“Understanding the UDO”

Understanding the UDO, By | March 29, 2011 | Raleigh Public Record –

[Emphasis added]

Raleigh City Planning Manager Christine Darges has quite a task.  During the past year, she has been responsible for overseeing the team that has been updating, revising and publicizing the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The first draft of the UDO will be released April 6. Her team has been conducting UDO simulations throughout the city at the Citizens Advisory Committee meetings and the Record chatted with Darges to break down the confusing UDO and find out how will it affect Raleigh denizens.

Record: In layman’s terms, what is the UDO and what is its purpose?

Darges: The UDO stands for the unified development ordinance and the purpose is to combine the portions of our code that are development related. Any regulations that apply to the development of a property, in part, the rezoning of a property, are currently in different various chapters in our ordinance. And the idea here is to remove a lot of the cross references and the redundancies and combine it into a document that is easier to read, graphically enhanced and more comprehensive.

What was the catalyst for this project? Why is it being done?

I would say the major reason it’s being done is to implement the policies and goals of the recently updated comprehensive plan. Your policy guidance has to have a tool to make it happen. Our compressive plan when it was updated it was a 30-year-old document. Our ordinance is over 50 years old, so as soon as we updated the comprehensive plan we outdated our regulations even more so than they were outdated. And we know that there’s a disconnect, and if you don’t have the tool to build what you want then your policies and guidelines will never be implemented. We also want to address new building trends, new development trends, present day issues and those kinds of things that the current code doesn’t provide for.

Project Manager Christine Darges, left, leads a UDO simulation group at a recent CAC meeting.

Who are the people primarily using this code or looking up this kind of information?

The development community, the citizenry, a person who might want to do a start-up company or start a small business and they’re interested in a storefront or a vacant tenant space in the downtown area. People coming in from other areas of the country who want to relocate here are going to want to know, how easy is it for me to bring my company or my business to the Raleigh area? How difficult is the approval process? How hard are the regulations to understand? How long is it going to take me to get through it? These are the kinds of things we deal with every day.

What are the major changes?

One of the major changes is provide for what we call context-based development regulations instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to regulations in this area of the city. If you build a grocery store it’s going to be designed to meet these standards versus a grocery store built in a downtown, urban area. The regulations don’t acknowledge that today and we’re trying to promote development where it’s located not just what the use is.

One example is along the Hillsborough street corridor we know that the different types of tenant space there is going to be treated differently than tenant spaces in a suburban shopping center and that the street is a very important part in how an environment looks. Before, the regulations didn’t really make a relationship between how a street looks — for instance Hillsborough or Fayetteville streets versus Atlantic Avenue corridor — and we’re trying to find different classifications for those streets to customize to make each area different.

We don’t want the city to look monotonous; we want vibrant areas to be vibrant. We know that there are different rules for different places and that’s what we’re trying to code for.

How is this going to affect the average Raleigh citizen?

There are varying objectives that we’re trying to meet and not all of the objectives run in sync with each other. As you know when you have different kinds of goals going on — like sustainability and affordable housing — and we want to try to encourage, or discourage urban sprawl and all of these things have an impact on the existing built environment. So, it’s easy for a neighborhood to say, ‘Sure I agree with this concept,’ but at the same time, if you think about they can affect you directly sometimes it can alter the way you feel about that.

So we’re trying to be sensitive and this actually happens when the mapping occurs in 16 to 18 months. The reason why we want to adopt the code first: we want to get the tools right and then we want to go even in a more aggressive public outreach to get the property owners to understand how the mapping could take place and that’s where the citizens can say, ‘Well, I understand the rules here and I can see how it’s going to affect me if I get rezoned to this new district.’ Then as neighborhoods they can make requests to get rezoned as something different if they think the rules in this tool box are better suited for their neighborhood.

One of our concepts that we’re trying to promote is allowing more housing options, allowing what we call accessory dwelling units and allowing different kinds of housing types because we’re fairly limited in what we allow now. We feel like that the more diversity you have and more variation you have the more affordability you have and that it can target all kinds of income levels.

Is there any part of the city that will be affected more than another?

It’s hard to say. There are some pretty obvious areas where the context is already there. Like in the downtown, Hillsborough Street and Glenwood South, everybody kind of knows what those areas are like. The areas that the city wants to transform, so to speak, and change through redevelopment could be major corridors, near future transit stops. If we’re able to get funding for transit, where those stations are going to be located are going to be transformed drastically over time. But basically the neighborhoods aren’t really going to change at all. We want to preserve neighborhoods.

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