Climate Leaders Comment on Charlotte’s UDO

Last month, Charlotte Mecklenburg Climate Leaders, (CMCL) led by CleanAIRE NC, submitted comments on the City of Charlotte’s draft Unified Development Ordinance, a document that consolidates eight city ordinances that guide Charlotte’s development and aligns these standards with the vision of the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The comments focused on maintenance and protection of trees and off-street and bicycle parking. A second draft of the UDO will be open for public comment at public hearings in May and June. The City is expected to vote on the final draft in July.

The comments below were submitted on March 18, 2022 by Charlotte Mecklenburg Climate Leaders:

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Climate Leaders has the following comments regarding the UDO, referring to Part IX Stormwater & Natural Resources, Article 29: Tree Protection. Comments regarding Part VIII. General Development Zoning Standards, Article 19: Off-Street Vehicle & Bicycle Parking are also included. Thanks to the staff for their hard work over the past few years in updating this important document.

Article 29: Tree Protection – Section 3: MAINTENANCE and PROTECTION OF TREES

We are pleased that the UDO removes the exemption within the uptown area and transit station areas from tree save requirements.

The requirement in the UDO that all sites save 15% of development for green areas is an improvement from the previous lower requirement.  However, given our tree canopy needs, we recommend that all multi-unit developments of a significant size in specifically designated areas of the City be required to provide an additional 10% save for land for parks and greenways where additional trees can be planted.

The UDO plan to expand protected trees to include heritage trees on private property is valuable, but we would like to see the size of the trees included to start at 20 dbh (versus the proposed 30 dbh) since 20 dbh trees are considered to be large trees.

Article 29: Tree Protection – Section 6: FRONTAGE TREE PLANTING REQUIREMENT

The frontage tree planting requirement is a good step.  However, the distance of 40′ should be shorter for small and medium trees.  Small and medium trees need a shorter distance in order to achieve the shade needed to improve the walkability of sidewalks.

Article 29: Tree Protection – Section 7: TREE PLANTING REQUIREMENT

We would like to see that at least 75% of new required trees shall be native species (versus the proposed 50%) since native trees are more beneficial for wildlife, particularly birds and insects.

The current tree ordinance states that payment in lieu (for opting not to provide tree save) will not exceed 90% of the average tax value for an acre of land.  Given the strong need for additional funds to protect our tree canopy, we recommend that this be increased to 100% of the average tax value.

The UDO does not adequately address the issue of trees planted in parking lots.  We recommend that the pervious area around these trees be increased to support the growth of larger trees with broader canopies which will help reduce the heat build up in parking lots.  If some medium sized trees are used, the 40′ distance from parking spots should be reduced to 30′ to add more shade.

Article 29: Tree Protection – Section 8: TREE MITIGATION FUNDS

We support the plan to establish a Tree Conservation Fund to directly fund the City’s Tree Canopy Preservation Program.  However, we recommend that this be named the “Tree Conservation & Equity Fund,” in recognition of the need to prioritize funding for trees in low income areas with the least tree coverage.  (As noted in the City’s Tree Canopy Action Plan, the tree canopy in Charlotte is not equitably distributed.)  We also support the plans to establish a Street Tree Planting Fund and a Canopy Care Fund.

Article 19: Off-Street Vehicle & Bicycle Parking – Section 2: VEHICLE PARKING SPACE REQUIREMENTS

UDO does a good job in its requirements for bicycle parking, EV charging stations, and EV parking allotments. 

We want to eliminate most, if not all minimum parking requirements in Tier 3 areas (i.e. the most dense areas like South Park and potentially in University City), and encourage developers to build shared parking or other solutions. The same principle applies in single family and multi-family development.

From a wonky metric standpoint staff needs to substantiate their UDO parking matrix by addressing the following questions:

  1. How was the 1/250 GFA ratio determined for office facilities? How does this compare with the current zoning ordinance?
  2. Is there a way to find out on an item by item basis which parking ratios are different in the UDO draft vs. the current zoning ordinance? The Planning staff needs to explain their rationale for changing such ratios. 
  3. Should all parking be based on Net Square Footage, rather than Gross? Depending on the building type, as much as 50% of a building could conceivably be storage, elevator shafts, hallways etc. Such functions lie mostly outside the realm of normal, daily parking needs.

Finally, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Climate Leaders would like to go on record as supporting Sustain Charlotte’s UDO comments.

For cleaner air,

June Blotnick
Executive Director