Changes ahead for rezoning process

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The Raleigh City Council will hold public hearings on two new text changes to the zoning code Tuesday evening. The first will bring the city into compliance with a new state law that requires quasi-judicial hearings for rezoning appeals. The second could shorten the time for rezoning cases and limit the conditions the planning commission could put on new developments.

New development plan review process

Last year the general assembly passed a law that changes the way municipalities handle zoning appeals. To comply with the new law, which went in effect at the beginning of the year, the city will have to set up what the law calls a quasi-judicial process. Zoning appeals to council will be handled more like court cases: testimony will be given under oath and only experts will be able to give evidence on traffic and property values.

In an informational session this week, the planning department’s Ken Bowers said the city is in “a precarious position” because many of the city’s zoning regulations don’t comply with the new state law.

The new text change, if approved as written, will give more final approval power to the planning commission. If a rezoning passes with 75 percent of the commission, it will not have to go to council unless it’s appealed. But the new rule will also mean that developers will have to wait for the 30-day appeal window to end before starting work on approved projects.

To new regulations will effect preliminary development plans for infill projects and subdivisions, mixed-use master plans and site plans.

When planning commission decisions are appealed to council, the process will start over because anything coming out of the commission was not given under oath.

Bowers said that even simple appeals can take several hours for city council to hear. “The council will be absolutely overwhelmed if it has to review two or three site plans each meeting,” Bowers said.

Rezoning review changes

The second text change of the year deals with how the planning commission deals with rezoning petitions. The one item in this text change that has gotten the most attention is taking the power to put conditions on what kind of building materials developers must use.

The text change also recommends taking several other conditions away from the approval process: the future sale or marketing of the property; right-of-way reimbursement values; prohibitions of cross access or public street connections; limitations on the hours of refuse collection; submittal of traffic analysis and site plan renderings or images.

Also up for review is how many times developers can submit changes to the conditions. The proposed text change gives a rigid schedule for when developers can submit changes to conditions. The planning department’s Gregg Hallam said recently in an informational session on the proposal that the new rule is meant to counteract the current situation where developers can submit several changes per week through the approval process.

The proposal also shortens the time for planning commission to consider most rezoning petitions from 120 days to 90 days. It also says city council can only give one 45-day extension.

The hearings for the two text changes will be Tuesday at 6:30 in the council chambers at 222 Hargett Street. Read the full-text amendments and the city’s descriptions here.

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