New objections emerge to city’s proposed development rules
Plus: Longtime Dilworth consignment shop is closing; Charlotte's airport could be key to landing ACC; Atlanta and Wilmington drop mask requirements; Wine and cheese shortage in Huntersville
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Builders who have read impenetrable 608-page proposal cite concerns of sweeping changes; ‘massive power grab’ or sensible guidelines?
As Charlotte grows, the city is working to set new development rules. A vote on a new development ordinance is expected next summer. (Photo by Kevin Young / The 5 and 2 Project)
by Tony Mecia
Charlotte homeowners and small-business owners could face higher fees and new restrictions on making changes to their properties under the city’s newly proposed development ordinance, according to local homebuilders who have reviewed the new rules.
The changes are contained in the dense 608-page draft of Charlotte’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), which is intended to overhaul the city’s development rules and provide better regulations to guide the city’s fast growth. City planners acknowledge that the proposed rules, which are scheduled for a City Council vote next summer, are difficult for ordinary residents to understand. Although the language of the new ordinance was released more than a month ago, the city has yet to release a document spelling out the changes in plain English.
Builders familiar with existing codes who have examined the new proposals say that the city’s planning department is suggesting new rules that could inhibit residents from renovating or expanding their houses or businesses. Some of the main objections relate to tighter rules on cutting down trees and building near floodplains, as well as new stormwater provisions and requirements to pay for additional infrastructure when a building is used for a different purpose.
“The main takeaway is every single citizen, their property rights are massively changing,” said David Smith, owner of Barringer Homes, in an interview. “It’s massive power grabs across the board.”
Until now, the proposed UDO has attracted little public opposition — most likely because hardly anyone understands the details of what it contains.
It’s probably no surprise that some builders and others in the real estate industry don’t welcome the prospect of new regulations. Many of them opposed the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which the City Council approved in June and that set this new proposed ordinance into motion. They say, though, that the city so far hasn’t clearly laid out what the proposed changes are, so that people have a chance to debate them and weigh in.
An article published Friday in the Charlotte Business Journal quoted several of the city’s best-known developers and real estate lawyers saying the proposed regulations could raise costs and add restrictions on developing land, and that the language is hard to understand. Collin Brown, a lawyer with Alexander Ricks who handles some of the city’s highest-profile rezonings such as the Eastland Mall site and Charlotte Pipe and Foundry’s land on Morehead Street, told the publication: “As I read the UDO now, I’m like, ‘Gosh, I’m a lawyer that does this every day, and I have a hard time with it.’”
Builders interviewed last week by The Ledger say they suspect the city is trying to rush the new rules through with little public understanding or debate. City planners say that’s not true, and that they have held information sessions about the ordinance and are planning to roll out easy-to-understand guides to the rules in the coming weeks, including an economic impact analysis, 3D visualizations and a “choose-your-own-adventure video series.”
“We certainly have heard from folks concerned about ‘Will this make things more expensive for Charlotte?’ — That is not the intent,” said Alyson Craig, the city’s deputy planning director. “We all want the city to grow and thrive, and the idea is to create a comprehensive set of regulations that will provide predictability and transparency.”
She said the planning department has heard from people in the development industry and is incorporating their suggestions to clarify parts of the proposal that are unclear. The new rules were developed over months with input from an advisory committee that included representatives from the real estate industry and neighborhoods.
Some of the main objections that could affect residents fall into the following categories:
Expansion of tree ordinance
Currently, Charlotte’s tree ordinance mostly regulates trees within the city’s right-of-way, or the front portion of a lot near the street. It specifically exempts owners of single-family homes and duplexes.
The new rules would remove that exemption for homeowners and extend tree-protection regulations to trees that are entirely on private property, including backyards, and for the first time require a $1,000 city permit to remove a tree that’s more than 30 inches in diameter. (There’s an exception for trees that are diseased, dying or leaning.) It would also require a city-issued “tree work permit” for any “tree disturbing activity,” including driveway installations, near trees on private property.
“Trees are not an easy topic, but I think everybody believes that when you buy your home, you have the trees,” says Karla Hammer Knotts, co-owner of homebuilder Knotts Development. “It’s a large leap from what we have done for 40 years.”
Craig, the city planner, says the idea is to protect trees as Charlotte grows and that studies show 65% of tree loss comes from single-family lots: “Folks get upset about developers tearing down all the trees, when actually most of the canopy loss is occurring in their backyard and their neighbors’ backyards.”
She says that while the proposed $1,000 permit is new, it is less than or similar to fees in comparable cities such as Atlanta, Denver and Austin, Texas.
Tougher floodplain regulation
Currently, city regulations prohibit new construction or substantial renovations of buildings that are in 100-year floodplains plus one foot of elevation. The new rules would expand those prohibitions by an additional foot of elevation.
That might not sound like much, but builders say there are potentially hundreds or thousands of structures in Charlotte that would be newly prohibited from making renovations to their property.
“My issue with that ordinance is, I think you should be required to notify people when do you do something that dramatic to their property,” Knotts says.
New curb and gutter requirements
The proposed regulations would also change the threshold at which owners of commercial properties would be required to install curbs and gutters along city streets. They say owners must do that any time an existing structure of 5,000 s.f. or more undergoes a “change of use from one use category to another use category.”
Knotts says it’s unclear what that means and wonders if a nail salon becomes an “eyebrow weave place” whether the property owner would be on the hook to build a curb, gutters, sidewalk and plant trees — an expensive proposition for small-business owners.
Craig says the intent is for the infrastructure-building requirements to kick in when there is a change from, say, a commercial use to a residential use, not from one type of store to another.
New zoning designations
Separately, some neighborhood leaders in Charlotte are pointing out what they say are problems with the city’s proposed new zoning designation map. Comments on the public map show that some areas in Dilworth and Wesley Heights, for example, are designated for high-density development even though they are in historic neighborhoods.
Craig says the city is aware of the need to make changes: “There is definitely some work that needs to be done there,” she says.
As the city’s process moves forward, Knotts says she expects there will be more parts of the new rules that will emerge that should be clarified and debated.
“I can’t find everything in 608 pages,” she says.
➡️ For more information: Do you want to try reading this thing? Or find out about the next steps on a new Charlotte development ordinance? Check out the city’s info here. The city is also holding in-person meetings this week about its proposed zoning map.
Related Ledger articles:
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Dilworth consignment shop closing after 25 years of outfitting women in designer goods
Sweet Repeats, one of Charlotte’s longest-running women’s consignment shops — if not the longest-running — has announced that it’s closing its doors after 25 years.
The store, owned by sisters Jenny Burnett and Amy King, has been a fixture on East Boulevard in the heart of Dilworth since 1996.
For all those years, it’s been a place fashionable women turned to when purging their closets or looking for new things to wear.
Clients included high-profile Charlotteans and women who traveled from other cities to sell or shop for designer goods at reduced prices, from Balenciaga handbags to Tory Burch boots and Lululemon leggings.
Burnett and King have reached retirement age now, Burnett told the Ledger on Saturday, and with longtime saleswoman Jennifer Nicoll getting ready to have a baby, this seemed like the right time to close the store.
As you’d expect, saying goodbye isn’t easy, Burnett said.
“People are upset. They’re saying, ‘You can’t leave! You’re the best in Charlotte!’” Burnett said. “We’ve got people who have been coming here for 20 years.”
The store’s last day open to customers will be Nov. 27. — CB
Tale of the tape: CLT vs. RDU shows why Charlotte lands corporate HQs
We had a little fun at Raleigh’s expense on Friday, noting with a smirk in our briefs section that leaders in our capital city say they want to compete for the headquarters of the Atlantic Coast Conference — even though their airport is far smaller than Charlotte’s, and the ACC has said it wants to relocate to a city with a large hub airport.
We’ll take it a step further and note that when you look at the actual cities that ACC leaders would want to fly to, the advantage is even more in Charlotte’s favor. Raleigh seems like a perfectly nice and livable place, from what we hear. But when you look at the daily flights to the 15 cities where there are ACC schools, there is no comparison.
(We won’t even talk about Friday’s news from Raleigh’s airport, when a cleaning crew left water that seeped into an electrical box, which caused a power outage that led to the cancellation of more than 40 flights.)
The Ledger examined the number of nonstop flights from Charlotte’s (CLT) and Raleigh-Durham’s (RDU) airports on a random Tuesday in December. Here’s how the numbers stack up:
Check this out:
Boston College: CLT 10 nonstop flights, RDU 7 nonstop flights.
Clemson (Greenville, SC): CLT 6, RDU 0
Duke: CLT 7, RDU (no need to fly)
Florida State: CLT 3, RDU 0.
Georgia Tech: CLT 14, RDU 10.
Louisville: CLT 5, RDU 0.
Miami: CLT 7, RDU 7.
N.C. State: CLT 7, RDU (no need to fly)
Notre Dame: CLT 2, RDU 0.
Pittsburgh: CLT: 6, RDU 2.
Syracuse: CLT 2, RDU 0.
UNC Chapel Hill: CLT: 7, RDU (no need to fly)
University of Virginia: CLT 6, RDU 0.
Virginia Tech: CLT 6, RDU 0
Wake Forest: CLT 5, RDU 0.
In other words, while ACC execs wouldn’t need to fly out of Raleigh to get to the three schools in the Triangle, they have many more options to get to everywhere else except Miami (tied) if they flew out of Charlotte. And there’s no nonstop air service from Raleigh to Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Wake Forest, UVa and Virginia Tech. (You probably wouldn’t fly from Raleigh to a few of those schools, but you wouldn’t fly to a few out of Charlotte, either.)
The bigger point is that Charlotte’s airport is a huge and sometimes unsung help in landing corporate headquarters and other businesses that rely on air travel. It’s easy to get from here to other places — much more so than from many of Charlotte’s peer cities.
Yes, the fares tend to be higher, but companies are generally willing to pay for convenience. The alternative is locating somewhere else with longer trips and layovers — many of which would be in Charlotte’s airport anyway. —TM
Coming soon: Look for our 2nd annual Charity Shout-Out
For the second straight year, The Ledger will be giving some recognition around the holidays to hardworking local charities that are laboring under often-difficult conditions to make Charlotte a better place.
We’ll ask our members to send in their recommendations of local nonprofits that they support through their time or money. We will collect the information and publish it the week after Thanksgiving. (Ledger members: Look for an email today around lunchtime with instructions.) The idea is to highlight the work of local charities to our audience of nearly 11,000 readers. Charities tend to receive a large portion of their donations in December.
Last year, Ledger members recommended a total of nearly 70 Charlotte-area charities, working in areas as diverse as supporting cancer patients, helping children with behavioral health problems, improving the arts and transitioning people out of homelessness. You’ve probably heard of some of them, but others might be under the radar. (You can check out last year’s list here.)
We primarily publish local newsletters. But through events like our annual 40 Over 40 Awards and projects like this, we’re also working to build a community of people who care about our city and want to see it succeed. That can’t happen without dedicated people who are working to improve the lives of all of us who live here.
Masks dropped in Atlanta, Wilmington: The city of Atlanta lifted its mask mandate last week, as its percentage of positive Covid tests fell below 5%. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies Charlotte and Atlanta as having the same level of Covid spread (“substantial”). In North Carolina, New Hanover County has lifted its mask requirement, Guilford County could vote tonight to end its mandate and rules in Boone, Blowing Rock and Winston-Salem could come off this week. Mecklenburg does not appear close to dropping its mask-wearing rules, adopted by county commissioners in August, as local health officials say the data do not yet support it.
Wrongfully imprisoned: Gov. Roy Cooper issued a pardon for a man who he said had been wrongfully convicted of murder in Greenville, N.C., in 1995 and served 24 years in prison. A key witness had recanted, and a medical expert had said prosecutors’ theory of the shooting was not medically possible. The pardon allows the man to apply for compensation of up to $750,000. (Associated Press)
Retail worker shortage: The head of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association says retailers might have trouble hiring workers for the holiday season. He also said that employees “have a great deal more bargaining power than they previously may have had.” (WFAE)
We are all like Gaston County: Which of North Carolina’s 100 counties is most representative of North Carolina as a whole? A new study says Gaston County ranks #3, based on factors such as age, income and educational level. Forsyth County, home of Winston-Salem, is #1. Mecklenburg is #43. (Carolina Demography)
New job: Former WCNC anchor Tanya Mendis has taken a job as director of communication for the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. (Charlotte Regional Business Alliance)
Wine and cheese shortage: Corkscrew Wine Pub in Huntersville says it’s having trouble keeping supplies in stock, including New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and vintage wines from California’s Napa Valley. “Assorted cheeses and pickles for charcuterie boards are also low in supply,” WBTV reported.
Cereal no more: Asked after yesterday’s win how it feels to be playing in the NFL again, in a game where he ran for a touchdown and threw for another, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said: “I’ll put it like this: This time last week, I was eating a bowl of cereal.” (NBC Sports)
Loves me some internet: Cam’s return
(From the newsletter North Carolina Rabbit Hole — which also had an interesting piece this morning on the first Panther to ever make the cover of the “Madden” football video game. No, it’s not who you think it was.)
Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project