After a years-long effort followed by months of debate, Charlotte City Council finally voted on the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan on Monday night, approving the plan’s adoption by a slim 6-5 margin.
The final adopted Charlotte 2040 Comprehensive Plan will be released to the public within the next 30 days. City staff will engage with the community in mapping the land-use policies within the plan to create a Policy Map, which will be voted on by council to provide guidance on land use and public investment decisions and the zoning districts within the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
“I am grateful to the Mayor and City Council for supporting the thousands of people in our community who contributed to the plan,” said Taiwo Jaiyeoba, assistant city manager and Planning Department director, following Monday’s vote. “Now we are on to the next steps in the process and I look forward to continuing to work with the community and to ensure an equitable city for all who call Charlotte home.”
On October 31, 2020, the City of Charlotte released a draft Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan for public review and comment. The plan includes the Vision and Growth Framework for implementation of the city’s goals into a living document that integrates community input and best practices that will guide the city’s decision-making and investment in both the near- and long-term.
The Plan contains three sections: The Plan Policy, the Implementation Strategy, and the Manuals and Metrics. The Plan Policy, which was up for vote on Monday night, is considered the main body of the plan and includes the Plan’s 10 Goals, supporting objectives, projects, programs, and introduces ten Place Types that set aspirational direction for how development will contribute to creating complete communities across the city.
On June 15, 2021, the Planning Committee of the Planning Commission unanimously recommended adoption of the Plan Policy section of the final recommended draft of the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Despite that endorsement, the plan still had its doubters on council, a bipartisan group that called for more analysis of the controversial Policy 2.1, among other things.
Here’s our chronological reporting of how last night’s meeting played out. To get Council Quickies sent straight to your inbox after each council meeting, sign up for that or our other newsletters.
An amended motion
Larken Egleston began the meeting by stating it had been three years since the council voted on an issue as divisive as the Comprehensive Plan vote (the vote to host RNC was July 2018). He reminded those watching that he believes no council member wants anything but what’s best for their constituents and city, and encouraged civil discourse.
After voting on a few zoning petitions and text amendments to city ordinances that brought them into compliance with recently passed state legislation, the council began discussing the plan.
The discussion began with council member Malcolm Graham’s motion to adopt the Plan Policy section of the Comp Plan, to which Victoria Watlington responded with an amended motion that would adopt the plan while delaying adoption of the Policy 2.1 portion pending feasibility analysis, including economic and land-use analysis.
Watlington said she affirms the 10 major goals of the Comp Plan, but, “All of those should come together to serve the best interests of the city.” She said she was disappointed that community leaders were told that Community Benefit Agreements language could not be adopted without Policy 2.1, stating that is “unequivocally untrue.”
She added that her amended motion would set in motion portions of the plan that include Community Benefits Agreements and an Anti-Displacement Commission, but would create only a six- to eight-week delay in creation of the upcoming Unified Development Ordinance.
Renee Johnson asked if there was any aspect of the plan that requires developers to create affordable housing, to which assistant city manager and Planning Director Taiwo Jaiyeoba responded that increased diversity in housing types results in lower housing costs, more affordability, etc.
Johnson supported Watlington’s amended motion because she said she didn’t see the data that proved the plan will result in more affordability, and she didn’t want it to pull the rug out from homeowners who bought their homes with certain understandings about their neighborhoods.
“We have found that this study will take 6-8 weeks, and we’ve been talking about this for 10, so we could have already seen this data by now,” said Johnson.
Watlington said the feasibility analysis will be done regardless before the UDO is developed, but her motion would delay the adoption of language to direct the UDO’s creation until council can see the mapped out results. “Then we can make a more informed decision.”
Jaiyeoba said the study itself might take just six to eight weeks, but the delay could take much longer.
“This is integrated into the place-types process, separating it creates a fragmented approach which further pushes out the completion of the place types and the UDO itself,” he said.
Senior assistant attorney Terrie Hagler-Grey said the analysis could take six to eight weeks, but the delay could be more like six to eight months because there would need to be community engagement and fixes to other portions of the plan if they were to pull Policy 2.1 out.
Ed Driggs then repeated his claims that the entire plan has been done without a lot of analysis, and without any data around other cities who have adopted similar plans.
“I don’t know why this hasn’t been done already,” he said. “Rather than just embrace the values of Policy 2.1, let’s take a further look at what impact it has … It’s been 40-something years since we last did something like this, and we have time.”
Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said she learned about Watlington and other staff members meeting with staff on Friday from social media, and it made her question the intent of the new amended motion.
“We voted in straw votes to include Policy 2.1 in this plan,” Eiselt reminded her colleagues.
Eiselt said future councils will have the opportunity to make changes to plan if unintended results come up over the years. “This is a 2040 Plan, nobody thinks the city is going to change overnight,” she added.
Council member Matt Newton said Friday’s meeting was set up by staff in order to answer questions that still existed from council members. “It wasn’t something that council members had any intention whatsoever to exclude other council members.”
Newton said he supported Watlington’s motion because “we have undoubtedly put the cart before the horse.” He doesn’t like the idea that the council will make changes as the plan is implemented, saying that would be like “putting toothpaste back into the tube” while people could be hurt in the meantime.
Council member Braxton Winston if someone from the city’s planning committee, which unanimously approved the plan for recommendation to council on June 15, could speak to Watlington’s motion. It was then that committee chair Sam Spencer stood and addressed those in attendance, stating that Policy 2.1 is one part of a whole that coalesce into the goal toward increasing housing supply. He said he opposed the delay in Watlington’s motion, and zoning commission chair Keba Samuel agreed.
Watlington’s motion failed on a 6-5 vote, sending council back to the original motion to approve the plan *with* the Policy 2.1 language included.
The final vote
Matt Newton said he believed the city had been left with a flawed plan. He claimed that when a city allows developers to build twice, three or even four times the amount of units wherever they want, as Policy 2.1 would allow for them, it encourages greed, not affordability. He said the increased density would only accelerate gentrification.
Julie Eiselt said the plan serves as a blueprint for the development of our city and will help Charlotte move away from its transactional, piecemeal style of development.
Ed Driggs spoke about his belief that “the city is already great,” saying that the plan acts on a notion that the city is guilty of something and needs to fix something it’s done wrong. “We’ve done a lot of things right.”
Driggs asked why the plan needs to drop the amount of land zoned exclusively for single-family housing from 70% all the way to 0%. He also said the goal of making all neighborhoods into 10-minute neighborhoods was “impossible,” and that language around Community Benefit Agreements would give residents false beliefs of their power in the development process.
Dimple Ajmera said she believes in this plan. “It challenges the way we operate, it challenges the status quo, and I know it might be uncomfortable for some,” but it’s important, and perhaps most important is the mechanism that promises to invest 50% or more of infrastructure spending in underserved communities.
Upon her final turn to speak, Watlington said she stands by her belief that the plan is not in the best interest of Charlotte. She refuted the point that council will be able to change the plan if it has unintended results, as the place-types won’t be available in the UDO to do so.
Watlington said Policy 2.1 puts the broader goals of the Comp Plan at risk and repeated her concerns that five district reps were being out-voted by the interests of at-large reps.
Tariq Bokhari began his comments with an apology to the residents of Charlotte, saying that he believes the plan is one of the most “dangerous” issues the city faces and that his efforts to push back on it were too important, but he did not succeed.
Bokhari said, “Charlotte is going to become all the worst parts of living in Atlanta,” and added that he doesn’t necessarily stand against abolishing single-family zoning, but would like to see more data around it before making that decision.
Bokhari also added that “6 to 5 is not something to celebrate,” though he predicted supporters would be on a “celebration tour” as early as Tuesday.
Braxton Winston spoke in support of passing the plan, discussing that it tears down governmental regulations that were put in place to strengthen segregation. Malcolm Graham agreed, stating, ““There’s a reason why this plan focused on diversity and bringing people together, we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Graham then brought up Bokhari’s comments from the June 14 meeting about “saddling people with misdemeanors for helping the homeless … that’s not my vision of Charlotte.”
Renee Johnson said she didn’t believe there had been enough community engagement, stating, “Engagement does not equal inclusion,” and presentations and informational sessions that ignore feedback are not real engagement.
Greg Phipps confirmed he would also be “voting in the affirmative” for the plan, referencing comments from a representative of REBIC, a group that’s long been opposed to the plan, from Monday morning’s episode of WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, that “even they are ready to move forward” and get to the nuts and bolts of the UDO.
Larken Egleston kept his comment brief, stating, “I’d just like to assure everyone who’s watching that reports of Charlotte’s impending death are greatly exaggerated,” before the council held their vote.
The Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan passed 6-5, with supporters being Julie Eiselt, Malcom Graham, Dimple Ajmera, Braxton Winston, Larken Egleston and Greg Phipps.
Following the vote, Mayor Vi Lyles said, “There are some times when I get in my car at night after a meeting and regret something I’ve said, but I want to state clearly that I’m not sorry for this,” stating that she was proud to oversee the council that passed this Comprehensive Plan.
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