New zoning code will not require affordable housing

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The new zoning code, or Unified Development Ordinance in planner parlance, will not require builders to include affordable housing units in new developments.

The city decided several years ago to rewrite the entire zoning code after finishing the comprehensive plan, which set the vision for the city looking out 20 years. Consultants working with the planning department hope to have a draft ready for public review in the beginning of next year. And they hope to have it approved before the next city council election in fall 2011.

Consultants from Code Studio have been working with the planning department, citizen groups, planning commission and city council to develop the draft.

One of the key issues that consultant Lee Einsweiter brought before council Tuesday night was whether or not to ask the state legislature for permission to require affordable housing units in new developments.

Councilor Thomas Crowder argued that the city should try to require what he called “mixed-income units” to be included in new building projects.

“We’re the capital city, we should take the lead on something like this,” Crowder said.

Mayor Charles Meeker argued that the authority would be difficult to get from state legislators. The city, Meeker said, should not base all the work on the new code on the assumption that they’ll get permission from the General Assembly to mandate affordable housing.

Meeker said the city should provide incentives and public investment to get affordable housing inside city limits.

Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, the council’s legislative liaison, said she thought the General Assembly had already come out against the idea of requiring affordable housing.

When the legislature gave Triangle counties the ability to vote on a half-cent sales tax for public transit, it rejected the idea of requiring affordable housing near transit stops, Baldwin said.

Meeker and councilor Bonner Gaylord said that if the city wanted to ask for the authority, it would have to be a regional plan. Otherwise, they argued, developers would take their money outside the city where the restrictions did not apply.

Council voted down the inclusionary zoning idea 3-5, with Crowder, Nancy McFarlane and Russ Stephenson voting against. The decision is in line with what council decided about affordable housing incentives in the comprehensive plan last year.

Mother in Law apartments

Accessory dwelling units is planner speak for mother-in-law apartments, granny flats, or where that college kid lives above the garage. And they happen to be severely restricted in the city.

Currently, accessory units are only allowed when they’re attached to the main house. They can’t be above the garage or as standalone buildings out back.

Consultant Einsweiter told council that that needs to change. He said this is one of the easiest ways to create affordable housing inside the beltline.

Council did not vote on the accessory dwelling units idea, but Einweiter said that he felt there was a consensus among the groups working on the new code to change this rule.

Einsweiter said he would include a proposal in the new code to loosen this regulation.


Council voted 7-1 in favor of asking the General Assembly for changes to the tree protection ordinance. Current law says that the city can only create a small strip, what the planners call a boundary buffer, around developments to protect trees.

Einsweiter called this tree protection law “silly.” He argued that the city should seek authority to “think more seriously about trees, the quality of trees and habitat protection.”

Council liked his idea and gave it the green light Tuesday night. Only John Odom voted against.

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