The Charlotte City Council this week voted 8-1 to refer a controversial sidewalk ordinance back through its committee process, after REBIC and top affordable housing developers voiced concerns over the impact on housing costs.
The ordinance under consideration would require all owners of by-right property along a city thoroughfare to install 6’ sidewalks and 8’ planting strips along their entire frontage when certain development thresholds are met. Unless that property already has a sidewalk at least 4’ in width, along with a planting strip of another 4’, the sidewalk is considered ‘substandard’, and would have to be replaced with a new sidewalk meeting the standards above.
The thresholds for the requirement would be as follows:· Any new construction of a principal building;· The expansion of any existing principal building by 25% or 2,500 SF, whichever is greater; or,· Development that expands an existing parking lot by 2,500 SF or more of Built-Upon Area (BUA)
Also, any development that removes more than 30’ of linear sidewalk during development, or 50% of the sidewalk along the property’s thoroughfare width, would be required to replace that sidewalk with new facilities meeting the 8’ and 6’ requirements above.
The requirement would only apply to commercial and multifamily development, not single-family residential construction.
At last night’s Council meeting, Assistant City Manager Danny Pleasant argued that the City is already requiring all rezoning applicants to donate right-of-way (ROW) and construct new sidewalks to these higher standards. The ordinance under consideration, he said, would ‘close the loophole’ through which developers with vested rights aren’t being held to the requirement.
Also during the discussion, City Housing Services Director Pam Wideman acknowledged that the ordinance would add cost to the construction of affordable housing, but said she felt it was important that affordable housing residents enjoy the same access to safe sidewalks as residents of market-rate apartments.
Councilmembers Kenny Smith and Ed Driggs both said they objected to the idea of the City mandating new sidewalks from property owners with vested development rights, especially when the amount of ROW required was so large.
REBIC has objected to the proposal since it was first advanced in the Charlotte WALKS Pedestrian Plan, adopted by Council early this year. We spoke out against the proposal when the ordinance came up for public comment last month, arguing that the new requirement would cost new commercial and multifamily developments hundreds of thousands of dollars in grading, clearing and construction costs, and impact the price of affordable housing citywide.
Just before yesterday’s vote, three of Charlotte’s largest affordable housing developers, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, the Charlotte Housing Authority, and Mosaic Development Group, voiced their concerns with the proposal through a joint letter to City Council. Echoing REBIC’s opposition, the groups asked for the proposal to be tabled until its impact on affordable housing could be better ascertained.
REBIC thanks City Council for listening to our concerns and referring the ordinance back through the committee process for further review. We will continue to work with Council members and staff to evaluate the sidewalk proposal in the coming weeks and months, with the hope that improvements can be made that will mitigate its impact on commercial and residential property owners across the City.
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