The Raleigh city council is considering more changes to the city’s zoning code, this time to allow the construction of small homes and apartment buildings in areas near bus lines.
The proposal—presented at a council workshop on Tuesday—is part of a citywide effort to increase the supply of homes and make housing more affordable. Many Raleigh residents are either paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing or are at risk of losing their homes because of the increased demand for housing in the Triangle.
The proposal follows a zoning change the council made earlier this year allowing the construction of duplexes, townhouses, and apartments in areas where, previously, only single-family homes were allowed. The hope was that builders would take advantage of the relaxed zoning laws to construct lower-priced housing throughout the city, creating a gateway to homeownership, said Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin.
“Many of our peer cities have called these efforts ‘zoning reform,’” Pat Young, director of Raleigh Planning and Development, said Tuesday. “What we’re really talking about here is a fundamental investment in accessible and affordable housing over the next 30 to 50 years.”
The nine proposed changes to the city’s zoning laws are each specific and technical, but boil down to allowing denser development along transit lines in Raleigh. Comparable changes have been adopted in cities like Portland, said Ken Bowers, deputy director of Raleigh Planning and Development.
Since the proposed changes are more extreme than previous zoning amendments, Bowers suggested they be allowed only in areas along transit lines as opposed to citywide.
If approved, the text changes would:
— allow apartment buildings (three or more units) in R-4 and R-6 neighborhoods, instead of just R-10 neighborhoods;
— allow apartment buildings to be built on narrower lots;
— allow larger floor area ratios for duplexes and small apartments;
— allow land to be subdivided into “small lots” like those on Dorothea Drive, making lot sizes up three times smaller than those currently allowed in R-10 neighborhoods;
— allow “flag lots,” which divide narrow lots of land into smaller lots;
— allow small corner lots, another form of small lot division;
— allow detached accessory dwelling units or “in-law flats” on townhouse lots;
— allow multiple accessory dwelling units on one lot; and
— revise infill standards to allow smaller setbacks and other flexible options for dense developments like townhouses and apartment buildings.
After a lengthy discussion, the city council voted to move forward, directing staff to draft zoning amendments reflecting the proposed changes. The vote was 6-2, with council members David Cox and Stormie Forte voting against.
Forte said her constituents were particularly concerned with affordable housing and she wanted to ensure they “understand what we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re proposing.”
Cox, on the other hand, said there were possible consequences to the text changes and raised questions about how Portland and other cities handled historic preservation, limiting building heights, requiring adequate safety systems, and ensuring lower-income families had access to the new housing.
“I think there are a lot of issues we need to look at in terms of building code, affordability, setbacks,” Cox said. “There’s an awful lot that needs to be discussed, and discussed publicly, not in private, before we move forward.”
The city council has not yet approved the changes—before council members make their final vote, the draft will go to the city’s Planning Commission and members of the public for comment and review.
Several council members said they voted yes Tuesday to open a deeper conversation about the proposed changes. During the discussion, some asked questions about lot subdivisions and accessory dwelling units. Baldwin and Melton said they’d like the council to consider allowing duplexes on flag lots.
“This is the beginning of the process, not the end of the process,” said Baldwin.
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