Some residents got a sneak peek recently at the city’s planning process during the Hillsborough Community Advisory Committee meeting.
Members of the city’s planning department walked residents through a unified development ordinance (UDO) exercise, which had attendees in deep discussion well after 9 p.m.
The new UDO, which has been in development for about a year, will replace all of the existing zoning code by creating a systematic and cohesive code for future growth.
The city wishes to implement the project in two steps. Step one will be to adopt the text, with public hearings scheduled for July, and then to apply the zoning districts to the property. The second step is the mapping of the UDO, which could occur six to 18 months after adoption.
The presentation at the Hillsborough CAC is the third of 18 scheduled throughout the city.
After a presentation by members of the planning department that gave residents crash course in zoning, nearly 30 attendees from various downtown neighborhoods broke up into three groups and were given a map and some markers. Their mission was to decide on what kind of district the area would be – residential, mixed used or special – the height of the buildings in that district and what kind of frontages those buildings would have.
While residents weighed in on the future of Hillsborough Street between Oberlin Road and Park Avenue, their opinions won’t be used in creating the actual UDO.
“The purpose is not to leave here tonight feeling like, ‘Oh I know everything about the UDO,’” said Hillsborough CAC chairman William Allen. “Because they won’t.”
Allen said the exercise was intended to draw residents into the process so they might follow along as the plan develops.
Those residents included Jeana Myers, a 23-year Raleigh resident from Pullen Park Terrace.
“I’m not familiar with all of the planning that’s going on,” she said. “So, I feel like I have a lot of homework to do to bring myself up to speed on what’s happening.”
Myers said that while the attendees represent different neighborhoods, which are spread out throughout the area, they are all impacted by how this area of Hillsborough Street develops.
Some residents have a little more knowledge of future development plans. University Park resident David Brown attended a conference last week on sustainable development hosted by the planning department and NC State University.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the new code embraces the examples from the planning conference,” said Brown, adding that one of the examples was bringing back street cars.
Amy Witynski, a Pullen Park resident and the secretary of the Hillsborough CAC, said she cares about thoughtful, green-oriented decision-making, which is why she had an interest in learning more about the UDO.
“I think we all need to know what the language is of the coding because it breaks it down and it gives us access to the people who are writing this zoning,” said Witynski, who has lived in Raleigh for 15 years. “It makes [planning] more personable and it’s not a big authoritarian issue that we don’t have any control of.”
Both Witynski and former city councilwoman Anne Franklin said they want the new zoning codes to be easier for residents to understand.
“The pieces are complex,” said Franklin, who served on the city council from 1987 to 1993 and oversaw many zoning changes. “But I think that it’s something that we can understand. I want a code the general population can understand, or any interested citizen, as well as people who have the financial ability to hire somebody to tell them how it works. “
The new UDO would remove more than 10 current base zoning districts and about five overlay districts. But it would introduce more residential, mixed use, special and overlay districts. Within those districts there would be changes in regulations or the addition of regulations.
For example, the current code has a vague 40-foot maximum height for residential and a 50-foot maximum for non-residential. The new codes would give more specific building heights.
“By testing these elements in a physical location in their own CAC, they are starting to visualize the intent, purpose and application of the regulations,” said Christine Darges, the UDO project manager.