Raleigh development code overhaul gets final OK

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJuly 15, 2013 

— Starting Sept. 1, developers in Raleigh will have a new set of rules governing everything from the size of parking lots to the heights of buildings.

The Raleigh City Council signed off Monday on the final draft of the unified development ordinance, which has been in the works for years. The overhaul aims 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.

As the council worked on last-minute tweaks to satisfy residents and the development community, planners and developers have been attending 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.

The guidelines – far more specific than current rules – are expected to reduce the need for contentious negotiations between developers and neighbors. The council had a particular development controversy in mind as they added a final provision before Monday’s vote.

Earlier this year, neighbors were upset that a proposed apartment development on Oberlin Road was planning a rear driveway on Daniels Street, which runs through a residential neighborhood. The driveway plan was dropped, but Cameron Village neighbors want the new code to ban similar proposals in the future.

Sallie Ricks was among the residents who wrote to the council. “Dumping large amounts of traffic on a few neighborhood streets adjacent to new development will erode the quality of life of those people who live there,” she wrote.

But Jim Belt, president of the Downtown Living Advocates, cautioned that rigid driveway rules could make it harder to build mixed-use developments.

The council heeded the worries from Cameron Village, restricting access to neighborhood streets from apartments and commercial developments unless the driveways are close to a major intersection.

The code also got several other tweaks in response to developers’ requests:

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 and include outdoor seating.

Developers, however, wanted to build on more of the lots and suggested moving that open space upstairs for a rooftop deck or something similar. The council agreed to allow up to half of the required open space 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. Now the code will require only one stepback anywhere between the third and eighth floors.

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

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