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Council Quickies: City Ordinance Enforcement, Decriminalization

Meeting notes from Feb. 14, 2022

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What happened: Charlotte City Council met for a business meeting on Monday to discuss updates to the Charlotte Future 2040 Policy Map as well as decriminalization of several city code violations. The council also authorized distributing ARPA funds for COVID-19 relief, nominated several people to various boards and committees, and offered its condolences to the family of CATS employee Ethan Rivera, shot down in an incident of road rage while driving a bus over the weekend.

What’s next: Council will meet next Monday, Feb. 21, for a zoning meeting.


Charlotte Future 2040 Policy Map Update

Alyson Craig and Alysia Osborne presented on the Charlotte Future 2040 Policy Map. Osborne discussed some of the feedback she had received on the policy map and what the next steps will be in anticipation of the next draft’s release on February 21, 2022.

To review: the Charlotte Future 2040 Policy Map is the council’s plan for Charlotte’s development over the next 20 years. By researching current land use and community needs, the council hopes to better understand how Charlotte can grow.

The Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan was approved in July 2021. Since then, the city has unveiled two drafts of the policy map. The second draft had a couple major revisions including preserving the place type of college campuses and historical districts and adjusting place types around the airport in anticipation of future development.

The public comment for the latest draft will run from Feb. 21 to Mar. 21, 2022. The tentative adoption date for the final map is March 28, 2022. It would go into effect on July 1, 2022.

As it moves into Phase 3, Osborne said the city needs to keep a couple outstanding issues in mind. She said one key issue is clarifying the messaging around what the map is and how it compares to the Unified Development Ordinance, also currently going through the drafting stages.

“I think there is some confusion, rightfully so, about the map and what the [Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)] will or will not do,” she said.

In one slide, she pointed out that the UDO is enforceable and specific, whereas the map is more of a conceptual plan for the future. Osborne also said she hopes to revisit revisions related to campus place types and recommendations related to the Silver Line (and how that might develop.)

Osborne also discussed what would happen after the map is adopted, at which time the city hopes to re-launch the Community Planning Academy and develop the Community Area Planning Toolkit in order to keep civilians involved in the plan’s implementation. She also said the city would conduct an annual review of the map and its effects on Charlotte’s development.

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During the Q&A session, Julie Eiselt asked Osborne about the “conflicting visions” of some of Charlotte’s historic districts. While some advocate for increasing housing density in these areas, others fear that further development could threaten the character of these neighborhoods. “The place type map does not absolve historic district boundaries,” Osborne replied. “That’s what rules, and the development regulations and entitlements within that, that is what supersedes.”

Dimple Ajmera asked about resident concerns that the map will decrease, not increase, density in their neighborhoods. Osborne pointed out that about 150 people move to Charlotte every day. “So, it would not be a good idea to talk about decreasing density but being more thoughtful about increasing it in the appropriate locations.”


Update on City Ordinance Enforcement

Patrick Baker and Lina James of the City Attorney’s Office took the floor to discuss the city’s response to the passage of Senate Bill 300.

Gov. Roy Cooper and a bipartisan coalition passed SB300, a criminal justice reform package, in September 2021. The bill stipulates that a default penalty for violating city code can no longer be criminal enforcement.

Cities have to specify which violations should be pursued through criminal means and which violations should be pursued through civil means. Violations pursued through criminal means cannot fall into 10 prohibited categories. Previously, any ordinance could be enforced through civil or criminal means, though the vast majority of Charlotte’s violations have been pursued through civil means.

For the last two months, the City Attorney’s Office has been reviewing all city ordinances to determine which ordinances should be enforced civilly and which criminally. Last night, they made recommendations for amendments to the city code. The City Attorney’s office asked the council to review the proposed amendments in hopes of getting them officially adopted during the Feb. 28 council meeting.

James proposed that the option of criminal enforcement be restored to several ordinances, including (but not limited to): animal bites, public health nuisances, loitering by railroad property and fire code violations. James stated that restoring criminal enforcement for these sections of code provides a last-resort measure for addressing violations in case civil enforcement failed.

During the Q&A session, Ed Driggs asked whether decriminalization might take away power from Charlotte’s law enforcement. Baker said yes — and noted that the push towards decriminalization is bipartisan.

Next, Braxton Winston asked whether the city council ought to spend more time reviewing the proposed changes. “I certainly wouldn’t want to rush through this,” he said.

Renee Johnson asked for clarification on how SB300 addresses criminal defense. Basically, the law approved some new defenses to criminal charges for city code violations. Baker explained that if someone was dealing with homelessness, unemployment or mental health/substance abuse issues, that could be grounds for dismissing their violation of city code. It’s not a guaranteed dismissal, but a viable defense to criminal charges.

The law also stipulates that an individual must not make any new code violations in the 30 days following their initial violation for it to be dismissed.

To that, Johnson said she also wanted to spend more time reviewing these proposed amendments. Johnson and Winston eventually agreed that while they wanted to be careful about changing the code, they didn’t want to delay the proposed changes too much. Mayor Vi Lyles asked the City Attorney to proceed as planned. The office will return Feb. 28 to discuss the amendments more and further address Johnson and Winston’s concerns.


Business Items

Before moving into the business portion of the meeting, Mayor Lyles offered her condolences to the family of Ethan Rivera, the CATS bus driver who was gunned down on Feb 11. He succumbed to his injuries the following day.

Council voted on a resolution to authorize the city manager to distribute COVID-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. You might recall the funding breakdown from previous meetings: $14 million to workforce/hospitality/small business grants, $3.5 million to non-profit operations grants, and $1.5 million to a local food distribution facility. The motion passed unanimously.

Next up was a resolution to allow the city manager’s office to convey four vacant city properties to affordable housing developers (including DreamKey Partners, Habitat for Humanity, Crosland Southeast and the NRP Group), as was discussed at last week’s meeting.

After Johnson interjected with a request for clarification, Shawn Heath took the podium and said Monday night’s vote was on authorizing the city manager to negotiate those deals, “not [authorizing] the deals themselves.” After the discussion concluded, the motion passed.

The council then passed a motion to sell city-owned property off Dixie River Road and voted to put $915,000 in private developer funds toward the Brown-Grier Road Widening Project in Council District 3.


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