Tuesday, September 18, 2012

If you ask the public, they might answer

(Update, 9/19/12 at 1 p.m.: A more complete version of this article, with photos, "Neighbors deliver earful on zoning ordinance," is now available at PlanCharlotte.org.)

You'd expect a room full of developers, developer consultants and lobbyists invited specifically to  bellyache Tuesday afternoon about Charlotte's zoning ordinance would have had plenty to say. And they did have comments. But it was the group who followed them, about two dozen neighborhood activists and non-developers at a later public comment session, who all but scorched the paint off the walls.

"My concern is that this whole process will turn the zoning ordinance over to the developers," said Bea Nance of the College Downs neighborhood in northeast Charlotte.

"We're no match for the developers with money," said John Wall of the Hidden Valley and North Tryon Street neighborhood.

"The problem is, there are no teeth in plans. They mean nothing," said Susan Lindsay of east Charlotte.

"Quite honestly, the staff doesn't support their own plans," said Cindy Schwartz of Dilworth. "We never see them oppose anything."

The two forums were held Tuesday ....
to solicit comments from the public about a zoning ordinance assessment. The city Planning Department has hired Clarion Associates of Chapel Hill and Denver to look at the city's zoning ordinance and at whether it helps or hurts in implementing city policies and plans, and then offer ideas for reorganizing, restructuring and updating the ordinance. A 4-6 p.m. public comment session was aimed at developers and other regular users of the ordinance. A 7-9 p.m. session was aimed at other members of the public.

As consultant Matt Goebel of Denver repeated several times, the consultants aren't writing a new zoning ordinance as part of the project. It's an assessment, not a rewrite, he said.

Nevertheless, participants at both sessions questioned why more public input wasn't included in the project. At the night meeting, even the consultants' intent to get city planning staff to edit a draft of the assessment report they'll write in the next few months raised suspicions and complaints among several people in the audience.

"You're getting paid out of public dollars," Susan Lindsay said. "I'd like to see what you have to say without the staff editing it."

Not all the comments were in agreement with each other. Bea Nance said plenty of residents like having grass and trees and weren't necessarily interested in more public transit service. " 'Suburban' is not a bad word, people," she said.

It's not that the earlier session, with developers, was filled with the bluebirds of happiness. Among the issues raised, in addition to a wish for more public input, were:

From developer David Furman: A suggestion that, especially in more well-developed areas, measuring development intensity by counting units per acre isn't particularly effective. A better measure, he said, would be to use what planners call Floor Area Ratio, which measures the square footage of the building compared to the size of the site.

From developer and consultant Karla Knotts: It's difficult to look things up in the ordinance the way it's presented on the city's website. Also, she said, "Unless you know you're in an overlay district there's no way to know you're in an overlay district."

From lobbyist Joe Padilla of the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition: Some broad-brush restrictions, such as height limits, would be more effective if they were tailored to different parts of the city instead of imposed one-size-fit-all.

Add your own input. Take an online survey: Click here, or visit the city Planning Department department web page for the project by clicking here.


Anonymous said...

Let's try a test. Council recently approved an Area Plan that said no drive-thrus at Morehead and Kenilworth. Even more recently, Council approved a PED Overlay that also says no drive-thrus. But any guesses on whether Council will now approve a rezoning for a drive-thru?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous, after reading your comment and then reading the plan that you refer to, there is nothing of the sort that you say in the plan. And as I read the ordinance on the City web site, the PED disrtict does permit drive in service windows for certain uses. And according to the staff analysis posted on the planning department web site the mystery rezoning that you refer to IS consistent with the plan. So might you be playing just a little fast and loose with your facts here?

Anonymous said...

Within PED, drive-thrus are allowed for financial uses. A drive-thru pharmacy hardly qualifies.

The Plan called for office/residential. Again, a retail pharmacy hardly qualifies.

That the Planning staff would report the proposal as "consistent," despite their own Plan and Code, well, that might just be why the public was in such an uproar at the meeting.

Anonymous said...

Agree, the drive-thru shouldn't be allowed it isn't and shouldn't be in a PED.

Anonymous said...

Add to that that, I believe, the city does not take into account the externalities of development, and construction companies run rough shod over the community too. If Blythe says "jump" the city says "how high?"

Anonymous said...

If you really want to watch Planning staff squirm, ask them why "financial institutions" are the only exemption to drive-thrus in PED. Obviously, it has nothing to do at all with Charlotte's closed-door, decision-making process as a corporate Bank Town.

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