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City mulls zoning ordinance rewrite

The Charlotte planning staff updated council members at a dinner briefing Monday on the progress of an initiative to rewrite the city’s zoning ordinance and speed up the rezoning process. Alysia Osborne of the city’s planning department said the current ordinance provides guidance on the types of land use, location and designs, but lacks a developmental vision.city zoning

For example, the department has found its current policy contains outdated standards and confusing terminology, and emphasizes meeting zoning-district requirements instead of focusing on what the rules mean. It also found a lack of linkage between growth policies and regulations, which often focus on separating land uses regardless of whether or not they are compatible.

“Our tool box must grow with the city,” Osborne said, and “stakeholders need to understand our vision.”

In an effort to achieve that objective, a multidepartmental team has chosen  Chicago-based Camiros to lead a team that will create a framework for Charlotte’s new zoning ordinance. The team will consider various approaches, including conventional, conditional, form-based and hybrid codes. The city council will vote on the contract for consulting services this fall.

As for the rezoning process, city staff has found the current schedule for approving rezoning petitions to be “inefficient,” with delays in what should be a four-month endeavor that includes petition submittal, staff review and community notification, site plan submittals, a public meeting and hearing, and committee recommendations. Delays, the planning department says, are caused by the complexity of petitions, staff issues and community concerns. The staff found that in the last couple of years, 18 percent of petitions took seven or more months to run through the system before a decision was made on whether or not to grant approval.

In addition, an improving economy has caused developers to submit more petitions, with numbers growing to 138 this fiscal year from 78 in 2011. This has caused some of the monthly city council meetings to run past midnight, as members hear from the public and decide on the fate of rezoning requests.

The department says it is considering many options to address the problem, including revising the rezoning schedule so that substantive issues with the developer are addressed earlier in the process and improving guidance on when a case is ready for a scheduled hearing. Other courses of action include a staff revamp on its methods for analyzing petitions, scheduling time during council workshops for zoning hearings and decisions, or placing those decisions on a business meeting agenda. The staff says it hopes to implement changes by January.

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