Raleigh City Council prepares to launch new development rules

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJuly 12, 2013 

— The City Council is making a few tweaks to a sweeping rewrite of its development code before the new document takes effect in September.

Raleigh leaders and planning staff have been working on the new 300-page unified development code for more than three years. The goal is to scrap the old suburban model in favor of rules that foster a walkable, transit-friendly city with a number of high density, mixed-use districts.

The new regulations take effect Sept. 1, and planners and developers have been taking workshops to learn what it means for them. “We’re very confident in how this is going, and we’re ready to go live Sept. 1,” planning director Mitchell Silver said.

Last week, the council relaxed a few of the rules that elicited complaints from developers, reducing open space requirements and loosening design criteria for tall buildings.

Here are a few of the changes; the council is scheduled to hold another meeting Monday to address remaining unresolved issues.

Easier open space: The code requires new developments to preserve at least 10 percent of the property as open space. In downtown, that space would have to be adjacent to the sidewalk, similar to the Cafe Carolina patio area at the Wells Fargo tower. Outdoor seating is required.

Developers, however, wanted to build on more of the lots and suggested moving that open space upstairs for a rooftop deck or similar amenity. The council agreed Tuesday to allow up to half of the open space required built on upper floors away from the street.

High-rise designs: City planners want the city’s tall buildings to look less imposing from the street – and generate less wind – by requiring “stepbacks.” That’s where the building face is flush with the sidewalk for the first few floors, then “steps back” a few feet on higher stories.

The first draft of the code required two stepbacks for buildings taller than five stories – one at the fifth floor and another at the 12th. That rule, planner Travis Crane said, got a thumbs down from developers who complained, “I’m losing a lot of building area.”

Instead, the code will now require only one stepback anywhere between the third and eighth floors. “I think this reflects what our development community had requested,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said.

Restricting driveway access: After a controversial development earlier this year in Cameron Village, city council members want to keep developers from buying a lot behind their building to disperse traffic on neighborhood streets.

City planners have proposed a rule that would ban residential street driveways for commercial development and residential buildings taller than three stories – unless they’re on a corner lot. Councilman Thomas Crowder thinks that regulation should be stricter. “I think it’s going to be very detrimental to the neighborhoods that back up to these centers,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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