City planners recently released an updated draft of the new zoning code. The new document has lots of changes and this article is Part Two of a three-part series to explain those changes. Read Part One or read our previous coverage and explanations of the Unified Development Ordinance.
Raleigh city planners are rewriting the entire zoning code and creating what’s called the Unified Development Ordinance. Using the 2030 Comprehensive Plan as a guide, planners are updating the code and changing the way new developments receive city approval.
UDO Project Manager Christine Darges sat down with the Record to help us put this complicated document into English.
As a reaction to changing times, the UDO will increase parking requirements for apartments and townhouses.
The current code requires about one parking space less per bedroom, but that standard isn’t realistic today when household sizes are expanding. More adults are taking in their elderly parents and adult children are moving back home after completing college.
Darges explained that the minimum requirement would be increased by about one, so that a three-bedroom townhouse would be allowed three or four spaces. Parking requirements for single-family homes and duplexes was also increased from one to two. This should also help with issues stemming from student housing and front-yard parking, Darges said.
New Places to Put People
While cottage courts aren’t generally found in Raleigh, the updated draft expanded their use from what’s known in zoning terms as Residential 10 to Residential 6. Cottage courts are small single-family homes clustered on a shared piece of property, similar to a detached condominium. They will now be allowed in areas zoned for six living spaces per acre.
The change stemmed from a request by WakeUp Wake County to add more housing options as it transitions from lower density and higher density between Residential 4 and Residential 10, Darges said.
If a parent has a child moving back home after college, it could be possible to build a backyard cottage. The cottages would be limited to two occupants. The old draft didn’t have an occupancy limit and the distance from the property line was increased from 5 feet to 10 feet.
The new draft also tightens up infill standards so that there is more of a conformity requirement. For example, if a developer wanted to build a new house on a piece of open property in an existing neighborhood, the developer would be required to design the home so that it complements the other homes.
“We’re trying to create a situation where a new home in a built-out neighborhood would look like it always fit in,” Darges said.
More People, More Cars
The new code also increases the options for garages, driveways and home access for multi-family housing. For example, in the current code and in the old draft, townhouses could only be accessed from the back.
“We felt it was too restrictive,” Darges said.
In the new draft there will be about five options for developers to plan where to park cars at townhouses.
Also, while the spaces in a community’s parking lot might be private, the roads to access those spaces will now be public, making them city responsibility. But it would only apply to the streets abutting the units. Interior parking lots would not part of the new rule that eliminates new private streets.
Defining Districts New and Old
While Campus and Planned Development Districts were mentioned in the old draft, Darges said the ideas weren’t finalized or completely developed. Staff has since tightened up those regulations.
Campus districts are primarily used for colleges, schools and hospitals that have the option to submit a master plan for development. In the new code, master plans are required but can be used to have more flexibility with development. The master plan would enable properties such as North Carolina State University to build a customized development.
The Planned Development District is the closest thing the city will get to a form-based code. Form-based codes are strict in how things will be built, where they will be built and what they will look like. Planned Development districts will also have a master plan that will regulate the height, use and design.
The council also has the power to initiate the use of a Planned Development District.
“This gives the city the leverage to take a small area plan and actually make it happen, which is huge for the council if they’ll do it,” Darges said.
Trees are Important, Too
The City of Oaks takes its commitment to tree conservation seriously and that attitude is reflected in the UDO. The most recent draft increased the options for how trees are conserved, particularly in transitions and protective yards.
For example, if someone wanted to put a gas station next to a single-family home, a protective yard would be required. If there are already trees in between the home and the proposed gas station, those trees can be maintained and used toward meeting the protective yard requirements.
In the previous draft, there was no overlap of tree conservation and transitions so those trees could have been torn out, just to be replaced with new ones.
Streets and Sidewalks
Streets take up a large portion of Raleigh, and a large part of the UDO. Darges said staff has redrawn the street standards seven times.
The new UDO will be looking at streets as a whole, and not just the part used by cars. Complete streets include the road and the sidewalk past the property line. The new draft increased the sidewalk from 5 to 6 feet. The tree line will now be in the public part of the sidewalk and not on the property line.
Because of all that, the cross sections in the January draft will be completely different from previously released versions.
The new UDO also amends block standards to increase connectivity to other streets. In other words, say goodbye to dead end streets and cul-de-sacs. While not outlawed completely, the new code will reduce their use. It is possible that any redevelopment done in an area would be required to remove existing cul-de-sacs.
Tell the Neighbors
Finally, the neighborhood notification process will be expanded to include more ways to reach out to neighbors affected by any changes. The notification requirements were different for each kind of development, but the new UDO creates a standardized process.
For rezoning issues, the public hearing will be held at the end of the process rather than the beginning like it is now. Darges said that change gives the community a more complete look at the project because it includes any changes that were made along the way.
Now, unless a resident follows the project from start to finish, the project that is approved could be different than the project that was originally heard at the hearing. The Planning Commission will also play more of a role in engaging the community and craft the applicant’s case.