Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Can light rail reshape this auto-oriented corridor?

I have auto-related uses on the mind this week, because at a 4:30 meeting today the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission is going to recommend yay or nay on a proposed auto mall (a collection of car lots from different dealerships) in the University City area. You can download the agenda for that meeting here.

(Update, 5:20 p.m.  The planning commission's zoning committee unanimously recommended that the site be rezoned for an auto mall. Two commissioners who had earlier expressed opposition to the rezoning, Tom Low and Deb Ryan, weren't at the meeting. The City Council makes the final decision.)

The city planning staff has switched from recommending against the rezoning to recommend for it, if some design and site plan issues are resolved. Interestingly, their issues earlier were not because it's for a large chunk of auto-oriented uses within a quarter mile of a planned light rail station area, where the overall city policy calls for transit-oriented (i.e. walkable, compact, mixed-use) development. Instead the staff focused on design issues. (See the commentary on, "Don't derail transit areas with an auto mall.")

Yesterday, I  had occasion to drive on North Tryon Street, from the UNC Charlotte Center City campus to the main campus on University City  Boulevard.  I decided to count the auto-oriented businesses on North Tryon Street up to the corner of U-City Boulevard.  I started at Atando Avenue (where the idea occurred to me), so the count starts there.  Want to guess? The answer is ....

Monday, October 28, 2013

Regional planning and sticker shock

Will stickers on a map matter? Photo: City of Charlotte
After suggesting in print that people should attend last Thursday's regional planning workshop, part of the CONNECT Our Future effort, it was only fitting that I, too, go. And a good time was had by all. Except ...

We were assigned tables as we went in, and I ended at a table with two other Marys - Mary Hopper, recently stepped down as director of University City partners and a former chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, and Mary Clayton, a transportation planner with Parsons Brinckerhoff. Also at the table were three UNC Charlotte urban design grad students, and a handful of other folks.  I am not sure that the table was representative of the population at large, but whatever. It was a good collection of people.

Our table moderator, Nadine Bennett, a planner with Centralina Council of Governments, which is administering the $5 million federal grant that funds CONNECT, asked us all to talk a bit about who we were and what we thought the region's biggest issues are. Just about everyone said "transportation." And just about everyone said, "We don't want to become another Atlanta."  One of the graduate students was, I am not making this up, from Atlanta, and she was particularly forceful on this point.

Bennett said that she had been the moderator for, I think, 17 different tables during a two-month series of workshops in 14 counties and at every one of those tables, people had said, "We don't want to become another Atlanta."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What's up (or not) with a zoning ordinance re-do?

It's been almost three months since a consultants' report concluded the city's zoning ordinance is seriously in need of updating. (See my article, "Report: Charlotte ordinance confusing, lacks modern tools" from July.

What's happening next?  Planning Director Debra Campbell discussed that at an Oct. 7 meeting of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, an appointed advisory board to the city's Planning Department and City Council. 

Campbell said the planning staff is discussing how to link the zoning ordinance assessment process with their planning process. The planners want to look at whether a revised zoning ordinance would mean revising the way plans are done, which today are the "Euclidian model," Campbell said. For non-planners, that means based on single-use zoning districts.  (The term "Euclidian zoning" isn't about Euclidian geometry, but is named for the 1926 Supreme Court case, Village of Euclid, Ohio, v. Ambler Realty Co., which ruled that land use zoning is constitutional. The Euclid zoning ordinance was based on single-use districts, a type of land use generally considered suburban or rural, not suitable for large cities.)
"Our plans are very use-based," Campbell said. "They're colors on a map." In other words, local plans tend to map large areas and, with color-coding, delineate land uses should go where. Instead, Campbell said, "I want them to focus on both use and character." Sometimes, she said, getting too deep into the planning process can seem dry and boring to the general public. "In general people want to be involved with what’s it going to look like, what’s it going to feel like?"

Laura Harmon, the department's director of development services, said the staff would have a better idea of how to link plans and the zoning ordinance "in the next month or two."

Said Campbell: "If there's a fatal flaw that I have, it's that I like to go slow ... I like to bring folks along with me."