New rules for development near Charlotte transit may help affordable housing too

Charlotte City Council approved the new regulations for transit-oriented development at Monday night’s meeting.
Charlotte City Council approved the new regulations for transit-oriented development at Monday night’s meeting.

The Charlotte City Council approved new regulations for development near transit centers, as the first part of the city’s overhaul of its zoning rules.

The Transit Oriented Development regulations passed unanimously at Monday’s meeting. The rules cover everything from a building’s design to the open space around it.

It’s a major step for officials as they work to guide the development occurring all around the city. The city’s zoning codes were written more than 20 years ago.

Since the first Transit-Oriented zoning districts were adopted in 2003, more than 12,000 new housing units, over 3 million square feet of office and commercial space, and more than $2 billion in private investment have been added, according to a city economic analysis.

Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said the ordinance adds predictability to that rapid growth.

“Often we approve deals one-by-one, and we don’t really understand what the overall plan is,” she said at the meeting.

And the city sees the new guidelines as a way to address the affordable housing crisis. The city has said it is short around 34,000 affordable housing units.

The new rules limit the heights of buildings, but give developers “bonus height” in exchange for meeting public goals, like affordable housing or environmental sustainability. Under the bonus system, on each floor above the maximum height, at least 10 percent of the units must be affordable.

Developers can also pay a per-square-foot fee instead of building affordable housing, which would go into the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

The rules create four districts for transit-oriented development.

For example, in the Transit Urban Center district, the category that allows for the tallest buildings, developers have the right to build up to 130 feet. That translates to around 10 stories. But they can build up to 300 feet under the bonus height system, unless the building is within a quarter of a mile walking distance to a rapid transit station, in which case the height is unlimited.

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Courtesy of the City of Charlotte

Council member Lawana Mayfield said at the meeting that she still has concerns about how the bonuses are identified, and she stressed the need for conversations with diverse communities as the city implements the policy.

Housing advocates expressed support for the plan at the public hearing for the ordinance last month. But some developers are concerned about the height restrictions.

“While we are pleased with many aspects of the TOD, we remain concerned that its limitations on building height could negatively impact economic development in Charlotte’s transit corridors,” the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition said in a statement last week.

The group also asked that there be a transition period until Jan. 1 to allow developers and property owners time to adjust to the new requirements.

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Courtesy of the City of Charlotte

Existing transit-oriented development can use either the existing or the new regulations until June 30. But the rules apply immediately to anything that needs to be rezoned.

On July 1, all development is required to follow the new rules.

The city said there are around 770 acres zoned for transit-oriented development along the light rail, which is about 28% of the more than 2,700 acres it considers appropriate for such development.

This year, the city will begin the process of rezoning properties along the light rail to fit with the new regulations.

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Danielle Chemtob covers economic growth and development for the Observer. She’s a 2018 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and a California transplant.