Raleigh's New UDO Takes Effect September 1 - What Does It Mean for Development?

by Poyner Spruill LLP

After almost three years of planning, over 50 public meetings and plenty of debate, the Raleigh City Council approved a new Unified Development Code (UDO) in February that is scheduled to take effect on September 1.  The goal of the UDO is to promote a pedestrian and transit friendly City with high density, mixed use zoning districts.  The UDO project, however, is not complete.  The first step, adopting the new development regulations, has occurred and takes effect on September 1.  The second step, remapping the City from the old districts (referred to in the UDO as “legacy districts”) to the UDO zoning districts, is expected to take 18-24 months.  The City hopes to complete that process sometime in 2015.  With this gap in the UDO project, many developers and landowners are wondering how projects will be reviewed and approved during this critical “transition period.”

Below is a brief summary of how development proposals will be handled over the next 18-24 months:

  • Most residential zoning districts (R-1 through R-10) and certain special zoning and overlay districts were transferred to the UDO and will be regulated under the UDO effective September 1.  These districts were fully transitioned into the UDO without any zoning map amendment needed.  It should be noted that the UDO prohibits townhome developments in the R-6 zoning district. 
  • UDO provisions governing subdivision (Chapter 8), natural resource protection and stormwater (Chapter 9) and review procedures (Chapter 10) will apply to all districts effective September 1.  Provisions in Chapter 10 governing plot plan and site plan review do not apply to development in legacy zoning districts, which are discussed below.
  • Legacy districts that were not adopted in the new UDO include, but are not limited to, R-15, R-20, Shopping Center, Neighborhood Business, Thoroughfare District, all Office and Institutional districts and Industrial districts.  Those wishing to develop properties in these legacy districts under the old zoning ordinance must submit a development plan by September 1.  After September 1, these properties will be subject to certain provisions of the UDO (outlined above).
  • Those wishing to rezone property in a “legacy district” can only submit a rezoning application that seeks to rezone the property to a new UDO district. Landowners and developers can also wait for the new zoning map to be adopted as a part of the general use mapping process. As noted, however, this process will not be completed until 2015 at the earliest.

The UDO, which is still being tweaked by the City, is too voluminous to fully outline in this article; however, it is commonly referred to as a “form based” code that regulates development based, in part, on building type. The UDO establishes the following building types: detached house, attached house, townhouse, apartment, general building, mixed use building, civic building and open lot.  In mixed use districts, the zoning for a particular property is comprised of a base district, building height and, depending on location, a frontage type, i.e., how the building and parking are oriented in relation to a major street or thoroughfare. The base mixed use districts established under the UDO are Residential Mixed Use (RX), Office Park (OP), Office Mixed Use (OX), Neighborhood Mixed Use (NX), Commercial Mixed Use (CX), Downtown Mixed Use (DX) and Industrial Mixed Use (IX).  In mixed use districts, the UDO does not regulate density directly, but does so indirectly by regulating building height and traffic impacts.  Under the old zoning ordinance, sloped roofs were measured from the average midpoint of the roof; however, the new UDO calculates height to the top of the roof. 

Another major change under the UDO is how rezonings and site plans are reviewed and approved.  Site plans will no longer be reviewed by the Planning Commission and will be handled administratively by Planning Staff. Rezoning cases can now be filed anytime (previously zoning cases could only be filed 4 times a year). A neighborhood meeting must still be conducted prior to the rezoning being filed; however, the public hearing on the rezoning is not noticed until after the Planning Commission has reviewed the rezoning application and made its recommendation to City Council.  This new process allows the applicant more time to make substantive changes to their rezoning application prior to it being noticed for public hearing.  However, once a rezoning application is noticed for public hearing, the UDO prohibits the applicant from amending the application to make the proposed zoning conditions less restrictive or to change the desired zoning district. 

The UDO makes a number of other significant changes related to stormwater control plans, sureties for public improvements and stormwater, block perimeters and street types. For more information about the UDO or training sessions that are being offered, visit the City of Raleigh’s UDO website. The next couple years will prove to be an interesting transition period for development in Raleigh.  It is very important for all citizens, specifically landowners in legacy zoning districts, to be fully engaged in the re-mapping proces.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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