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‘Going backwards’? Charlotte prepares to rescind controversial triplex rules

A triplex is under construction in Governor's Square in Charlotte. The city of Charlotte has said it wants to reverse a provision that allows triplexes to be built in all residential lots.
Steve Harrison/WFAE
A triplex is under construction in Governor's Square in Charlotte. The city of Charlotte has said it wants to reverse a provision that allows triplexes to be built in all residential lots.

A year ago, Allyson Cooksey-Jones was only vaguely aware that the city of Charlotte was going to allow duplexes and triplexes in all residential neighborhoods.

Then early this year, a single-family home sold near her on Chevington Road, in the Governor’s Square neighborhood in south Charlotte.

The developer tore it down. Aspen City Homes is now building a triplex.

“And now we have a two-story iron structure that’s going to be glass,” Cooksey-Jones said. “That doesn’t fit (with the neighborhood). It’s going to be fancy, but it doesn’t fit.”

She and her neighbors tried to stop it.

“It was a little whiplash,” she said. “And then once we started looking around, there really isn't anything we can do about it because that’s what the city said.”

In passing a new rulebook for development in 2022, Charlotte followed the lead of Minneapolis, which became the first major U.S. city four years ago to scrap a zoning category that only allowed for single-family homes.

The City Council in 2022 approved the 2040 Plan by a single vote, 6-5. It was one of the most contentious issues council members have debated in years.

The idea is to allow more types of housing and create a more dense, walkable city. The hope is that it will eventually lower prices. Their theory: More supply would ease the housing crunch, bringing prices down.

But Cooksey-Jones said the developer told her each unit in the triplex will sell for $800,000 — about the cost of the home that once stood there.

“This isn’t affordable housing,” she said. “And if that’s what their purpose or intent was, they went down the wrong road.”

Governors Square residents protested the new rules, along with people in nearby neighborhoods like Barclay Downs and Lansdowne where triplexes are also being built inside older neighborhoods. In all, the city said there are roughly 25 in-fill triplexes under construction right now.

Apparently those residents were heard.

Last month, city planner Allyson Craig announced a surprising reversal of part of the 2040 Plan: Instead of allowing triplexes on any lot, they would be restricted to corner lots, which have more room to handle multiple driveways and the cars the residents will have.

Craig explained the change as a small tweak.

“I really think it’s more about making some adjustments so that we are getting housing supply in the areas that are most important and maybe recognizing that, in our less intense districts, that maybe that’s not the place to put the highest density,” she said.

Under the proposal, duplexes could still be built anywhere. And quadplexes would be allowed on corner lots, which is a change.

But only allowing triplexes on corner lots probably eliminates 90% of the building opportunities for triplexes in existing neighborhoods. It would have prohibited the one under construction in Governor’s Square, for example.

Craig downplayed the change.

“I think we are making adjustments to how we are applying the regulations in the (Unified Development Ordinance, which implements the 2040 Plan),” she said. “It’s not changing our housing goals. Our housing goals are still to provide a diversity of housing types, to increase the presence of missing middle housing.”

Perhaps the biggest proponent of the 2040 Plan is former council member Braxton Winston, who is running for state labor commissioner.

On social media last month, he wrote that the city is making housing “more difficult and expensive to build.” He has said single-family-only zoning is racist because it makes it hard for people of color to live in apartments or smaller housing units in affluent areas.

Another former council member who voted for the 2040 Plan, Julie Eiselt, is also upset.

“It is disappointing in the sense that if they are caving to political pressure that’s ridiculous,” she said. “They supposedly had done that work before and determined the envelope size and the footage of the building and that it would work.”

In Governor’s Square, Cooksey-Jones doesn’t understand how affordability is helped when the new units will be more expensive on a square-footage basis than the house they replaced.

But supporters of the plan have said that even expensive housing is good housing because a nearly half-acre piece of land that once was home to one family can now be home to three, They point out that plenty of older, expensive neighborhoods, like Dilworth and Elizabeth, have duplexes and quadplexes sprinkled throughout.

But of the six council members who voted for the 2040 Plan, only two are left: Dimple Ajmera and Malcolm Graham.

Graham said he believes the changes will make it harder for developers to add more units.

“It’s disingenuous to say that we’re not going backwards, right?” he said. “I think it’s just disingenuous to say that. We are!”

But, he’s indicated he plans to vote for the proposed changes. The City Council is expected to vote on the changes to triplexes in July.


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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.