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Charlotte is Ready for the Test

by Jill Walker

July 3,2004

Charlotte is clearly moving in the right direction with regard to reshaping future
growth patterns. While city planners march to the beat of a cacophonous group of stakeholders, plans are made, policies revised, visions set forth, and another incremental step is taken in our journey towards a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that insures smarter growth, now better known as New Urbanism. But the journey’s progress does seem painstakingly slow.

Consider the efforts made in the last decade or so to influence Charlotte’s development. There were: the ten broad-based District Plans in the early 90s; the Centers and Corridors Vision in ’94; the 2015 and 2025 Transit and Land Use Plans in ’97 and ’98; the twenty-nine different Area Plans (the Center City 2010 Plan, for example) in the 90s and beyond; the fourteen Corridor and Pedscape Plans, some still under construction; the Smart Growth Principles in’01; and, the much anticipated and updated General Development Policies (GDPs) at the end of ’03.

The GDP is the most broad-based plan we have at the moment. Weighing in at a hefty 101 pages, it“seeks to provide guidance or the location, intensity and form of future development and redevelopment throughout the community,” integrating transportation and land-use. According to the GDP, any future development should help further the following community needs and objectives: housing variety, jobs, education, and leisure, protection of nature, and encouragement of a more compact living pattern. The economics of suburban sprawl dictate a very high external cost which is borne by all citizens, many of whom would argue they receive no value for the cost of the new infrastructure. The GDP hopes to advance a more practical, cost effective, pro-environment future for Charlotte.

All of these monumental efforts involved neighbors, developers, architects, traffic engineers, environmentalists and others, and were made with the City’s best interest in mind. They represent the myriad of ways in which we hope and plan to shape our future growth. But the problem is they don’t regulate. Zoning regulates. Zoning is where the buck stops.

Since our zoning codes are not in sync with our plans, visions and policies, many decisions regarding Charlotte’s future development are made case by case. Each conditional rezoning request made by a developer, and there are many, must go before City Council; a complicated process that oftentimes favors the savvy developers over the naïve neighbors who oppose their project. This is an inefficient, cumbersome and necessarily political way for our City’s growth to progress.

City planners have done enough homework. We all basically understand what makes a city and its neighborhoods a great place to live. Now is the time for the test. It is time to give our zoning codes a new set of teeth.

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