Development

How much information should City Council get about developers’ plans?

Proponents and opponents of a rezoning petition to allow subsidized low-income apartments at Weddington Road in south Charlotte display their views during the Charlotte City Council zoning meeting in January 2014. The city council passed the rezoning petition.
Proponents and opponents of a rezoning petition to allow subsidized low-income apartments at Weddington Road in south Charlotte display their views during the Charlotte City Council zoning meeting in January 2014. The city council passed the rezoning petition. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

One of the biggest debates Monday night at Charlotte City Council wasn’t about traffic, apartments or affordable housing: It was an argument over how much information city council members are entitled to about individual developers’ plans.

At issue as Charlotte booms was the question of whether City Council should approve requests to rezone a property without detailed plans. Under “conditional” rezoning requests – which make up the vast majority of such requests – developers submit detailed plans for a proposed project to City Council and negotiate over the details. The haggling can get down to details such as the placement of driveways, height of streetlight posts and the type of landscaping along sidewalks.

Under “conventional” rezoning requests, which are much less common, a property owner asks for a change of use for a property – say, business to single-family homes – and doesn’t submit detailed plans. If the rezoning request is approved, the developer can then build whatever is allowed under the new zoning by right.

At Monday’s meeting, a rezoning request for a small parcel of land in South End stirred a big argument. It was a conventional request to rezone a quarter acre of land from general business to transit-oriented uses, and some council members weren’t happy they didn’t have detailed plans (Here’s a link to the request).

“I have no idea what this is,” said LaWana Mayfield, a Democrat, who moved to deny the request. “We’re getting a lot of requests that are coming forward that don’t clearly show what the request are.”

Here’s why this matters: Charlotte is about to start a rewrite of its zoning code to streamline a process that city staff says has grown to long and cumbersome. An updated zoning code would almost certainly include more provisions for building on properties that are allowed “by-right” and thus lead to far fewer conditional rezoning plans. That means developers could be able to build more without submitting detailed site plans, potentially speeding up the process but giving council members less say.

That won’t work, however, if City Council members don’t want to give up some control of the process.

On Monday, several council members indicated they have a strong preference for seeing detailed plans from developers.

Claire Fallon, a Democrat, said her constituents want more detail about proposed developments.

“We look like a bunch of fools” when they can’t provide such information, she said.

Kenny Smith, a Republican, warned that City Council was “setting a dangerous precedent” by demanding such detailed information of a conventional rezoning request. Mayor Dan Clodfelter warned they could get sued by someone requesting a conventional rezoning if they demanded plans.

Council ended up deferring the specific request that triggered the debate to vote on at a later date. City staff and the city’s zoning committee have said they support the rezoning request, which is consistent with the local area plan.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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