After 30 almost-weekly meetings, the Raleigh Planning Commission has finished its review of the Unified Development Ordinance. The result was more than 90 pages of recommendations for Raleigh City Council members to consider.
The Unified Development Ordinance, or UDO, is a major overhaul of the city’s existing zoning code that is meant to complement the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. The new code has been available for public review since the first draft was released in the spring of 2011.
The Planning Commission has been reviewing the document since March using the public comments that were made earlier this year. Commissioners had to ask for two 45-day time extensions because the review required more time than the 105 days allocated.
“I’m really impressed with the way the commission members have worked on this,” said Linda Harris Edmisten, who became Commission chair in the middle of the review process. “I think it’s going to be very important to implement our comprehensive plan.”
Harris Edmisten will present the recommendations to council at the Sept. 4 meeting and asked that all commissioners attend.
Unlike the Planning Commission, the City Council doesn’t have any time limits for draft review.
The recommendations are organized in the order they were approved by the Planning Commission. The document will be reorganized by chapter and given to the Council as a supplement to the most recent draft.
The Council could use the Planning Commission’s recommendations, disregard the recommendations and go back to the original recommendations made by planning staff. Councilors could also discard both sets of recommendations and produce their own.
UDO project director Christine Darges said planning staff hope the council relies on all of the work the Planning Commission put into reviewing the document.
She anticipates the Council will set up a meeting schedule and workshops, much like the budget process, but it will be up to the councilors as to how they plan on tackling the 300-plus-page document.
In her opinion, Darges said that the entire process, including mapping and data entry will take another two years.
Commissioner Isabel Mattox reminded members to look at the code like a living, breathing thing. She said city planners and commissioners cannot anticipate everything that will happen during the course of Raleigh’s development future.
“The day after it’s passed, we’re going to have some changes that we have to think about making,” she said.
A Change to the Public Hearing Process
Among the 91 pages of recommendations made by the Planning Commission, one recommendation in particular was a change to the public hearing procedure.
The UDO moved public hearings to the end of the rezoning process instead of the beginning.
Rezoning applications are first heard at quarterly public hearings with the Planning Commission and City Council. The case is then heard in more detail by the Planning Commission, before being sent off to Council for an official decision.
The UDO changes the process; the Planning Commission would hear a rezoning application and recommend to the Council for or against holding a public hearing.
The City Council would then decide if a public hearing should be held. But without a public hearing, the case would die at the table.
Commissioners thought this would give councilors an easy out instead of making tough decisions on controversial cases.
The Commission decided at the end of July to require that a public hearing be held for all rezoning applications that are recommended for approval by the Planning Commission and then heard by the City Council.