NC Law

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Eating Drinking and Entertainment Districts:
The Charlotte Planning Department finally publishes its proposed text amendment

In 2011 the Charlotte Planning Department began a process to draft text amendments to the Zoning Ordinance. The problem was that the Code failed to provide clear distinction between different types of restaurants bars and nightclubs.  It was so vague that there was serious debate as to whether the city could enforce any of the existing zoning restrictions. Whether the desired outcome was less restriction of establishments or more, something needed to be done.  What was the solution?

After two years of on and off meetings, community input and small business concerns the planning department has submitted a proposal. Check out the proposed text here.

After a few memorable missteps, the Planning Department and the City Attorney’s Office have put forward a reasonable proposal that balances the concerns of residents and existing establishments.  While many viewed this debate as “residents versus businesses,” the reality is not so clean cut.  Many residents are strong advocates for the establishments that highlight their neighborhoods. These residents are making the logical choice. Whereas, residents who believe that their property is negatively impacted by the proximity of establishments are operating from a faulty—or at least outdated—premise. The hard data supports the belief that walkable proximity to establishments is beneficial to the neighboring residential areas.  The Brookings Institute studied the walkability impact on real estate value and found that:

  • More walkable places perform better economically.
  • Walkable places benefit from being near other walkable places.
  • Local and regional planning agencies should incorporate assessments of walkability into their strategic economic development plans and eliminate barriers to walkable development.
  • Emerging evidence points to a preference for mixed-use, compact, amenity-rich, transit-accessible neighborhoods or walkable places.

This trend is evident in Charlotte as well. Walkable restaurant districts have grown in several areas of Charlotte (West Morehead, SouthEnd, NODA, Elizabeth, Uptown, and Plaza-Midwood), and these areas have weathered the real estate slump much better than other areas (recent sales suggest that values are at or exceeding 2008 levels).  In any event, we should all be able to understand that an annoying neighbor is better than a vacant and dilapidated building held indefinitely as the developer-owners wait for the right time to build.

The Charlotte Planning Department has tried to make angry residents happy by retaining and including outdated linear distance requirements in this proposed text.  While the merits of this approach are dated and likely to hinder sustainable walkable development as our city grows, at least they managed to find a way to do so without shutting down the existing establishments. Charlotte’s zoning Code needs work and rumors persist that it will be replaced in its entirety before long. This proposal leaves room for the continued symbiotic growth of Charlotte’s inner suburbs while reclaiming the ability of Charlotte to enforce its regulations.  It should be supported by our officials.  In the future the planning department might consider that there may be insurmountable differences between our inner city areas and the distant suburbs… and plan accordingly.