Concerned at pace of development, planning commission weighs in

View of Charlotte from CATS Bland Street Station in Southend. Photo: John Chesser

You can add the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission to the local voices expressing concern about development moving rapidly as the city’s process to rewrite its aging zoning code moves far slower.

At its monthly work session Monday, members of the planning commission spent several minutes discussing what some see as rising community concern over new developments being built according to zoning standards that some observers see as outdated and inadequate. The planning commission is an appointed group that offers recommendations to Charlotte City Council on rezonings and city plans.

The city’s current zoning ordinance was adopted in 1992, after a contentious process that took more than six years. (Charlotte to take a new look at its aging code) After a year-long study and a consultant’s report in 2013 recommending a rewrite, the city hired another consultant, Chicago-based Camiros, to lead the rewrite process.

“Now we’re at a point where we can start the process to design the process.” — Planning commission chairman Tony Lathrop

Interim planning director Ed McKinney reported Monday that the consultant’s contract had finally been signed and work was beginning, although it’s estimated the project will take three to four years.

“Now we’re at a point where we can start the process to design the process,” concluded commission chairman Tony Lathrop, noting he’s heard a lot of interest in the community about the progress of the project.

 “There’s a concern, especially in South End, that a lot of things getting built are not what the community wants,” said commissioner John Fryday, an architect. With a new code still three to four years away, he asked, “What’s our role?”

Fellow commissioner Deb Ryan, an associate professor of architecture and urban design at UNC Charlotte, was similarly concerned. “There’s this cry coming from the public,” she said, referring to a spate of recent articles and commentary about the pace of development in areas such as South End and uptown.

Last week, architect and planner Terry Shook told the uptown booster group Charlotte Center City Partners, “We’ve got to find a way to get some strategic intervention in this code now.” (Watch out for ‘tyranny of the normal,’ planner warns). Michael Smith, CEO of Center City Partners, has also said higher design standards are needed in fast-growing areas. And the Charlotte Observer editorial board opined in August: “Charlotte’s growth is revving up again. It needs zoning regulations that can keep up.” (See also, “For better designed development, we’re going to need a better code.”)

With fast development but no new zoning standards expected for three to four years, Ryan asked, “What can be done in the meantime?” Although the consultant will be spending time getting public input, “What about short-term fixes?” she asked. “Why don’t we, as a commission, get ahead of it?”

Several other commissioners also expressed concern. Lathrop, the chairman, suggested the commission work on making a recommendation on what would be an appropriate approach. The issue was referred to a committee.​