Planning & Transit

(Almost) everything you ever wanted to know about TOD but were afraid to ask

Light rail and TOD development make their mark in University City. From this intersection to Uptown by rail takes about 20 minutes. Photo by Nancy Pierce.

Since Charlotte City Council approved TOD Article 15 - the new Transit Oriented Development ordinance - last April, land use consultants, architects, real estate attorneys and other insiders have had ample opportunity to sort out these new rules.

As for laypersons, gleaning what they need to know from TOD’s eighty-one page assemblage of definitions, rules, standards, charts and graphics can be a real challenge, despite efforts by staff planners to make the document as jargon-free and user-friendly as possible. 
 
Nevertheless, to overlook the new TOD rules risks being ill-equipped to deal with how the rules might substantially impact your property holdings or your neighborhood, and a major aspect of how Charlotte will develop. The good news is that by diving into the rest of this blog post, you can get a handle on 13 choice questions about TOD - even some you may never have thought to ask. 

To view the TOD in its entirety, click here.
For more information on the UDO rewrite from the city, click here

TOD zoning districts, in one form or another, have actually been a fixture on the Charlotte scene for at least a dozen years in tandem with the build-out of the LYNX Blue Line light rail corridor. Article 15, however, marks the first article rewrite for the forthcoming Unified Development Ordinance. In the next few years, numerous other zoning re-writes and related ordinances will be consolidated into a single, comprehensive UDO document. And another major step is coming this fall, as the city prepares to rezone big tracts of land along the Blue Line to TOD districts, a critical next step in implementing the new development regulations.

[Read more: Charlotte looks ahead two decades to plan growth]
 
Special thanks to Alan Goodwin, Laura Harmon and their team at the Charlotte Planning, Design & Development Department for their care in crafting these responses. And if you need to know more, send an email to: CharlotteUDO@CharlotteNC.Gov.
 
Q: Why are there four TOD zoning districts instead of one ?  
 
There are a variety of development contexts along our existing Blue Line corridor. The same holds true for future corridors.  The four districts are designed to address these differing conditions: 
 
a. TOD-UC:  Transit Urban Center
b. TOD-CC:  Transit Community Center 
c. TOD-NC:  Transit Neighborhood Center
d. TOD-TR:  Transit Transition
 
For a detailed description and more information on these districts, click here, pages 6-9. 

Conceptual depictions of some of the TOD districts from the city of Charlotte. 


Q: How do I know if my property is zoned TOD or near potential TOD areas? 
 
You can look up your current zoning on Charlotte Explorer (https://explore.charlottenc.gov) For properties that are planned to be rezoned in October, see the question below.

Q: What are “alignment rezonings” and why are they pertinent to TOD?  

“Alignment rezonings”  (formerly “corrective rezonings”) refer to City-initiated rezonings that are designed to align a property with Council adopted land use policy.
 
The alignment rezonings for TOD are expected to occur in October, when City Council votes to rezone over 1,900 parcels along the Blue Line corridor. You can access an interactive map of all recommended parcels along the corridor online here.

Q: Can I get my property “grandfathered” into TOD ? 

Yes, you can.  Existing development that was legally established can stay as it is. See the question below about gas stations.

Q: I want to expand my existing gas station by a couple of bays and put in a car wash. It’s right across the street from a light rail station. Does TOD allow this? What about my other potential gas station site? (I haven’t built it yet).

Existing auto-centric uses like the Circle K in the photo below, are legally “nonconforming” and may continue to operate. TOD also allows a small, one-time expansion, which might amount to a couple more service bays and a car wash, provided the new additions don’t exceed 10% of the floor area or 1,000 square feet, whichever is greater.  Future gas stations and similar auto-centric businesses, like car washes or auto dealerships, are typically not allowed in TOD districts because that would not be consistent with transit use or a dense, compact, and walkable urban environment. 

This Circle K has a view of a LYNX station platform and parking deck in the background. If Circle K were to shut down for a year or more, this parcel would have to conform to the new TOD zoning. Photo: Martin Zimmerman 

Q: I just bought a nice big house in a fairly new, single- family subdivision near a transit line.  I love it here, but I don't want a bunch of high-rises across the street. Is that what TOD is going to mean for me and my neighbors? 

TOD allows for taller buildings and denser development, generally within ½ mile walking distance of light rail.  However, regardless of which TOD district is near you, any building within 200 feet of existing single-family zoning cannot be taller than 65 feet (typically five stories). 

Q: I own a small office building and I want to put a solar panel on top of it. Does TOD allow that ? What about some townhouses with a solar panel on top ?  

Solar panels are permitted on all buildings in TOD. Section 15.9.J outlines the standards for solar panels. Wind turbines are also allowed under Section 15.9.L.

Q: I'm a small-scale residential developer. Can I build some single-family houses in any of the four TOD zones? What about duplexes, triplexes or other infill housing?  

A. Detached single family homes and duplexes are not allowed in TOD districts.  Triplexes and other single-family attached housing, what many folks call townhouses or townhomes, are allowed in all but the most intense district, TOD-UC.  Multi-family i.e. apartments and condos, are allowed in all TOD districts. 

Q: I live in south Charlotte near the future Silver Line light rail. But I see on the list of land uses for TOD a whole bunch of things I don't like. Things like food pantries, homeless shelters and even an “alternative correction facility!” I'm not against the idea of the Silver Line or TOD, but these types of uses could bring strangers and undesirables into my neighborhood. Crime too. Is there anything I can do to stop this ?  

As with any zoning and development activity, you will want to monitor the planning and zoning near your home.  If a property near you is proposed for TOD rezoning, you have the right to object. City Council and the Zoning Committee are the appropriate channels to resolve such concerns. 

Q: My neighbors and I want to plant a community vegetable garden. Maybe a greenhouse too. And a farm stand for sales on Saturdays. It will be on about a quarter acre of land near the Arrowwood station

TOD does allow community gardens. Specific conditions are found in section 15.8.4.A.3. 

Q: Our church needs more income and our congregants are getting up in age. We want to build some senior rental apartments on our parking lot to help sustain our congregation and its mission. Will TOD allow this ?  

Yes, TOD will allow this use of land as long as the apartments are built to TOD development standards.

Q: TOD says that my surface parking must be either behind or next to my building. What if I my lot is too small for that, and I must put some parking in front ? 

Parking is required to be located to the side or preferably to the rear of new development to allow the building to front on the sidewalk, creating a more urban, pedestrian friendly, and safer streetscape. 

Q: Why is TOD setting limits on how many parking spaces will be allowed in new developments along transit lines? 

One of the goals of TOD zoning is to lessen auto dependency. Limiting the number of parking spaces also encourages transit use, higher densities, more compact development and greater accessibility for bicyclists and walkers. With the anticipated decrease in car ownership, the projected rise in the use of autonomous vehicles and the continued growth of ride share services, fewer parking spaces will be needed in the future.