In Raleigh, it seems that every other rezoning case has invited controversy, and to many residents, this means the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is not working the way it’s supposed to.

After several meetings this past spring and summer, resident volunteers have proposed three new zoning districts to clearly define limits on development in Raleigh.

The first proposed district limits stores to less than 30,000 square feet, and the entire size of a shopping center would be limited to 65,000 square feet. Neighbors could walk to these stores— which would include coffee shops, restaurants, corner stores, but not gas stations or drive-thrus—and get what they need quickly without having to leave their neighborhood.

The second proposed zoning district would cover drive-to shopping centers, such as the ones that currently house the smaller-scale grocery stores like Harris Teeter and Food Lion. Stores could be larger than 30,000 square feet, but the entire shopping center would be limited to less than 150,000 square feet.

The third zoning district would correspond to Raleigh’s current commercial mixed use district, where malls and big box stores would be allowed.

“Future development in Raleigh should be a predictable process and one that truly protects neighborhoods from excessive commercial development,” wrote David Cox, a North Raleigh resident, founder of Grow Raleigh Great and one of the volunteers working on changes to the UDO, in a Thanksgiving email to neighbors, the council, and city planners.

Currently, commercial development in Raleigh ranges from the size of a Snoopy’s hot dog stand to massive regional malls like Crabtree and Triangle Town Center, Cox noted, but the UDO groups all development together into two zoning districts, neighborhood mixed use (NX) or commercial mixed use (CX).

Both NX and CX allow retail development of unlimited square footage.

“It is clear that our NX and CX districts are not working to protect neighborhoods,” Cox wrote.

At last week’s meeting of the city Planning Commission, more than a dozen neighbors and their attorney showed up to protest a rezoning that would allow for 62 new residential units off of Creedmoor Road.

Neighbors near the entrance to N.C. State’s Centennial Campus are fighting the redevelopment of a parcel of land that would allow for a massive student-oriented housing project. And in North Raleigh, neighbors have been fighting a Publix, planned for the intersection of Falls of Neuse and Dunn roads, with the largest petition in the city’s history.

“With these three zoning districts defined with explicit limits on square footage, we can move away from contentious confrontations of citizens armed with attorneys against their City government,” Cox wrote.

“In its place we can have predictable development allowing citizens to know and understand what will happen on the lot next door and not have to worry what will happen to their quality of life and home values.”

The volunteers who made the new district proposals sent them to the City Council earlier this year; the council passed them along to the city Planning Commission, which heard some discussion on the proposals at its meeting last week.