Waynesville considering new unified development ordinance

About two years ago, the Town of Waynesville hired a consultant and established a steering committee to consider "tweaking" the town's existing land use ordinance.

After more than three dozen meetings, the steering committee has issued a revised DRAFT ordinance, along with the town's planning staff Review of the proposed new ordinance.

The staff report, in its summary of changes, fails to note a major change that would allow through a process called a "special use permit" maximum multifamily housing densities of up to 24 units per acre in what are existing well-established residential neighborhoods of modest mostly single-family homes. The current ordinance allowed densities of up to 16 units per acre in these neighborhoods.

I'm no expert on urban planning, and I'm not even sure that "urban" is an appropriate word for the quaint little mountain town I call home. As an engineer with a background in energy efficiency and sustainable design, I appreciate the benefits of higher density development, particularly where such density is supported by pedestrian-friendly access to necessary amenities like grocery stores and pharmacies. On the other hand, I have reviewed the planning ordinances for a couple of other small western NC towns that are similar in size and character to Waynesville, and find maximum housing densities to be in the range of 10-12 units per acre.

I appreciate the input of BlueNC members on this issue.

Comments

Density

Special use permitting processes are tricky and, in my experience, often tilted in favor of the developer.

The thing is, I can imagine instances where very dense development should be allowed, even in smaller communities. It's not really about "urban" or "not urban" ... it's more about the overall land use planning vision.

One of the big problems with most zoning and development ordinances is the fact that they are blunt instruments. That creates an all-or-nothing mindset on the part of developers, which means they push for bigger and bigger projects.

Consider asking for a cap on the top-end. For example, maybe the special use permitting process could be limited to projects with 24 or 36 units. In my view, that would enable in-fill projects to happen on a manageable scale, assuming that secondary impacts (mostly parking and traffic) can be effectively managed.

Projects bigger than that would and should require rezoning, which is always a bigger deal with more public input. You might even look to create special new zoning category for high density development ... with steep restrictions and explicit trade-offs enumerated.

Thanks, James...

Those are interesting observations.

The current Town of Waynesville ordinance requires a Conditional Use Permit for all multi-family developments of more than five units, with density caps in each zoning district. In the zoning district where I live, the cap is currently 16 units/acre.

The proposed ordinance appears to do away with the CUP, instead allowing normal staff review and approval of up to 16 units/acre (in my district), and up to 24 units/acre via a "Special Use Permit."

I like your idea of a special use permit for developments exceeding some number of units, or perhaps based on the land area (say exceeding one acre), for all but single-family residential development.

The absolute height restriction of three stories also puts a practical cap on density. With that in place, I find it hard to envision much more than 16 units/acre, given parking and green space requirements.

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The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

An interesting dialog...

...with our town's planning director.

Apparently, this rewrite of the Town's development ordinance is just a "tweaking," with "no substantial changes."

Silly me.

Among the "tweaks":
-- eliminating altogether the town's Community Appearance Commission, and delegating those responsibilities to the Planning Board;
-- redesignating two residential zoning districts as "urban residential" which allows, among other things, multi-family residential buildings with flat roofs.
-- increasing multi-family housing maximum densities across the board by 50% through the use of a new "Special Use Permit"
-- reducing required setbacks and relaxing the rules governing the placement of parking for commercial buildings.

In an email to the planning director, I suggested the elimination of caps on multi-family housing along the lines suggested by James, only to be essentially ruled "out of order" as such a suggestion would be contrary to the town's 8 year old Land Use Plan.

....and I thought I was confused before!

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The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

What a mess

Sounds like the foxes have gotten into the planning board hen house. I can already hear the complaints from developers about onerous processes that add to their costs, blah, blah, blah.

You're getting the runaround, old friend. Those tweaks would qualify as tectonic shifts here in Chapel Hill.