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Proposed ordinances changes give developers more flexibility

Developers will have flexibility in meeting Charlotte’s Urban Street Design Guidelines ordinances, a city transportation official told the City Council tonight.

Mike Davis, manager of Charlotte Department of Transportation’s Development Services Division, presented some of the proposed changes made to the Urban Street Design Guideline ordinances in response to concerns voiced in public meetings.

Most of the changes focus on allowing flexibility for developers in order to keep the ordinances from becoming too overbearing. One proposed change, for example, allows for block lengths within a street network to exceed the maximum length of 650 feet in most districts, as long as the average of all block lengths was under the minimum and the largest block was not longer than 1,000 feet.

“The block length average is a tool that, I think, provides the kind of flexibility we need,” said Andy Munn, public policy director of the Real Estate Building Industry Coalition. “It’s a good step.”

Even with the average, the block size limits is a step down from the previous maximum of 1,000 feet, and has come under scrutiny from developers who pointed out that under such restrictions some neighborhoods, such as Myers Park, with its long blocks, could not be built.

The revisions allow for flexibility regarding street networks on a “common sense” basis, since the biggest expenses are incurred in building streets, Davis said. Concessions would be made if, for instance, there were physical or natural barriers to building streets by the guidelines, if rights of way or sight distance complications required some flexibility, or if streets needed to align with existing streets to create intersections.

Under the new guidelines, there is an “alternative compliance” process, another flexibility measure. Davis described the process as a “Door No. 3″ for developers: Door No. 1 would be for a developer to come in, have their permit approved or denied based on their adherence to the standards and be out the door; Door No. 2 would mean bringing the proposal to city staff and making a case for why the project cannot meet the standards.

A developer who chose the third door would bring their project — one that the developer knows will not meet the guidelines but is innovative enough to be considered — before a development review board for approval.

The nine-member board would consist of an architect, a transportation/urban design planner, a bicycle advocate, a civil engineer, a landscape architect, a public health professional, a real estate attorney, a real estate development industry representative and a planning commission representative. Each board member, appointed by the mayor and City Council, would serve a two-year term.

Though Davis projected that the alternative compliance process would only be used for 2 percent of the total projects going forward, Mayor Anthony Foxx raised concerns that the option would inspire more developers to skip the traditional process and take proposals straight to the board.

Davis acknowledged that Foxx’s scenario was a possibility.

“I think what will happen is, there’s going to be a learning curve,” he said, adding that he will come back to the council with an amendment to the ordinances if too many people try to go through the alternative compliance process.

The council is expected to make a final vote on the changes Dec. 20. Before that, a public hearing will be held in council chambers Nov. 15.

Caitlin Coakley can be reached at caitlin.coakley@mecktimes.com.

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