Charlotte drops controversial plan to preserve 'neighborhood character,' for now

Charlotte planning staff are hitting pause on an idea that neighborhood advocates say could preserve fast-changing areas from development, but others feel could be used to keep out affordable housing and other controversial projects.

Called "neighborhood character overlay districts," the idea was raised in the wake of a "tiny house" project in the Coulwood neighborhood that's drawn opposition from nearby residents. Basically, the plan would have allowed neighborhoods to establish their own "character districts" which would regulate certain features: Minimum lot size, building height, setbacks and other general features.

A neighborhood with such regulations could essentially freeze out a lot of developments. For example, they could bar owners from subdividing large lots and building multiple houses — which often draws neighbors' ire — even if the previous zoning would allow such a plan. To establish a neighborhood character overlay district, a majority of residents in a given area would have to petition City Council, which would then vote on the proposal.

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But on Monday, city staff told the council's transportation and planning committee that they're dropping the idea, at least for now. Staff said they still think it's a tool that could help neighborhoods cope with development, however.

"Currently, we are pressing a reset button to re-evaluate how this intent can be accomplished," staff wrote in a handout.

Some City Council members had said they were concerned that the plan could strengthen not-in-my-backyard” (or NIMBY) backlash, especially because some developments, such as apartments, denser townhouse communities or affordable housing already tend to draw strong opposition.

“I am in favor of helping neighborhoods preserve their character, but it could easily be used to lock out things and people a neighborhood might deem undesirable,” City Council member Larken Egleston had said. “I get it... but there are also certain personal rights. We can’t legislate and dictate everything you can do with a property.”

Portillo: 704-358-5041; @ESPortillo