Zoning proposal sets high hopes for equitable TOD


A LYNX blue line train in Charlotte, NC. Proposed zoning changes would incentivize affordable housing around existing and future stations. (Image: James Willamor, Flickr)

As the first step toward revamping a 20-year-old zoning code, city planners in Charlotte, NC presented draft guidelines for transit-oriented development at a recent zoning hearing. The regulations would allow for development near transit up to a certain height with height bonuses granted for affordable housing or another type of approved public good that supports local goals.

The TOD guidelines and height limits would be set based on four different district types: urban center, neighborhood center, community center, and transition district. Each of these districts scales from denser to less dense in relation to the neighborhoods they serve. As an example of the bonus system, buildings in an urban center more than a quarter mile from the station could be 130 feet tall by right but could more than double to 300 feet by including qualifying public goods. Within a quarter mile of a station, the bonus could remove height restrictions altogether, i.e. height could be unlimited.

To provide more community benefits and affordable housing, each floor above the height limit for the district would have to be 10 percent affordable to residents making 80 percent of the area median income or pay an in lieu fee that goes into the city’s affordable housing fund. Other public goods—including green space, new street construction, or minority contractors—are given scores in a point system that can be redeemed for more height.

Developers are arguing that they should be able to appeal to the city council to opt out of the point system and height bonus program all together saying the rewards from transit investment coupled with unrestricted building heights means greater property taxes for the city.

But local officials are pushing back using a 2014 study showing that Charlotte ranked last out of 50 cities in economic mobility and acknowledging that the city’s light rail line has led to some displacement. Activists believe this current draft of the guidelines was a compromise and that developers shouldn’t be able to “negotiate around” the height limits. As city planning director Taiwo Jaiyeoba said, “If at the end of the day, you’re still able to do that, then what’s the point of having gone through all of this?” (Charlotte Observer)

For more on zoning and coding for TOD visit TODresources.org for tools like TOD 202: Station Area Planning which includes development guidelines in chart form for different TOD place and building types starting on page 10.

What’s new on the pod?

The Metropolitan Transit System in San Diego announced a slight uptick in ridership on the city’s bus and trolley systems in the first seven months of fiscal year 2019. That’s great news for the city as it pursues a number of recent policy changes to reduce barriers to TOD as we hear on this month’s episode of Building Better Communities with Transit. Colin Parent from Circulate San Diego talks about the recent shifts in political and public opinion on transit and TOD and what the city is doing to build more housing around transit. Catch the episode on Soundcloud, Stitcher, iTunes, Overcast or wherever you get your podcasts.

Recent TOD news

Here are a few things that have been happening this week with TOD projects across the country.