In response to complaints from City Council members, developers and neighborhood groups, Charlotte’s planning staff is proposing changes to how rezoning requests are handled. The changes, set to take effect in January, would modify the schedule for application submittal and review, with the goal of reducing case deferrals and expediting approval for smaller projects.
REBIC and several of our members have met on multiple occasions with planning staff to discuss the proposed changes and provide feedback. We voiced our concerns over the amount of detail that the City frequently requires when considering a rezoning case, from building design to site specifications that should more appropriately be addressed in development plan review. We’re also concerned with a proposal that would give staff the discretion to hold cases back when they feel they’re not ready to go to public hearing. Planning officials believe this will cut down on the number of case deferrals by ensuring a full staff review has been completed, and substantive issues addressed, before the case is heard before Planning Commission and City Council.
Some of the other changes being discussed include:
Establishing a formal ‘Gateway Review’ process to ensure applications are complete when submitted.
Clearly designating which site plan elements are and ARE NOT required in a rezoning submittal, to ensure applicants don’t ‘over-engineer’ a site plan to reflect elements that should instead be addressed in development review.
Ensuring that sufficient time is taken in the first round of staff review to allow for a thorough evaluation by all relevant departments and senior staff. This will likely result in a first review cycle of 5 – 6 weeks, but ensure most substantive issues are addressed in the first round.
Providing for an automatic ‘One-Stop’ meeting at the conclusion of first review, in which the applicant and their engineer can meet in one setting with representatives from all departments to discuss requested plan changes, obtain feedback, and negotiate any conflicting requirements.
Allowing more complex zoning cases to be reviewed by Planning Commission earlier in the process.
Allowing the Community Meeting to be held AFTER the initial round of comments is received from Planning. This will allow the applicant to present neighboring property owners with a clear picture of what is being required by the City, and therefore not within their discretion to change.
Eliminating the requirement for applicants to participate in the Open House Forum.
The current system allows for petitions to make it through the process in four months. But currently, only about half of the cases are actually getting through in that timeframe, while nearly 20% are taking longer than seven months to resolve. Much of the challenge is the sheer number of rezoning petitions being filed. In Fiscal Year 2015, 138 applications were filed — up from a total of 78 in 2011.
Most of the changes being discussed can be implemented by staff with no need for Council approval. REBIC will continue to work with planning officials to provide input on the proposed changes, and to ensure they result in a more streamlined review process for developers and property owners.