City Council committee eager to close development loopholes

Mixed and affordable housing

This week, the Transportation, Planning, and Development Committee held their May meeting. They discussed CATS updates and text amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). Couldn’t make the meeting? Here’s a recap! 

Key takeaways 

  • Planning staff recommends City Council adopt a text amendment this month to close a loophole in the current Conservation Development standards. 
  • A second text amendment called Compact Development, set for June adoption, could capture the current market for small lot housing units.
  • A third text amendment (that is still being researched) could address infill development and right-size housing diversity and location.
  • The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) financial oversight review of CATS did not find any significant financial problems (called “material weaknesses”).
  • Lovin’ Life Music Festival was a great success for CATS with a 50% increase in ridership over the 3-day weekend. 


UDO Text Amendments

Planning Director Alyson Craig gave a brief presentation about three upcoming text amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). During the meeting, Craig referred to the text amendments as “phases”, but she assured committee members that the terms “phase” and “text amendment” are interchangeable.

To set the scene, Craig shared some numbers about Neighborhood 1 zoning (N1) in Charlotte and the extra-jurisdictional areas (ETJ – i.e. unincorporated areas within the county where Charlotte’s zoning rules apply).

  • 11,300 acres in the City and ETJ zoned for N1 are more than 2 acres. 55% of those are in the city limits and 45% are in the ETJ.
  • 24% of those 11,300 acres are within the Critical and Protected Watershed OR Airport Noise Overlay Districts.
  • Since the UDO went into effect on July 1, 2023, 8,844 N1 housing units have been submitted by-right and 5,574 of those are sketch plans (not ready to be approved).

Phase 1: Conservation Development

In short, this type of development is currently being used by developers as a loophole to create a large quantity of housing that is often low-quality construction without providing usable open space and public street access to the housing units. This pattern fails to meet the original intention of this type of development. 94% of these units are in north, west, and east Charlotte as well as the ETJ, and a large majority are not near centers or transit corridors.

This proposed text amendment would tighten restrictions to require an additional 15% of tree save/open space (total of 40%), increase standards of open space, and require lots to front public streets so CDOT and emergency services can properly service the development. 

Developers who commit to building affordable housing can now benefit from a new addition to the text amendment. Under the new rules, if 50% of a development qualifies as affordable housing, the district lot standards can be moved up to two spots. For instance, N1-A sites can use N1-C lot standards. This means that developers can build more units in the same allotted space if they agree to include affordable housing in their developments.

In most cities, Conservation Development is not intended to be the primary development pattern. It normally makes up 5-15% of development, with Compact Development (Phase 2) being the primary development type (60-75%).

UDO changes by the numbers

Phase 2: Compact Development

This text amendment intends to capture the market for smaller lot sizes in new subdivisions. It will also help boost the housing supply, similar to the pre-UDO Cluster Development standard. Planning staff are recommending that this type of development be allowed everywhere except Protected & Critical Watersheds and the Airport Noise Overlay. 

If completed as intended, Compact Development will assuage developers who are currently using the Conservation Development loophole.

Conservation standards

Phase 3: Residential Supply

This final text amendment, intended to take place in the fall, will respond to infill development. The purpose is to right-size housing diversity and locations and offer another housing tool. It may also introduce quadruplexes to the housing diversity discussion. More information will be shared with city council after staff have had a chance to conduct more research and engage with the public.

Proposed UDO text amendment


Both staff and the Transportation, Planning, and Development Committee recommended the following schedule for the three phases.

Phase 1: City Council decision on May 20

Phase 2: Staff will file the amendment the week of May 13 with an anticipated City Council decision on June 24

Phase 3: Staff will spend the summer conducting research and engaging the public about infill development before a potential City Council decision in the fall.

TPD Committee’s take

Council Member (CM) Molina: Why did the Zoning Committee defer the Phase 1 amendment?

Response from Zoning Committee Chair: There were concerns about affecting the market forces and reducing the number of available units. The committee also believes the three phases should work simultaneously. Lastly, the committee thinks that quantity of units is more important right now than quality. People can choose for themselves since they are adults.

Response from Craig: Every month that we delay is putting more burden on people. We don’t want to be developing in a way where developers aren’t held accountable.

CM Watlington: Government is here to affect market forces. Concerned that the zoning committee’s perspective on this doesn’t align with the UDO. We need to trust that the process will allow us to make necessary adjustments in Phase 3. 

CM Graham: The faster we can provide certainty that the housing quality will be good, the better. The UDO isn’t really about today; it’s about 20 years from now. We need to be willing to fight through the pain of change.

CM Driggs: Doesn’t appreciate that the development community has piled onto the Conservation Development loophole. It is clear that those proposed developments do not align with the intent of the standard. Agree with CM Watlington that we should care about the quality of housing developments and doesn’t think special rules are necessary for the ETJ. The ETJ will see the changes they are asking for when these text amendments are put in place.

Craig: The sooner that a decision is made, the sooner the development community has to adhere to the new standards. If the decision on Phase 1 is made in May, there are roughly 5,500 sketch plans that will not move forward and will have to adhere to the Compact Development standards in June.

Sustain Charlotte’s Take

As a member of the UDO Advisory Committee (UAC), we have been working closely with the planning staff to maintain the availability of diverse housing options in Charlotte. We aim to prevent the exclusion of “missing middle” housing from the UDO and identify more opportunities for affordable housing. We are committed to pursuing these goals while adhering to smart growth principles. We value the collaborative efforts of all parties involved in this vital process. 

We currently support the changes for the first text amendment, also known as Phase 1. The conservation resident development option has been overused to maximize the number of housing units while using poorly designed layouts. The intended purpose of a conservation option is to develop  very challenging sites with flood plains, topographic issues, or large segments of heritage trees.

Poor design is not a viable solution in the long run. While it may seem like it can lead to more affordable housing, it conceals the actual cost of living and infrastructure liabilities.

CATS Update

This past weekend was the Lovin’ Life Music Festival in Uptown Charlotte. CATS added trains to the light rail and ran express buses in the evenings to help move an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 passengers. With up to 3500 CATS passes sold and a 50% increase in ridership, CATS had a very successful weekend.

Interim CATS CEO Brent Cagle also shared that the FTA financial oversight review is now complete. The FTA found no material weaknesses in CATS’ financial operations and had only four minor findings which CATS is working to rectify in the allotted 90-day period. CATS is happy with the outcome of this review and will report on the operational review when it is available.

Council members Johnson and Graham asked Cagle for an update about the recent decision by the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) to defer approving the CATS operational budget. Cagle clarified that the deferment is due to ongoing conversations between the towns about the interlocal agreement. Conversations are going well, and MTC members should vote on the operational budget during the May meeting in time for City Council to approve the budget in early June.

You can watch the meeting recording here and view the agenda here.

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