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After Braxton Winston Says Single-Family Zoning Is A 'Racist Ideology,' One Colleague Calls Him 'Reckless'

Charlotte City Council member Braxton Winston (left) has called single-family zoning racist. Fellow council member Victoria Watlington (right) doesn't agree.

Laura Peavy of Eastover emailed Charlotte City Council members this week, urging them to preserve zoning that only allows for single-family homes.

Some wrote back, including at-large Democratic council member Braxton Winston.

“Good afternoon, Thank you for sharing your concerns,” Winston wrote. “Single-family zoning is a policy of segregation. I will not support racist ideology and philosophies."

Peavy said she knew Winston believes the zoning had helped segregate American cities.

“But to actually receive it personally, I was still taken aback,” she said. “And even though I was kind of expecting it, it still seemed like a very personal attack on a resident who is expressing concern on a plan that I don’t think was well-thought out. It’s shocking.”

During the debate over Charlotte’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan, Winston has been the most outspoken council member in favor of eliminating single-family-only zoning. Winston has said on social media, in response to residents, that the zoning is a “tool of segregation” and that people trying to keep it are “advocating for segregation.”

Peavy, who is white, lives in one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods.

But concern over the city’s 2040 plan extends to African American neighborhoods, where some fear scrapping single-family-only zoning will accelerate gentrification.

The city said giving developers more flexibility to build duplexes and triplexes will create more housing units, and that will ultimately lower prices.

But Democratic council member Victoria Watlington, who is Black, said she worries that new construction will be more expensive, pushing out lower and middle-income residents. She represents west and southwest Charlotte.

“My concern and the concerns of my constituents is that we are not going to be able to ensure that people have homeownership opportunities at affordable rates in the areas that — up until a couple of years ago — you could find a house below a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Watlington said.

She said Winston’s comments about single-family zoning being a racist ideology are “embarrassing, frankly, for our elected officials. It demonstrates a lack of understanding and knowledge and nuance and a lack of understanding of what our constituents actually want.”

She continued: “It’s also extremely disrespectful to suggest that Black neighborhoods and Black homeowners like myself that live in these neighborhoods in question are racist against our own desires. To stand up and say you are about restorative justice and then reduce our opinions to NIMBYism and racism is reckless.”

She agrees with Winston that zoning has, at times, increased segregation. But she said that’s no reason to quickly do away with it decades later.

“That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do our homework to make sure that new policies don’t have the same effects, unintended,” she said.

As for Winston, he makes no apologies.

“It’s racist ideology and it's racist political philosophy,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It’s a perpetuation of redlining and I won’t support it.”

Winston was asked about fears that allowing duplexes and triplexes in single-family neighborhoods will accelerate gentrification. He said that more dense housing units are already being built today after politically connected developers lobby City Council for a rezoning.

“(The rezoning process) is really only open to people who have the ability to spend tens of thousands of dollars on it,” he said. “(Zoning) is a governmenta barrier to providing the housing choices that people want. And it’s a government policy that enables and promotes segregation.”

Scrapping single-family zoning moves the city closer to a free-market economy he says — something conservatives should applaud.

“I think it’s completely unfair to allow one type of person to build and say that another type of person can’t build simplybecause we want to keep the character of our neighborhood the same,” he said. “That’s racism. That’s classism. That is systemic segregation.”

But what about when an African American leader like Watlington says her constituents are wary of doing away with single-family zoning?

“The tools of white supremacy and the tools of the oppressor are employed by the oppressed every day,” he said. “This is our duty, I believe, to deconstruct those systems, regardless of who is coveting them. Regardless of the color of the person, the gender identity of the person or the economic status of the person.”

The city said it has done extensive public engagement on the 2040 plan and that feedback has been positive. Some council members, however, said the concerns of residents and developers haven’t been acknowledged.

Council was supposed to vote on the 2040 plan next month. That’s now looking unlikely.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.