Big plan to guide Charlotte development faces delay, concerns in City Council

Danielle Chemtob
·3 min read

An effort to approve a citywide plan shaping Charlotte’s growth that has been years in the making faced an unexpected setback this week.

A majority of City Council members expressed concern about how the process has unfolded and some of its key provisions — including one that would encourage other housing types in single-family neighborhoods.

City leaders unveiled the proposal, known as the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, at the end of October. It sets a big-picture vision for the future of development in Charlotte, from affordable housing to transportation access.

A separate policy would translate the goals in the Comprehensive Plan into regulations.

To increase the supply of affordable housing, the 2040 plan proposes allowing duplexes and triplexes in areas where single-family housing is allowed. And city leaders say it will correct a long history of zoning policy being used to perpetuate segregation.

But on Monday night, amid increasing pushback from some community members, a majority of City Council members voiced concerns about the plan and pushed to delay their vote that is scheduled for late April.

There is only one point forward at this point: pump the brakes as hard as you can,” council member Tariq Bokhari, a Republican, said in the meeting.

In an interview Tuesday, Bokhari said additional density is needed to accommodate Charlotte’s growth. But he said he opposes the broad-based approach taken in the plan to allow greater density on every single-family lot in Charlotte.

It’s the death of our city by 1,000 paper cuts,” he said.

‘Political pressure’

Around 60% of Charlotte’s land area is zoned for single-family development, city data has shown.

But for years, Black residents were barred from buying homes in many areas due to race-based deed restrictions and other discriminatory policies. That kept them locked out of single-family areas.

Democratic council member Braxton Winston alluded to that history in a tweet Tuesday. “Single family zoning is a tool of segregation,” he tweeted. “If you are fighting to maintain single family zoning you are advocating for segregation. Stop being racist, Charlotte.”

In an interview, Winston said council members who are advocating for maintaining single-family zoning are blowing a racial dog whistle.

It’s disheartening that my colleagues are (succumbing) to the political pressure of the real estate community and very organized voices, who are resistant to change and who have benefited from the inequitable Charlotte that is perpetuated right now,” Winston said.

But at the Monday meeting, Republican council member Ed Driggs said people who live in single-family housing and appreciate the lifestyle it brings ought to have their concerns heard. He called the single-family neighborhood an “American tradition.”

Community feedback

While city staff has held community engagement sessions, several council members said they are concerned that their constituents do not feel like their feedback is being listened to. Because of COVID-19, the city has held mostly virtual events.

Larken Egleston, a Democrat, said in the meeting that there’s “very little chance” he will feel ready to approve the plan by April. “Both sides (developers and residents) are painting a similar picture of, ‘yes we’ve been at the table but we’re not sure we’ve been heard,’ ” he said.

The opposition from the council is significant for an effort that has been years in the making.

Charlotte has not had a comprehensive plan since 1975, according to the city, despite being one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.

“We have heard that the staff has spent over three years working on something that the council has not reached a consensus on,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles.

The potential delays come amid a state law that requires local governments to have an up-to-date comprehensive plan by July 1, 2022.

A public hearing is scheduled for the 2040 plan on March 22, said Taiwo Jaiyeoba, assistant city manager and planning director. After that, Jaiyeoba said the city staff will share how they are responding to those comments.