With the deadline for a vote on the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan rapidly approaching, discussions about certain elements of the plan have ratcheted up in recent weeks, many of them focused on a new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) that would allow for the building of duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in neighborhoods currently zoned for single-family housing.
On Friday, however, the plan faced opposition for different reasons, as a new coalition of more than 30 neighborhood organizations from north, west and east Charlotte calling itself the Charlotte Community Benefits Coalition (CCBC) held a press conference calling on the city to delay the public hearing scheduled for March 22 to allow time for more community engagement about the plan.
“From our perspective, we think the conversation around the 2040 Plan really hasn’t addressed the actual question of the equity element, particularly for communities that haven’t seen the benefits of development but are facing the brunt of displacement as a result of how development decisions are made and as a result of how resources have been allocated,” said Ismaail Qayim, chair of the Housing Justice Coalition’s political action committee and lead organizer with CCBC, at Friday’s press conference.
According to a press release, the coalition formed “to give a voice to the needs of underrepresented communities for a more equitable Charlotte … giving a voice to the needs of historically disenfranchised low- and moderate-income neighborhoods and community members; specifically, African American and Latino community members and other communities of color, our community members who are immigrants, people with limited English proficiency, senior citizens, students, homeowners, and small business owners.”
A draft of the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan, a 320-page document that will guide Charlotte development and investments over the next two decades, was released in October 2020 and is scheduled to be voted on in April of this year. This phase of the plan’s drafting is meant for public input and community engagement, but CCBC members claim the process hasn’t been an equitable one.
“While materials from the City may indicate that the 2040 Plan is focused on ‘equity,’ the 2040 Plan itself does not call for any mechanism or any community enforcement tool that will achieve democratization of community planning,” the release read. “The 2040 Plan will transform land use decision making and likely reduce the leverage that communities have over development decisions.”
The CCBC made four demands of the city on Friday, including that the coalition itself be allowed more involvement in the 2040 Plan process, including in the city’s Ordinance Advisory Committee, a committee made up of neighborhoods, environmental groups, designers and development consultants that the CCBC claims “is not made up of just highly engaged community members but rather residents handpicked by members of City Council.”
The CCBC listed the following demands during Friday’s press conference:
- Delay the public hearing tentatively set for March 22 and hold community engagement sessions that allow residents to actually engage with the plan itself — “an engagement process similar to the one that was used to take community ideas and place them into the 2040 Plan.”
- Commission an “Anti-Displacement Stakeholder Group” composed of members appointed by the CCBC. The group would provide an assessment of the 2040 Plan to Charlotte City Council, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, and planning staff. This group would also provide a report for each stage of the 2040 Plan process: the comprehensive plan itself, the UDO adoption, and the selection and implementation of place types.
- Integrate Community Benefit Zones into the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The zones would be made up of community leaders who are the first point of contact for development projects in which they democratically decide how they’d like to proceed, “to fully ensure they are following the Equitable Growth Framework that the City outlined as its guidance for forming the 2040 Plan.”
- Make necessary changes to the Ordinance Advisory Committee to provide public transparency and input from CCBC. This would include making all OAC meetings with Charlotte’s planning staff open to public attendance rather than just posted to the UDO website days later, and making available to the public any information on what district OAC members reside in and whether they work in the real estate industry.
On Friday, Qayim said more time is needed to ensure community members get the same amount of say in the upcoming plan as developers and other stakeholders have gotten.
“We realize that other interest groups, particularly builders and developers, have many different channels through which they can advocate, formally and informally, with city council and other power brokers here in the city,” he said. “We believe that a formal channel should be set up for ordinary citizens and communities to be able to do the same thing.”
The city has planned multiple listening sessions for community feedback on the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan in the coming week, as well as a virtual Planning Community Conversation scheduled for March 16 at which participants will have the chance to engage with featured panelists on key concepts of the plan.
Those panelists will include Keba Samuel, vice-chair of Charlotte’s Planning Commission; Dave Walters of the UNCC College of Architecture; Amar Johnson, president of the Seversville Community Organization; Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte; Thomas Haapapuro, licensed professional landscape architect with Design Resource Group; and Banu Valladeres, executive director at Charlotte Bilingual Preschool.
That Planning Community Conversation is scheduled for noon on Tuesday, and interested residents must fill out a sign-up form to participate. There are also listening sessions scheduled next week for Tuesday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at noon and again at 5 p.m., and Thursday at noon and again at 5 p.m. According to the city, these small group listening sessions will not be live-streamed, allowing residents the opportunity to provide open and honest feedback.
City staff is expected to release an updated draft of the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan following these hearings, which will then be voted on next month. The plan itself has faced plenty of opposition already, with interest groups such as the Charlotte Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition voicing concerns over the proposed UDO and multiple city council members stating at a March 1 meeting that April would be too soon to hold a vote on the controversial plan.
Stay tuned to Queen City Nerve for more reporting on the controversy surrounding the proposed Unified Development Ordinance, as well as other updates on the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan, as this story develops.
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