Oakwood Concerns

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The following has been taken from a Q&A document prepared in advance of the SPHO meeting held Monday, July 20 on the citywide remapping plan.

Staff Responses to Specific Concerns of SPHO Staff received an email on July 14 containing 14 specific concerns that the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood would like to address at the July 20 meeting. 

Given the number and complexity of the concerns, and in the interest of making for a productive meeting, staff has prepared responses to each concern for review in advance of the meeting. 

The numbered concerns are repeated verbatim from the email. Staff will be prepared to discuss in greater detail at the meeting, and will also bring a presentation and maps.

(1) The three blocks south of Edenton St. between East and Bloodworth are being rezoned from Residential Business to NX–3-DE. New zoning allows bars, nightclubs, and restaurants serving alcohol, along with unlimited retail (current zoning permits stores and “personal service” retail).

This part of Oakwood is all detached historic houses; some are used as offices but most are residences. Bars and restaurants and retail would make the area less attractive to maintain a residence, and could increase pressure to demolish the houses for parking. An office may need parking for a couple of clients; a bar or restaurant needs parking for 20 customers. We request that this area be zoned OX–2-DE.

Staff has looked at the existing land uses and concurs that OX zoning would not create any nonconformities. We will present an alternative of OX-3 to City Council for their consideration. There is no such district as OX–2. OX–3 contains a height limit of three stories. Staff’s opinion, which we verified by contacting several registered architects, is that the prior 40’ height limit permits three story buildings, and therefore there is no increase in the permitted number of stories. We also note that Historic Overlay District (HOD) effectively imposes a stricter height limit, which we discuss in more detail below; and that all of the properties between Edenton and Morson are in an NCOD that imposes a height limit of 35’.

Many of these comments relate to the change in height regulations from the existing code to the UDO. For mixed use districts in the UDO, the height is defined by maximum number of stories that can be constructed. The height categories begin at three stories. This height category also sets a maximum height of 50 feet. Maximum building height is measured to the peak of the roof in the UDO.

The part 10 code set a maximum building height of 40 feet in some zoning districts, like the Neighborhood Business district. However, height under the part 10 code was measured to the midpoint of the roof. This means that a building could satisfy the 40-foot height maximum and be taller than 40 feet in height. One additional foot of building height could be constructed for every one foot of setback added.

Zoning overlay districts, like the Historic Overlay District and the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District, can also regulate height. The Historic Overlay District code standard states that July 17, 2015 2 building height shall be equal to the height of typical well-related nearby buildings and structures. Buildings that exceed the height of typical well-related nearby buildings cannot be approved in an HOD, regardless of the height set forth in the mixed-use district.

(2) The parts of Oakwood currently zoned O&I–1, including the 100 & 200 blocks of N. Person St.,

the western half of the 300 block of E. Jones St. & E. Edenton St., the east side of 00 block of N. East St., and the 800 block of Wake Forest Rd. now have an effective height limit of 40 feet. Anything over 40 feet requires increasing setbacks on front and sides. There 20 historic houses in these areas are one or two stories. The proposed zoning of these areas is OX–3, which would allow buildings up to 50 feet, or three stories. This increased height allowance could increases pressure to demolish historic houses, since a three-story building is likely to bring more rent than the existing historic one- or two-story house. The most vulnerable of these areas is the 800 block of Wake Forest Rd.; these nine historic houses are not protected by historic district regulation. We request that these areas be zoned OX–2-DE.
Staff disagrees that the proposed zoning provides for more stories than current zoning—see the discussion on the prior item.

On the 800 block of Wake Forest Road, this area is located in the Mordecei NCOD, which imposes a height limit of 35 feet. In addition, the UDO transition standards of Article 3.5 impose significant additional constraints on redevelopment potential. These lots are generally between 100 and 150 feet in depth. Any new building must be setback 50 feet from the rear lot line, meaning that one-third to one-half of the property cannot be built upon.

 In staff’s opinion, neither existing nor proposed zoning provide a significant incentive for redevelopment in this area, unless the existing is building is close to valueless. In a redevelopment scenario, the land cost includes the value of the existing structure. The new project must be valuable enough to compensate for the value lost through demolition and the cost of new construction. This typically will not be achievable without much greater increase in floor area than a three story height limit would allow.

(3) The historic house at 106 N. East is also proposed to be rezoned from O&I–1 to OX–3. This house

has always been a residence. For the reasons enumerated in No. 2 above, we request that it be zoned R–10.

Staff originally proposed R-10 zoning for this property. During the public review period, we received a comment from the property owner objecting to the loss of office zoning. As stated in the comment: “The city’s proposition includes rezoning my house to R-10. I specifically purchased this house in 2007 because of its zoning of O&1-1. Please do not rezone my property. If you do so, it will have a negative impact on my current and future business plans…” The Planning Commission recommended changing the zoning to OX-3 based on this comment.

Staff suggests that in lieu of a downzoning, Council could consider the addition of DE frontage, which would prohibit the general building type on the property while preserving the flexibility of use that the owner currently enjoys. Frontages are another component of mixed use zoning that specify urban form, such as location of building relative to the street and parking between the building and street. Not every mixed use zoning district will have a frontage.

(4) The area at the corner of E. Lane St. and N. Bloodworth St. is currently zoned Neighborhood Business. This area includes two historic one-story commercial buildings, two small non-historic commercial buildings, and two historic houses. This area also has a height limit of 40 feet; anything over that requires increasing front setback. Any new building would require a front setback of 30 feet. This protects the current buildings. This area is proposed to be rezoned NX–3, which would increase the height limit to three stories or 50 feet. This could increase pressure to demolish for a larger and more profitable building. We request that the commercial buildings in this area be zoned OX–2, and the two houses be zoned R–10.

As mentioned in the first question, height in a Historic Overlay District cannot exceed the height of nearby, well-related buildings in the district. As noted earlier, the existing entitlement of 40 feet is sufficient for the construction of a three story building. The proposed NX zoning provides for neighborhood transitions on the properties adjoining R–10, which provide for greater buffers and height protection than NB zoning. OX zoning would be a significant downzoning and would render existing businesses in the area non-conforming; however, Council may consider it during their review of the UDO remapping. A front setback of 30 feet is NOT required under current zoning—in an HOD, setbacks are based on context, as per UDO Section 5.4.1.E.
(5) The same is true for the historic house at 530 N. Person St.; it is proposed to be rezoned from Neighborhood Business to NX–3. It is just outside the historic district, but is a historic house, and is across the street from several in the historic district. We request that it be zoned OX–2.
OX would represent a significant downzoning from NB. As mentioned, there is no height category for two stories. Neighborhood transitions apply to this property, further reducing permitted height. The Council may consider rezoning the property from NX-3 to OX-3 as part of their review of the UDO remapping.

(6) The historic house at 9 N. Bloodworth St. and only that house, is proposed to be rezoned from

O&I–2 to DX–3-DE, which allows bars, restaurants, retail, and light industrial, even though that house is a residence. And the effective height limit on that property would be increased from 40 feet to 50 feet. We request that this house be zoned OX–2.

The property is located within a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District that restricts building height to 35 feet. The City Council may consider OX-3 zoning as a replacement for DX-3.

(7) An area of about an acre on the 600 block of Watauga St. is currently zoned R–20, although there are only four houses in this area. It was rezoned from R–10 some years ago in anticipation of a development that never happened. It is now proposed to be rezoned RX–3, allowing dense residential use, commercial uses, and increasing the height limit from 40 to 50 feet. This area is in the middle of a residential block and backs up to historic houses. We request that it be zoned R–10.

This area is outside of the Oakwood HOD. City Council may consider downzoning the property to R-10. Several detached houses are recently completed or under construction on the existing lots. There is also one attached house in the area on a lot that meets the lot size requirement in the R- 10 district. No existing uses would be rendered nonconforming by a change to R-10.

(8) The same is true for the single historic house at 102 N. East St., which is the third-oldest house in Oakwood. It is currently zoned R–20, and is proposed to be rezoned to RX–3. It has always been a residence. We request that it be zoned R–10.
This house is configured as an attached house (duplex). The structure sits within an NCOD that imposes a height limit of 35 feet. The lot exceeds the minimum lot size for an attached house in the R-10 district. City Council could consider a downzoning to R-10 without creating a nonconformity.

(9) The current code requires “transitional protective yards” between commercial and residential areas. The current code has a sliding scale of the width of the protective yard — based on the impact of the commercial use, and the density of the residential use. The required protective yard can be up to 30 feet. This requirement has served as a disincentive to demolish our historic houses. The UDO proposes to decrease this protective yard. We request that it be retained.
The UDO provides for stronger transitions than the prior transitional protective yard standards, through the Neighborhood Transition standards of Article 3.5. These new transition standards require a minimum building setback of fifty feet from a residential zoning district. Building height is constrained within a distance of 100 feet from a residential property.

(10) Blount St Commons has become far denser with new condominiums being built. Overflow of traffic and parking has already impacted the neighborhood.

Blount Street Commons is developing in accordance with a Planned Development Master Plan approved by the City Council in 2006. Blount Street Commons is not impacted by the remapping.

(11) Higher zoning is virtually always considered “more valuable” by appraisers and will ultimately increase property taxes.

Staff believes that zoning policy should be driven by land use policy rather than speculation regarding future assessments. It is not the role of zoning to depress property value in order to lower future assessments. Staff further notes that as values have risen in neighborhoods like Oakwood, Glenwood-Brooklyn, and Boylan Heights, the trend has been to convert multifamily structures back to single-family use. It is difficult to square this fact with the assertion that higher density is everywhere and always the highest and best use.

(12)The State Property office advised that the city plan rezones other areas that are state-owned

but will be ignored by the State. There are state owned parcels that are on a block that is partly and privately owned. The historic homes along Blount Street and Person Street may become surrounded by three, four or five story buildings.

Several years ago the General Assembly passed a law exempting State-owned lands from Raleigh zoning. The remapping has no impact on this law or on State-owned land near Oakwood.

(13)An unfortunate outcome may be the result of rezoning what was R–20 to mixed use. If there is to be no more R–20 as strict residential, then it may be better to rezone to be strictly residential and have later hearings before the Board of Adjustment to change it if that is warranted or desired.
The R-20 and R-30 zoning districts have been replaced with the RX zoning district. The RX zoning district is intended to accommodate residential density in excess of ten units per acre. As the name implies, it is a mixed use district; although the range and amount of non-residential uses permitted is limited. The non-residential use can only be 15% of the floor area or 3,000 square feet and located in a corner unit at the intersection of two streets. The district does not allow large, stand-alone retail uses. Rather, the intent of the regulations is to permit small retail to serve the residents of an apartment building.

The Board of Adjustment cannot grant variances to use; change to the allowed uses would require a rezoning.

(14)Rezoning parts of Historic Oakwood may result in more teardowns to make room for new development as there is limited open space in the area.

Staff disagrees for the reasons given in prior responses.

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