Reorganize the Land-Use Regulatory Laws of the State, which has been described as “the first major recodification and modernization of the city and county development regulations since 1905.” NCGS §160D consolidates the city and county enabling statutes currently in NCGS §§ 153A and 160A and will become effective January 1, 2021. City and County regulations will need to conform with the new law by then. I provide an update on where we are with CLTUDO development below. For additional information regarding NCGS §160D, the UNC School of Government has expended extraordinary effort developing resources and training on the law, including delivering regional training sessions in January, developing online training modules available on demand, February and March conference training sessions, and a publication available for sale. Those materials are available here

What 2020 Holds for the CLTUDO

The CLTUDO Advisory Committee kicked off the year with our first meeting in mid-February. We worked with the Charlotte Planning, Design & Development Department (Planning Department) and interested stakeholders to accomplish several initiatives last year that feed into the larger UDO development process. We now have reengaged in drafting the CLTUDO with continued enthusiasm and will begin meeting twice per month with the goal of completing the first public draft by early 2021. One of the most substantial endeavors completed last year was the revision of Charlotte’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zoning districts and the corresponding rezoning of more than 1,500 parcels along the Blue Line light rail corridor. Revisions to the City’s tree and sign ordinances were also approved by the City Council. The first order of business in this second phase of the process is to work with the Planning Department to implement text amendment updates to the newly revised TOD and sign ordinances.

After working with the revised TOD ordinance, Planning Staff and designers have had issues that have prompted the proposal for text amendment updates. The proposed updates will address several aspects of the TOD ordinance, including the following:

  • adjusting applicability of the ordinance,
  • correcting inaccuracies,
  • revising illustrations,
  • deleting “sign” definitions,
  • clarifying requirements,
  • revising standards to address unintended consequences and provide greater flexibility,
  • revising standards for consistency between sections of the ordinance,
  • adding missing standards,
  • revising administrative authority and bonus provisions to address administrative issues,
  • relocating text, and
  • adding/revising definitions.

The Planning Department’s timeline anticipates the TOD update process will be completed with City Council adoption in May 2020. The process for updates to the Sign Ordinance should run from April to July 2020.

Our next regular Advisory Committee meeting will be March 12. We plan to dive into drafting components of the CLTUDO, beginning with the Zoning Districts Approach. Through the course of the year and into the first quarter of 2021, we will assist in drafting the following components of the CLTUDO: Zoning Districts (March – September 2020); Subdivision, Streets and Infrastructure (October – December 2020); Natural Resources (January – February 2021); and UDO Administration (February – March 2021). The Planning Department’s timeline for community engagement and adoption phases of the CLTUDO development is as follows: TOD Update Adoption Process (February – May 2020); Signs Update Adoption Process (April – July 2020); Release UDO Public Draft (March 2021); UDO Community Engagement (March – May 2021); Public Hearing (June 2021); and Council Adoption (September 2021). As we move through the drafting and approval processes, there will be ample opportunity for community input and engagement. I will keep you updated on these opportunities and our drafting efforts as we move forward.

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