Zoning requests granted and denied, text changes, updates to action items and emerging issues form the bulk of Raleigh’s first annual report on the 2020 Comprehensive Plan. Although it was adopted in November 2009 after an extensive two-year public participation process, an investment of $600,000 in consulting fees and substantial staff labor, changes are to be expected in any municipal plan and Raleigh’s is no exception.
City planners Mitch Silver, left, and Ken Bowers discuss the comprehensive plan with the council in 2009. Photo by Charles C> Duncan Pardo.
The nation’s first comprehensive plans dealt with public health concerns such as trash and sewage, but modern plans establish policies and plans that guide land uses for everything from residential and commercial activities to education and recreation.
The plan established zoning, but when people or businesses want to deviate from the planned activity, they submit requests for planning commission review. Last year, 24 zoning requests were submitted; one third was withdrawn before the required public hearing, thirteen were granted and three are still pending.
The thirteen approved requests include nine deemed consistent with policy guidance and future land uses and four that were not found consistent. Of the four, three requested a change from low density residential zoning to retail zoning and one requested rezoning from low-intensity retail to more intense retail.
The three changes are now classified as “conditional use districts,” a term that describes a zoning district to which additional conditions have been attached. Crosslink Road, Ridgewood Shopping Center and the intersection of Lake Wheeler and Kirkland roads now boast CUD titles as a result of the rezoning requests granted.
Comprehensive plan are designed with future refinement in mind. Some text changes update, correct or fill in blanks unintentionally created in the planning process. Text changes also note completed actions, current issues of concern and future trends.
Of the eleven text changes proposed, nine were approved, one was denied and one is still pending. The denied change pertained to floodplain management. The pending change deals with reservoir watersheds. Of the nine changes approved, six were found consistent with the existing plan, two were judged partially consistent and the remaining item, stormwater, was approved but no action was taken. Because stormwater is an ongoing item, the topic will be reviewed again this year.
New trends may lead to changes in the plan text, policies or create new action items. Four major issues were noted: return-on-investment, lifecycle housing, local food systems and health impact assessment.
A number of municipal investments are planned, but staff suggests analyzing the returns on investment can be used to better prioritize future projects. Job creation, increasing the tax base and revitalizing key areas are three factors that may be taken into account in the future.
Lifecycle housing deals with development that allows aging in place by providing a range of housing – apartments, starter homes, condos and assisted living facilities – in one community. The goal is for residents to find housing suitable for all life stages without leaving their neighborhoods. The current plan does not reflect this goal, but future actions may change regulations to encourage this type of development.
Local food systems reduce demand on the environment promote economic activity and have become very popular. The current plans provide for community gardening, but staff suggests the scope be widened to include urban agriculture.
Health impact assessments deal with the relationship between health and the built environment. The city staff plans to research the topic and present their findings later this year.
Policies provide guidance that lead to action items which implement policy. Divided into short (1-2 year), mid (3-5 years), long (6-10 years) and ongoing (no set start or end time), the city’s list of action items notes the responsible agency, type of actions, the need for city funds and the status of each action.
There annual report lists 316 short-term actions. So far, the city has completed seven. More than 100 of the 205 actions in progress relate to the proposed Unified Development Ordinance currently under development and two (stream buffer acquisition and floodplain regulations) were rejected by the city council.
Action items can be influenced by changing municipal priorities or factors outside municipal control like regulatory changes, economics and the environment. One action, to explore the possibility of large-scale community composting, was recommended for removal because state regulation changes would render the effort cost-prohibitive. Another action, “stream buffer acquisition,” will change the responsible agency from Parks and Recreation to the city’s Stormwater Utility division.
Six of the short-term action items have status updates that refer to capital funding. Funds may not be needed for planning, but funds may be needed later for implementation. The six actions range from downtown infrastructure and the police training center to a greenway plan update, a study on identifying conservation lands and organizing a sustainable practice development program.
Other actions reflect changes noted by trends, such as the desire to promote local food systems. The change would expand the current scope beyond community gardens to include larger, local food systems, examine current regulations and amend them where necessary to promote more local food activities.
Changes to the 2030 Plan are both expected and anticipated. Ideal municipal planning documents, according to what city planners said during the process of creating the plan last year, are rigid enough to ensure commonly agreed upon goals are reached, yet elastic enough to respond to changes in regulations, the environment and population, to name a few factors.
To provide input on hoped-for changes or learn about zoning changes in your area, contact your local Citizens Advisory Council or attend a special joint hearing of the City Council and Planning Commission. They are held four times a year (in January, April, July and October) to review all rezoning requests.