The most affordable home in one Cameron Village hamlet is a no-frills two-bedroom ranch listed for $425,000. It’s a stone’s throw from million-dollar estates and within walking distance of one of Raleigh’s most upscale shopping centers, where you can buy a “vintage” coffee table for $500.
Neighborhoods nearby are changing quickly, as six-story condos pop up on Glenwood South and developers plan twenty-story-plus towers on Peace Street.
To protect their enclave from this burgeoning development, Cameron Villagers did what many Raleigh residents have done when they’ve felt threatened by a wave of new construction: They applied for a neighborhood conservation overlay district, a zoning tool that restricts density by placing height, setback, lot size, and compatibility restrictions on new development, essentially freezing a neighborhood in time.
Just a few months ago, the odds were in the neighborhood’s favor. The city council, whose majority was skeptical of development and protective of neighborhoods, seemed likely to approve the NCOD without a second glance.
But in October, three members of that majority lost their reelection bids; a fourth didn’t run. They were replaced by a more pro-growth set. The new city council, which gets sworn in on Monday, has promised to reexamine the NCOD process.
What’s more, a long-in-the-works ordinance that would have effectively turned the entire city into an NCOD appears doomed.
That text change—which was initiated in October 2017 but got stuck in the Growth and Natural Resources Committee until this spring—was conceived as a way to curtail an increase in NCOD petitions. It would institute minimum lot-size standards based on the existing neighborhood so that big homes can’t be squeezed onto tiny lots or large lots carved up to build more homes closer together. While the ordinance doesn’t restrict height or setbacks, it would serve the same purpose that many NCODs do: It limits density.
“It’s not making sure we have an abundance of housing options,” says council member Nicole Stewart. “My priority is about making sure we have an abundance of diverse housing options, in which case this text change would go against that.”
She’s not alone: Her new colleagues—Saige Martin, Jonathan Melton, David Knight, and Mayor-elect Mary Ann Baldwin—also looked askance at NCODs while on the campaign trail.
“Most of us agree we need to study the impacts NCODs are having on neighborhoods, housing stock, and affordability,” Baldwin told the INDY in a text message. “I don’t think the new council will want to pursue this text change until we have a better understanding of this issue.”
In August, Stewart asked the GNR committee to look into what effect NCODs would have on housing affordability.
The city is finalizing a study on that question, but planning director Ken Bowers says it won’t yield definitive answers. The neighborhoods that have recently sought NCODs already have hot real estate markets. So it’s not clear whether price inflation leads to neighborhoods wanting to rein in development or whether new development restrictions inflate home prices.
If the council comes to believe that NCODs are blocking the density the city believes it needs to tamp down housing costs, the real question won’t be whether it will approve the ordinance—that’s highly unlikely—but instead, whether it will target the city’s twenty-one existing NCODs.
As the city’s zoning authority, the council has the power to eliminate all of them with a single vote. But such a drastic move would be extraordinarily controversial. Indeed, in the decades since NCODs were written into law, Bowers says he doesn’t think any have been rescinded.
Besides, as Bowers points out, the twenty-one districts only comprise “a small part of the zoning pie in terms of impact on housing supply.”
In other words, it probably wouldn’t be worth the trouble.
Still, the Cameron Village NCOD application could have served as an interesting test case for the new council, but the neighborhood withdrew its petition last week. The 120 homeowners seeking the district weren’t able to reach a consensus about what it should look like.
Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I noticed he attended a developers’ event, but he skipped the Raleigh police oversight meeting in his own district. Then, somehow mysteriously, Saige Martin is attributed an opinion without any actual contact recorded in this story. Sloppy journalism, at best.
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