UDO Day 17: Overlay, Ole!

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The Raleigh planning department released its draft Unified Development Ordinance April 6. The public has until June 6 to make comments before a public hearing June 7. In order to understand what’s in this new zoning code, the Record is reading it cover to cover and will be writing about what we find six days a week.

Overlay districts are nothing new in Raleigh. Chapter 5 of the new Unified Development Ordinance more or less takes the same overlays districts from the old code and puts them in one place. An overlay essentially makes it easier for the city to take an expanded set of rules and place them on one district, for example around an airport or a highway, or to preserve the historic character of a neighborhood.

There is one big piece missing from Chapter 5 — the Transit Oriented Development district. Christine Darges with the city’s planning department said this text could be released by the end of this week. We will cover that topic when we get the materials, but for now, it’s just a blank page.

The big addition that we do have for overlays is the Limited Historic Overlay District, otherwise known as HOD-2.

Darges said, “Right now we have a jump from neighborhood conservation up to full [Historic Overlay District] and the HOD-2 is going to provide some more gradual transition as far as regulation.”

So let’s work with what we do have. Darges said that aside from the transit district, “There isn’t much change.”

Here’s a breakdown of the overlay districts:

Airport Overlay

This is exactly what it sounds like, for airports. Can’t have residences, hospitals, churches, any of those things. It’s really just an airport and all the facilities that go into a big facility like RDU.

Metro-Park Overlay

No buildings or driveways allowed within 20 feet of a park in this district, and buildings within 1,000 feet have a 45-foot height limit.

Reservoir Watershed Protection Area Overlay

Developments in this district have to limit impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, and meet requirements for tree cover. The new code could also require stormwater retention ponds in the district.

Urban Water Supply Watershed Protection Area Overlay

This district is essentially the same as the reservoir district, but tailored for a more urban setting. See pages 8-13 in Chapter 5 for more details than you could ever want.

Special Highway Overlay

The two highway districts in this overlay provide for a buffer, with trees and shrubs or a wall between major thoroughfares and adjacent neighborhoods.

Historic Overlay

From the code: “The Historic Overlay District is intended to preserve the historic significance of properties that are formally designated by the city. Locally designated historic districts are places that contain a substantial percentage of properties that are found to be “contributing” in a survey of cultural resources. The Historic Overlay District seeks to preserve the overall historic character of the district, as well as the key, character-defining details of each of the contributing resources, and to assure that new construction is compatible with this historic context.”

The city’s Historic Districts Commission governs much of what can and can’t happen in one of these districts, from building an addition on a house to planting a new row of bushes along a property line.

Limited Historic Overlay

This new district designation is not a strict as the traditional historic overlay and is meant to be a middle ground between the limited protections of neighborhood conservation and the stringent rules for HODs.

From the UDO: “The focus is on maintaining that character and on preserving those key character-defining features of individual historic resources within the district, as seen from the adjacent public way.”

Property owners will still have to apply to the Historic Districts Commission for anything that would change the way a building looks from the street, such as moving trees or painting a house a new color.

Neighborhood Conservation Overlay

In this district, the city can set guidelines for what are called “neighborhood characteristics.” One the city sets those guidelines, any new developments, such as putting a new home in an empty lot, has to meet those standards set district by district.

Tuesday, we will start digging into Chapter 6. It’s a big one. The title: Use Regulations. Sounds like a lot, but we will get through it. And we will come back to transit overlays when the city releases that additional information.

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