Charlotte’s new development plan sparks battle over single-family zoning
At the July 11 Charlotte City Council meeting, a long list of city residents and those representing various interest groups participated in the public forum on the second draft of the proposed Universal Development Ordinance (UDO). Those from community organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Neighbors For More Neighbors spoke in favor of the UDO, saying it simplifies current conflicting ordinances and allows for more development in a city that needs more housing. But Republican candidates for the council and their supporters showed up to speak against the plan, especially as it regarded single-family housing and gentrification.
“The UDO, it’s not all bad; some of it has some good parts,” said Laverna Castilla-Ritz, a city resident against the plan. “At this point, the UDO makes it harder for families of median incomes to eventually buy a single-family home where their children can play outside in their own yards they can call their own.”
Those speaking against the UDO referenced Section 4.1, on page 73, where it opens up land zoned for single-family homes to more dense development:
The Neighborhood 1 Zoning Districts respect the character and development patterns of Charlotte’s established residential neighborhoods and promote new residential neighborhood development in a manner that implements the City’s vision for the future. The N1-A through N1-E Zoning Districts allow for the development of single-family, duplex, and triplex dwellings on all lots. Additionally, quadraplex dwellings are allowed on arterial streets in these zoning districts when an affordable housing unit is provided within the dwelling.
Anne Marie Peacock, a candidate for the N.C. House of Representatives, spoke forcefully against expanding these development types into single-family zoned areas.
“Even if the council does put the interest of wealthy donors and connected developers over the ordinary Charlotteans, there are leaders here tonight, including myself, who are ready to go to Raleigh and use the power of the state to stop this council from overreach,” Peacock said.
But not all the Republican opponents painted a picture of a stark partisan divide or of a zero-sum battle between protecting suburban-style neighborhoods and allowing more dense development. Charlie Morgan, another Republican candidate for the city council, said that he didn’t believe the UDO was a partisan issue. He even described himself as a “YIMBY,” an acronym for “yes-in-my-backyard” that is used for those who are pro-development.
“Many times we start off with the most well-intentioned policies but unfortunately leave those with the least amount of resources to protect themselves in terrible positions,” Morgan said. “I came to my position to not support the UDO based on conversations with folks in the neighborhoods that will be most impacted by these changes — the west side, the north side, and the east side of Charlotte. The issue I have with the way this has been presented is that it’s been sold as, ‘Oh, it’ll just be a couple more duplexes in your neighborhood. It’s no big deal.’ But we know that we have a housing shortage in this city. We are short tens of thousands of units.”
He said that because of this major shortage, if the UDO is approved, most of the new development will go to the least wealthy neighborhoods where land is cheapest. Morgan said single-family zoning is “one of the few things that protect people in those neighborhoods.”
Many other speakers opposed to changing how the city treats single-family zoning also said they were concerned that allowing a variety of housing in these neighborhoods would “gentrify” those areas. The term is used to indicate that as an area gains value, the original population is displaced by a wealthier population.
Those in favor of the Charlotte UDO say this gentrification process is already happening in neighborhoods across Charlotte as prices rise and supply is low. They say large homes are being built where smaller ones had been, which makes gentrification worse than if more-affordable duplexes or triplexes were being built. UDO supporters also argue that building more units in residential neighborhoods will bring down the cost of housing and make the city more affordable overall.
“The current single-family zoning is not preventing homes from being bought and torn down to build much larger, more expensive single-family homes,” Neighbors For More Neighbors Charlotte said in response to the concern over gentrification. “Duplexes would allow for double the amount of housing to be built on the same size lot at a lower per-unit cost, and would enable financial incentives for the inclusion of affordable units within the multi-family development.”
The night before the public forum, Charlotte Republicans held a press conference and rally on the UDO. Kyle Luebke, another in the Republican city council slate, published a tweet laying out his issues with the UDO.
Some speakers against the UDO also complained of the timing of the vote, saying that it shouldn’t happen in the “lame-duck” period after the elections on July 26 but before the new council members are sworn in.
The vote will take place on Aug. 22, three days after a meeting of the planning committee to finalize an “adoption draft.” If passed, the UDO will become effective June 1, 2023.