4 Unified Development Ordinance
A critical step in implementing any Comprehensive Plan is updating the corresponding municipal codes. This includes updating the community’s zoning code, but also has important implications for many other aspects of the code. Unlike many other communities, Charlotte has not waited for the Comprehensive Plan to be complete before beginning its update to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The typical sequencing of code updates coming on the heels of a new Comprehensive Plan typically leads to a two to four year lag between the adoption of the community’s primary guiding policy document and the enactment of a new or updated municipal code to implement it. This section highlights Charlotte’s unique approach overlapping and coordinating these efforts and summarizes the path forward to completing the UDO update.
The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is the regulatory tool that will shape future development so it results in the type of complete communities and places defined by the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan goals and policies. The UDO is also instrumental in implementing other City policies that will nest under the Comprehensive Plan’s overarching guidance such as Charlotte Moves, the Urban Street Design Guidelines, the Strategic Energy Action Plan, the Urban Forestry Master Plan, and the Tree Canopy Action Plan.
Zoning is a regulatory tool used by local governments to control the physical development of land and the types of land uses that may be put on individual properties; it is a primary regulatory tool for governing building and development. The purpose of zoning regulations is to implement local land development polices expressed in adopted plans and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the larger community. Zoning regulations are found in the Zoning Ordinance. The ordinance defines a number of zoning districts that are used within a community. The official Zoning Map identifies the zoning district for each property. When a zoning ordinance is combined with other development-related ordinances (ex. subdivision, tree, and stormwater), this document is typically called a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
In Charlotte, regulations and standards from eight (8) different development ordinances will be combined into a single comprehensive document. The UDO will consolidate and update regulations and standards currently found in the City’s Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Ordinance, Tree Ordinance, Chapter 19 (Streets and Sidewalks), Floodplain Regulations, Erosion Control Regulations, Stormwater Regulations, and Driveway/Access Standards.
The update effort is reliant on the input of the Unified Development Ordinance Advisory Committee (OAC). The OAC is a volunteer committee composed of individuals representing neighborhood and sustainability interests as well as design and development professionals. OAC members provide a wide range of technical expertise and community perspectives. The committee’s primary role is to provide advice and feedback, helping City staff and consultant teams evaluate and test elements of the UDO prior to their inclusion in the draft.
A few short-term initiatives have been completed ahead of the full UDO update. These include revised Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zoning districts and the subsequent rezoning of over 1,500 parcels along the Blue Line light rail corridor to one of the new TOD zoning districts (TOD Alignment Rezoning No. 2019-102). The revised TOD zoning districts were approved and adopted in April 2019 and most recently amended in June 2020.
In addition, new Sign Regulations (Chapter 13) were approved in October 2019, and are now being refined through Rezoning #2020-104. Further, a small but significant text amendment was approved to the Tree Ordinance, focused on allowing better integration of trees into urban sites.
A Tree Canopy Action Plan (TCAP) is now being prepared by staff and community stakeholders. This plan will lay the foundation for a more comprehensive assessment and update of Charlotte’s tree-related policies and regulations.
Leading up to and following the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan’s adoption, the City’s UDO team is working with the OAC to develop the various components of the Unified Development Ordinance, which will serve as a primary implementation tool for the Comprehensive Plan. The first public draft of the complete UDO will be available in the second half of Summer 2021.
Zoning District Mapping
After the adoption of the updated Zoning Ordinance as part of the UDO update and after the completion of Future Place Type mapping as the first step in the Community Area Planning approach, the necessary tools and information will be ready to map the new zoning districts. As stated previously, Place Types will provide a strong indication of the community’s desire for an area, but the palette of Place Types is not nuanced enough to facilitate a one-to-one mapping of a particular Zoning District to each Place Type. With that said, the Zoning Districts are being crafted help the community realize the aspirational characteristics of Place Types and as such, Place Types will narrow the potential set of Zoning Districts that are applicable to an area. In other words, an area that is mapped as a particular Place Type can then consider a smaller set of potential Zoning Districts. The correct Zoning District for a particular property will be dependent on existing conditions and context, location considerations (e.g., adjacencies to other Places or Zoning Districts, proximity to transit, frontage on a major arterial, access to an interchange), market readiness, and other temporal considerations (e.g., facilitating more gradual change over time).
Changes to existing zoning (mapping of new Zoning Districts and adoption of new designations) will be implemented in a transparent public process that will include informational meetings, conversations with property owners, neighborhoods, and other interested parties, public hearings, and a final decision by the Charlotte City Council. The recommended zoning district for each parcel will be identified using the Future Place Types Map and a set of criteria developed by Charlotte Planning, Design and Development for each district. These criteria will be outlined in a Rezoning Guide as part of the UDO update.
While the City is making significant strides in updating its Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and aligning regulation with policy, it will be necessary to revisit the UDO moving forward. In part, this is due to the extent of the revisions and new content included in the UDO update. Although the writing of ordinances is based on best practices and includes aspects uniquely Charlotte, a process of observation and evaluation will likely result in corrections and adjustments in the form of amendments to the UDO. In addition, the Comprehensive Plan sets a 20-year vision and it will not be achieved over night. A number of the recommendations in the Plan’s Policy Framework have been identified as medium-term (5-10 years) and long-term (11-20 years), including several that will likely require amendments to the UDO. Therefore, while the current UDO update will be largest in the foreseeable future, it is most definitely not that last as the community adapts to how the updated UDO is interpreted and utilized and responds to changing trends, preferences and advances over the course of two decades.