Charlotte City Council seeks to shorten zoning meetings

Residents air their views at a Charlotte City Council zoning meeting about affordable housing.
Residents air their views at a Charlotte City Council zoning meeting about affordable housing.

In response to rezoning meetings that have stretched in length, Charlotte City Council voted Monday to start such meetings earlier, end long meetings well before midnight and cut down on the length of staff presentations.

Although City Council approved the changes, some worried that the new procedures might make it harder for the public to have their voices heard and get information about planned developments.

The changes, which City Council members will try out at their February meeting, are intended to streamline a process that helps control what gets built where. For example, if a developer wants to change a piece of land from single-family housing to a fast food restaurant with a drive-thru, they have to go through rezoning.

It isn’t the most exciting part of local government, but rezoning often draws passionate reactions from neighbors of proposed projects.

“The number of rezoning public hearings continues to increase,” said Rezoning Planning Manager Tammie Keplinger.

Lately, however, the whole process has been dragging. The monthly meetings have often gone until midnight or later, which doesn’t make it easy for the public to attend. And barely half of rezoning petitions make it through the process in the city’s goal of four months. That frustrates developers, who have to wait longer to build, potentially costing them money.

One major driver of the longer process: The increased number of rezoning requests, which is directly related to the rebounding economy. There were 78 rezoning requests in fiscal 2011, compared with 138 in fiscal 2015.

Changes approved Monday include:

▪ Starting rezoning meetings at 5:30 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.

▪ Ending meetings at 10 p.m. If there are unfinished rezoning requests, they would be taken up at council’s next business meeting.

▪ Shorten staff presentations in cases where rezoning requests aren’t opposed.

▪ Appoint a designated staff member to answer council members’ questions in advance of meetings.

Council member Claire Fallon said she was concerned the public might not hear all of City Council’s questions and the answers if a staff member handled questions before meetings.

“That bothers me, because the public has a right to hear the questions and answers,” said Fallon. Keplinger said that option would mainly be for technical questions, and council members would be free to ask any questions they wanted during meetings.

Council member Al Austin said members of the public who expect to hear a rezoning request but find the meeting cut off before it comes up could be upset.

“My biggest concern is we’ve got people coming down, thinking they’re going to express their beliefs and passions one night, and we say, ‘Oh, no, next night,’” said Austin.

Keplinger said that staff will work to put rezoning requests that have drawn heavy interest early in the night’s schedule, to make it easier for people to attend.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo