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Almost 6 months in, Charlotte's elimination of single-family-only zoning still on shaky ground

Homes in Charlotte's Cherry neighborhood where housing prices have increased rapidly.
Gwendolyn Glenn
Homes in Charlotte's Cherry neighborhood, where housing prices have increased rapidly.

The single most important local issue cited by most people in a recent survey of Mecklenburg residents is the cost of housing. The city has launched big initiatives and poured millions of dollars into affordable housing projects, yet we’re still short some 30,000 affordable rental units, according to city data.

One of Charlotte’s most ambitious plans to solve this is the UDO — or the Unified Development Ordinance. It’s a really unsexy name for a plan that’s supposed to encourage developers to build more homes in tighter spaces and hopefully bring prices down.

But nearly six months after the ordinance was implemented, some members of City Council are having second thoughts.

Andy Thomason wrote about this for the news site The Assembly. His article is titled “Can Charlotte Re-Sort Itself?” He discussed it with WFAE's Nick de la Canal.

Listen: Can Charlotte re-sort itself?
Will Charlotte's plan to reshape the city by rezoning large tracts of land pay off? Nick de la Canal spoke with reporter Andy Thomason to see why some, including on City Council, are skeptical.

Here are some highlights of their conversation:

On the connection between the UDO, zoning and segregation: "It's a foundational issue in the discussion about the UDO. One reason that the advocates behind this bold step to end single-family zoning has for doing that is deep-seated segregation, both economic and racial in Charlotte. And it's a story a lot of your listeners will know already, But it basically around the turn of the 19th, the 20th century, racial segregation was hatched in Charlotte's de facto policy and reality, and over the ensuing century that has made for a deeply divided city."

On former Charlotte planning director Taiwo Jaiyeoba's reaction to watching debates about the UDO from Greensboro: "He's sometimes found himself watching the City Council meetings on the stream and that he's been a little bit exasperated to see that the city leaders have, to some degree, not moved on from the very controversial and sort of toxic debates that dominated the formation of the comprehensive plan and the UDO."

On the future of the UDO and whether proposed changes imperil it: "If you're looking forward and wondering about the long-term survival of the UDO, I think it's unlikely, although anything's possible, that a future council could say, hey, let's throw this thing out entirely. I think what's more likely is that you see some tweaks like this that make it a little bit harder to densify, and that just makes it gradually more difficult to build more housing on the same amount of land."

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal