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Mobuchu

Charlotte Planning Dept. - Changes needed!

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Lately I've been thinking about this, especially since it appears we may have made it past the bottom of the sine wave that is our economy. Charlotte had a huge growth period in development over the last half decade bringing with it transit and a desire for a more urban environment. Unfortunetly, we've had endless threads on here with complaints of how wrong developers get it! Circle, Metropolitan, Elizabeth, Epicentre, Ashton, Central 27....whats next? All of these were great ideas that could have turned out great but ended up with countless blunders. Soon, we will have another growth period, what will it look like?

While we always beotch and complain about the developer, the fault doesn't lie entirely on them. This has been said and discussed in the past, but our planning dept. doesn't appear to have the balls to stand up to developers, or the foresight to fix an old way of thinking. This is suppose to be a city, a metropolitan area of over 2mil people, but we still get 6' sidewalks a 1/2 mile from downtown, blank walls a block from the square, and suburban development next to transit stations! Not all, but many developers are inexperienced and are just out to make a buck. Gazi, being the first one that comes to mind. I had high hopes for the Epicentre, and while the idea turned out great, the execution didn't. We got an entertainment block, that most patrons think is the best thing since sliced bread, but we all know how much better it could have turned out... I think this goes to the heart of our planning dept and the zoning codes we have in place. Until the Planning dept. makes changes, we will once again get blank EIFS walls, and car oriented development in the next cycle and for years to come.

Form based zoning has been brought up in the past by some of our members, and since I didn't know much about it, i did a little research. This is long, I know... but when you get the chance, take a look at this video of a presentation given in Raleigh 2 years ago.

http://www.formbasedcodes.org/lecture1.html

It's about an hour long with a 20min Q&A after.

I don't know how long something like this would take to implement, or what the cost would be, but form based zoning (if done right), appears to be exactly what Charlotte needs. Utilities, parking requirements, sidewalks, setbacks, facade materials, lot lines, etc, are all part of urban planning 101 that seems to be completely passed over in the current system. It's about time this city started doing things right, and starts to learn from our past. The plannig dept. needs to be able to say "NO" to developers and businesses, and take back control of what our city will look like in 50 years.

Not all of the city could change zoning at once, but having districts like Southend, Elizabeth, Second and Third Wards would be a great place to start. Not to mention our "centers and corridors".

So here's the questions for the thread:

What can we as citizens and tax payers do to make changes???

Will form based zoning work? Is it economically feasible? Politically possible?

Where could we start?

Do we need to start a metro wide planning dept?

How about a moratorium on development until something is implemented? "Wedges", suburbs, etc.

Does the current staff have the ability and foresight to make changes?

Here's a link to the Charlotte planning Dept.

http://www.charmeck.org/Departments/Planning/Home.htm

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I'll probably comment more on this later, but I want to counter that its not a lack of balls by the planning department, its that their leading urban minded developers towards Planning's suburban utopian vision.

I can provide countless examples but here are a few:

Bojangles in Midtown - City vetoed Bojangles being located at the corner with parking in the rear. Required a costly rezoning, and Bojangles said "what do you want us to build". What you see is what planning wanted.

Winter Elizabeth - These apartments planned for 7th St were envisioned by the developer to include retail. The problem is the city is making the parking requirements for the retail meet suburban standards, and the economics don't work. The developer can't count street parking. The developer also tried to do a stand-alone/adjacent retail building with an urban orientation. Planning nixed the idea.

Crosland Greens - The developer asked for the option of having no planting strip along a portion of South and I believe Scaleybark. The developer wanted the option of putting trees in planters, and having the sidewalk to the back of the curb. Planning said no. I could elaborate on this example, but I don't want to step on people's toes. I'll just leave it at, planning prefers the aesthetics and maintenance of planting strips, as opposed to trees in planters and wider sidewalks.

Stonewall/Caldwell - Planting strips, planting strips, planting strips!!! Why? A city designed/funded/eveything project.

There are so many more that its depressing.

I really regret that the Chamber trip to Boston was postponed, and hope that the whole planning department is sent as well (that won't happen). It truly is depressing (Boston has something similar to form based zoning by the way).

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I'll probably comment more on this later, but I want to counter that its not a lack of balls by the planning department, its that their leading urban minded developers towards Planning's suburban utopian vision.

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Mo, I'm glad you did some research on this. Form-based codes are the future for American cities. It's just a matter of time. I encourage all of you to do your research on form-based codes. They are a much better way of looking at the construction of our cities and preserving the hinterlands for future generations. They also push the notion of compact urbanism. For those of you who want to see a good example of form based code, take look at the Urban Code that my home town of Spartanburg is looking to adopt for its CBD area. If adopted, Spartanburg would be the largest city in South Carolina with form-based codes (and probably one of the larger cities in the South).

Form based codes, unfortunately, don't fit in the suburban paradigm. The whole concept of Euclidean Zoning that resulted in suburbia is based on the premise of separating land uses, and form-based codes are the exact opposite of that. Right now, Charlotte is trying to force mixed uses into something that isn't designed to handle it, and IMO that's where the breakdown happens. That's at least partially why we get these projects that are good conceptually but just don't pan out in the end. Form based codes look at regulating what more progressive Euclidean zoning ordinances are actually trying to accomplish.

One of the things that I have to keep telling myself is that Charlotte is 90% suburban. I think those of us who live in the urban core tend to forget how the majority lives. Our urban core and central neighborhoods comprise maybe 100,000 people... the other half million people in the city live in a suburban utopia. I had the esteemed privilege of driving out 74 past Monroe a week or so ago. It was my first trip out there. I personally don't understand how people do that crap on a daily basis, but like I said, that is the world that most people know and love and complain about.

Believe it or not, Charlotte's Planning Department is viewed as one of the more progressive planning departments in the region. The TOD zoning that was developed for the station areas has received national praise. The Centers Corridors and Wedges from framework is hailed as one of the best examples of combining transportation and land use planning in the nation. So, as much as we complain, there are other cities out there that are envious of the planning being done in Charlotte.

Something that has not been said on here, possibly ever, is that the Planning Department is not city staff making decisions with no direction. They are following rules as best they can. It's not staff that is the problem, it's City Council and to some extent the upper management within the city for not making recommendations to Council to improve the processes under which staff operates. These policies, processes and practices do not line up very well. For example, the CC&W growth framework calls for limiting higher density developments in wedges, yet the planning department doesn't use that map to make decisions (at least not that I can tell). They use the General Development Policies (GDP's) to determine if a development is suitable for an area. Often you will see that high density developments are approved in wedges.

I think it would be next to impossible to adopt a form based code in less than 5 years because Charlotte is such a large city. Politics would likely make it even longer. I think that your idea to adopt form based codes in districts (like Uptown, South End, etc) is more practical, and would likely get more support politically. It's always a good idea to talk to your council representation and the mayor about what you want to see. Believe it or not, they do listen.

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Developers aren't off the hook either. They fight changes to the development policies in this city that would make the types of changes we all want to see. It's mostly behind the scenes, so I don't have an over abundance of examples to share. But rest assured it happens, and they are quite good at it.

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Something to think about- how will the recession change the future of cities? As suburbia's land values tanked, the walkable urban neighborhoods held strong if not gained land values. I come across articles that discuss this phenomenon on a regular basis. Here is a more recent one. So as Charlotte's suburban areas are abandoned and left to rot (see subdivisions like Windy Ridge and Peachtree Hills) what becomes of them? Many people are predicting an inverse of the suburban-(aka white) flight. If/when this happens, we need to be prepared for the redevelopment of our old neighborhoods and urban centers into something more walkable and transit accessible. Just something to think about.

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Something that has not been said on here, possibly ever, is that the Planning Department is not city staff making decisions with no direction. They are following rules as best they can. It's not staff that is the problem, it's City Council and to some extent the upper management within the city for not making recommendations to Council to improve the processes under which staff operates. These policies, processes and practices do not line up very well. For example, the CC&W growth framework calls for limiting higher density developments in wedges, yet the planning department doesn't use that map to make decisions (at least not that I can tell). They use the General Development Policies (GDP's) to determine if a development is suitable for an area. Often you will see that high density developments are approved in wedges.

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I think it would be next to impossible to adopt a form based code in less than 5 years because Charlotte is such a large city. Politics would likely make it even longer. I think that your idea to adopt form based codes in districts (like Uptown, South End, etc) is more practical, and would likely get more support politically. It's always a good idea to talk to your council representation and the mayor about what you want to see. Believe it or not, they do listen.

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There's no reason we can't, it will just be difficult.

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There's no reason Charlotte can't do this citywide, but that would take considerable time. Can you imagine deciding on the form of buildings, block by block over the entire city and then having to negotiate with property owners and developers over the proposed form of their individual parcels? It would be an incredibly expensive and time consuming task, and perhaps unnecessary for many areas that will not likely redevelop anytime soon (stable single family neighborhoods like Myers Park, Plaza Midwood, Dilworth, etc).

It's best to think of the problem and the desired outcome... more traditional urbanism, improved walkability, vertical mixed use/street retail, attractive streets... and no store front parking, drive thrus, etc. In the near term, the market will dictate that most urban redevelopment will come in areas close to the center city and near transit stations (Uptown, South End, NoDa, Elizabeth, etc), so I'd agree with Spartan that if you do it, implementing a form based code in select areas of the city like these is the best way to go, because the issues (legal and otherwise) can be unwieldy and complex.

There have been mixed results in implementing form based codes in other medium-large cities. Denver is well on it's way to adopting one citywide (not there yet), while Miami's council recently nixed their proposed code, "Miami 21."

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There's no reason Charlotte can't do this citywide, but that would take considerable time. Can you imagine deciding on the form of buildings, block by block over the entire city and then having to negotiate with property owners and developers over the proposed form of their individual parcels? It would be an incredibly expensive and time consuming task, and perhaps unnecessary for many areas that will not likely redevelop anytime soon (stable single family neighborhoods like Myers Park, Plaza Midwood, Dilworth, etc).

It's best to think of the problem and the desired outcome... more traditional urbanism, improved walkability, vertical mixed use/street retail, attractive streets... and no store front parking, drive thrus, etc. In the near term, the market will dictate that most urban redevelopment will come in areas close to the center city and near transit stations (Uptown, South End, NoDa, Elizabeth, etc), so I'd agree with Spartan that if you do it, implementing a form based code in select areas of the city like these is the best way to go, because the issues (legal and otherwise) can be unwieldy and complex.

There have been mixed results in implementing form based codes in other medium-large cities. Denver is well on it's way to adopting one citywide (not there yet), while Miami's council recently nixed their proposed code, "Miami 21."

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That's why the idea of starting with the uptown districts and working out is appealing.

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I'm sure changing the code city wide would be next to impossible. But like others have said, starting in districts and neighborhoods that are ripe for an urban landscape would be a good place to start. The city and planning dept. have already done design studies and master plans on many corridors and neighborhoods. Starting with these would seem to be the easiest route to go.

Brevard Street Urban Design Plan

2nd Ward Neighborhood Master Plan

West Morehead Corridor Plan

Third Ward Neighborhood Plan

7th Street

Etc. Granted, much of this is out of date, but these would be great areas to start.

There have been mixed results in implementing form based codes in other medium-large cities. Denver is well on it's way to adopting one citywide (not there yet), while Miami's council recently nixed their proposed code, "Miami 21."

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