Charlotte leaders are still grappling to reach a consensus on possible changes to the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan, with the delayed vote now looming just over one month away.
The sweeping document envisions an equitable future for Charlotte in the face of rapid development and population growth.
But after hours of tense discussion about single-family zoning during Monday’s City Council meeting, an exasperated Mayor Vi Lyles asked if Black, brown and white residents could agree on what the American dream looks like in Charlotte.
All Council members had recited a litany of recommendations for modifying the 320-page document, with some urging even more time to research and speak with stakeholders before approving what’s been described as an “aspirational” plan. Their straw votes on Monday paved the way for more discussion, though no formal adjustments were made to the plan itself.
“We have to recognize the diversity in this city — the diversity of opportunity,” Lyles said. “I don’t think I’d want to live in some place —and I’ve visited some places — where there was no diversity, where everybody was the same. And that’s not any good for any of us that really care about the future of this city and the people, the children that are being raised in it.”
The thorniest part of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which would allow duplexes and triplexes in traditionally single-family neighborhoods, has frustrated developers, neighborhood advocates and city residents.
Some fear that proposal could accelerate gentrification and hinder affordable housing efforts, while other groups say it’s a bold solution to curb racial segregation. Based on a straw vote Monday, City Council may instead keep the status quo with zoning policy, scrapping this part of the plan intended to introduce more housing density and affordable units.
Council member Braxton Winston on Monday balked at making any changes to the first draft, which was first presented last October.
“I would like us to adopt this plan as it is written, as expeditiously as possible,” Winston said, criticizing the “intense pressure” from Council members and developers clamoring for an extension. That approach was struck down during straw votes, though.
The plan also delves into 10-minute neighborhoods, mixed-use developments around light rail and other transit corridors, and local jobs and workforce development to spur upward mobility.
In a memo last week to the mayor and Council members, City Manager Marcus Jones said an updated comprehensive plan could limit higher-density housing to certain areas of each community — an idea backed by the Council on Monday through straw votes.
City Planning Director Taiwo Jaiyeoba said the language tweak to allow duplex and triplex housing units “in all place types” — not “on all lots” — in areas with single-family housing “does not necessarily kill that policy.” Those semantics would be ironed out through a separate city document, called the Unified Development Ordinance, to consolidate and update zoning regulations.
“I don’t think we’re getting rid of single-family altogether. That’s not what the (2040) plan proposes,” Council member Malcolm Graham said, urging his colleagues to take a higher-level view of the plan without getting bogged down in technicalities. “Adopting the plan is the easy part. What comes after is the hard part.”
Some city leaders sought reassurance that single-family neighborhoods could continue in Charlotte. But in a fiery speech, Winston warned the Council may only end up perpetuating gentrificationby removing a key part of the comprehensive plan.
“Many of you are not dealing with the actual reality of the folks in your district,” Winston said.
Council member Renee Johnson said she supported some single-family “exclusivity” to let neighborhoods “maintain their character.”
And Council member Ed Driggs, who represents the Ballantyne area, said the focus needs to expand beyond the benefits or drawbacks to vulnerable residents. He asked his colleagues to enact zoning protections for single-family neighborhoods, with new types of housing stock requiring Council oversight.
“There are some places where the duplexes and triplexes just really wouldn’t fit in,” said Driggs, who earlier lamented the City Council was being “shoehorned” into evaluating minor edits to the plan.
Anti-displacement, smart growth
Impact fees and community benefits agreements — another contentious part of the plan — require more discussion and coordination, Jones said in his memo.
In a separate lengthy discussion, Council members clashed over when and how such agreements could be used. Through straw votes, Council requested more insight into financial and legal requirements.
Council members also agreed during straw votes to create an anti-displacement group to protect “vulnerable” communities, though officials were split on whether to make this a temporary or permanent body. Council member Larken Egleston, for example, said a long-term approach could mitigate displacement and gentrification tied to the Silver Line development.
Graham, who chairs the Great Neighborhood Committee, noted “displacement is occurring right now” in the absence of a comprehensive plan.
“A commission, if we adopt one, would really begin to talk about how we provide checks and balances in city government and making sure we have the appropriate tools in our tool chest,” Graham said.
Beyond that, a “smart growth” commission is also needed, Council members Matt Newton and Dimple Ajmera suggested. Newton said city leaders have neglected or forgotten about areas undergoing rapid development. City staff will return with more information, including what comparable commissions exist elsewhere, next week.
City Council will have another meeting on the plan from 3 to 5 p.m. on May 17. Two days later, city planners will release a revised 2040 draft plan.
Council members will discuss the plan during meetings on May 20 and May 24, according to Jones’ memo. The plan’s final draft will be released on June 7, with Council deliberations planned that day and June 15.
The City Council’s vote to adopt the plan is scheduled for June 21, a week after the fiscal year 2022 budget is approved.