Zoning out when maybe we shouldn’t be

By: Deon Roberts, editor//August 2, 2012//

Zoning out when maybe we shouldn’t be

By: Deon Roberts, editor//August 2, 2012//

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It was me versus the city’s zoning ordinance.

The ordinance won.

In June, on the same day it drove a stake through the heart of a $926 million capital-spending proposal, the Charlotte City Council hired a Chapel Hill-based real estate consulting firm to review the zoning ordinance.

Clarion Associates will be paid $148,500.

Upon learning about the Clarion contract, I decided to read the zoning ordinance. Keep in mind, this is same person who, for reasons I still can’t figure out, checked out from the library last month “The Humongous Book of Basic Math & Pre-Algebra Problems.”

You can find the ordinance online, at Charmeck.org. In essence, it contains rules that developers and builders must follow, and it gets pretty detailed.

For example, Chapter 13, which is about 70 pages long, is all about the regulation of signs. According to the ordinance, if you wanted to put in your store’s window a sign saying, for example, “Long-haired, freaky people need not apply,” you would not need to get a permit beforehand.

Other equally compelling material can be found in the ordinance, such as the section on temporary farm-products signs.

The ordinance is massive when compared with other Charlotte ordinances, which are more like “Of Mice and Men” while the zoning ordinance is “Anna Karenina.”

The table of contents alone is 18 pages.

I’m ashamed to say that I gave up. I just couldn’t bring myself to read the whole ordinance.

But I’m willing to bet that fewer than 1 percent of the people who live in Charlotte have ever read it from beginning to end.

What am I saying? I’d be willing to bet fewer than 1 percent even know the ordinance exists.

In a way, that’s a scary thought when you think of the sweeping nature of the ordinance and how much impact its regulations have on our quality of life.

In short, it’s a manual that government leaders use to control the look, the feel and the functioning of the city. But who reads manuals? Most of us have drawers filled with manuals in mint condition.

Still, maybe we all should know, even if it’s just a little bit, about what’s in the zoning ordinance.

After all, when we move to a new city, we look into the public school system. We inquire about crime rates. We ask about taxes, housing costs, gasoline prices and the availability of public parks.

The information in the zoning ordinance seems just as important as anything else you could know about a community.

Consider this: If you live in a part of the city of Charlotte zoned single-family, it’s perfectly legal for your neighbor to park up to two cars in his yard and advertise them for sale.

Isn’t that unsightly? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But Charlotte’s zoning ordinance allows it.

By the way, the maximum number of days your neighbor can display his vehicles for sale can also be found in the ordinance. For the answer, you’ll have to read the ordinance.

Whom am I kidding? No one’s going to read it. The answer is 60.

Last month, my in-laws, who are from New Orleans, came up to North Carolina for a visit. Still slightly obsessed with the city’s zoning ordinance at the time, I asked one of my sisters-in-law whether she has read the zoning rules for her parish (fun trivia: Louisiana doesn’t call them counties), knowing full well what her answer would be.

“No,” she said. “Why?”

In today’s world, it’s more likely that we’ll know the latest raunchy facts about our favorite celebrities than it is that we’ll have even basic awareness of our communities’ rules.

I’m not being preachy, just stating a fact.

Now, before I forget, what does everyone think of the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ split?


ROBERTS can be reached at [email protected]. 

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