Fighting Redevelopment: Possible Changes Could Make Charlotte Rezonings Less Contentious

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – We’ve heard it over and over: too tall, too dense, not in my backyard! Rezonings in Charlotte can be contentious at times.

No one knows that better than Ely Portillo. A few months ago, he turned in his pen and notepad at the Charlotte Observer, for a more academic setting at UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute. “So about five years ago I started covering development in Charlotte, started going to all of the rezoning meetings and got pretty into it,” Portillo says.

In recent years, he says it’s become harder for neighbors to fight unwanted development. In fact, his research shows council has approved 88 percent of rezoning petitions filed over the past decade. “That’s kind of been Charlotte’s ethos is grow, grow, grow,” Portillo says. Of more than 1,200 filed, only 27 were denied, with another 115 withdrawn. “Charlotte is a growth-friendly city and historically there’s been very little incentive for Charlotte City Council to say no to most rezonings,” Portillo says.

Micheal Barnes served on Charlotte City Council for 10 years including time as Mayor Pro-Tem. He’s not surprised by the approval rate. “Our state is a pro-developer, pro-land owner state and so unless a proposal is just outrageous it’s generally going to be approved,” Barnes says.

Neighbors can no longer file protest petitions, which until 2015 meant if enough neighbors signed on, a rezoning had to get three-fourths council approval to pass. Barnes doesn’t like the change. “I thought it was a negative because what it did was take a bit of the community’s voice out of the process. Up to that point if a neighborhood filed a protest petition the developer had to work extra hard to get the community’s support,” he says.

But there could be a big shakeup in the next couple of years when City Council is expected to pass a “Unified Development Ordinance.” It would set clear standards for what can and can’t be built in a certain location. The idea is developers would know ahead of time what they’re allowed to do. “They say it would also give community members the benefit of being able to understand, ‘hey on this corner this is what might be built here,’ it’s not a surprise when someone comes in and proposes a plan,” Portillo says.