The effective date for the City of Raleigh’s new zoning code is right around the corner. The new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) takes effect Sept. 1, and with it come changes for the role of the city’s Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission will have a new mission in long-term city planning and transportation and transit-oriented development, but will see its role in other areas decrease under the new UDO.
The new zoning code will work alongside the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is the vision for the city as it continues to grow and change. The UDO, which has been in the works for several years, is the law that makes that vision a reality.
Site Plans and Rezoning Applications
Under the UDO, an administrative approval process will be used, meaning city staff will give approval for most site plans instead of sending the plans to the Planning Commission and City Council.
Planning Commissioner Steven Schuster said this change will make the process more streamlined and predictable and less involved with any political implications.
“We are no longer making decisions for our city based on how many people who are mad show up in front of an elected body and try to influence the decision on a political basis,” he said.
Although this means the end of public hearings for site plans, City Planning Administrator Travis Crane said it will not be a major change; only a small percentage of site plans go before the Planning Commission.
“We have heard that we are taking the public out of the process and that is simply not true,” Crane said. “The reality is that the public will still be involved moving forward.”
The Planning Commission will still review rezoning cases, although the process will change under the new UDO. Rezoning applications will be filed with city staff on a rolling basis and Planning Commission members will conduct the first review before making a recommendation to the City Council for approval or denial.
Taking On a New Role
Deputy Planning Director Ken Bowers said the Planning Commission will be returning to a role that is closer to its original charter, focusing on long-range plans and programs.
“The [Planning] Commission will be more empowered under the UDO to have a long-term impact on Raleigh’s future growth,” he said.
Schuster echoed that sentiment.
“It’s going to be an opportunity for the Planning Commission to really collaborate with planning staff and our elected officials and our citizens on some longer-term planning,” he said.
Commissioners will be more involved in the area planning process, and will play a major role in the upcoming five-year update to the 2030 Comprehensive Plan.
Transportation and transit-oriented development is one important planning area that the Commission will be examining under the new UDO.
With plans underway for a new Union Station in downtown Raleigh and talk of moving the main bus transit facility from Moore Square to the Warehouse District, Commissioners will have plenty to discuss.
Schuster is looking forward to it.
“As we become more open to mass transit – looking at planning initiatives that really explore, reward and encourage transit-oriented development — is really what we need to spend our time thinking of, ” he said. “What I am looking forward to is having the luxury of some time as a Planning Commission member to really focus on those issues and we just really haven’t had that time up until this point.”
Bowers expects that the reconstituted Transportation Committee, a sub-group made up of Planning Commission members, will review a variety of plans that have a transportation component, as well as make recommendations related to the transportation portion of the Comprehensive Plan and to be involved in future transit and station planning efforts. Their findings will be brought back to the Planning Commission for discussion.
With rezoning cases going to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation prior to the public hearing with City Council, the quarterly joint public hearings of the City Council and Planning Commission will end.
Bowers sees the time currently occupied by site plans being used for other purposes such as overseeing UDO implementation, proposing policy and ordinance changes and reviewing area planning efforts.
The Planning Commission will transition into its new role at its meeting Sept 10.