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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

That voodoo that UDO so well (with thanks to Phil Poe, apologies to Cole Porter)

Posted by on Tue, Mar 29, 2011 at 6:44 PM

On the homepage of RaleighUDO.com
  • On the homepage of RaleighUDO.com

Phil Poe, inveterate citizen that he is, has a new blog up about the UDO — the Unified Development Ordinance. (Like its subject, Poe's blog is a work in progress.)

Never heard of the UDO? That's Poe's point in creating his website. Raleigh's planning department & its consultants from Code Studio have been writing this thing, this UDO, for more than a year and guess what, it's a whole new zoning code for the city ...

... pretty exciting, except ...

... City Council has allotted all of 60 days for the interested public to consider it from the time it's unveiled on April 6 to an intended June-July adoption process.

That's right, it's an entirely new zoning code, and the public has just two months to read it, figure out what the hell it would do to development patterns in Raleigh, consult with friends, maybe go to a public meeting and hear what others think, and then ...

... ah, too bad, time's up.

(This just in: Raleigh Public Record has a Q&A up today with Christine Darges of the planning department about the UDO—and blogger-in-chief Charles Pardo promises more to come after April 6, so if you're interested and haven't bookmarked his website yet — )

And for extra fun, the Council's intention — that is, Mayor Charles Meeker's intention — is to adopt the ordinance without a map to show where the various new zoning categories would go.

In other words, it isn't a zoning ordinance at all. It's a zoning theory, with its uses to be determined on a case-by-case basis once you've given up trying to understand what the theory is.

Or to torture an analogy, think of your garden. We're going to describe some plants, most of which you've never seen before — but here's some sketches — and we're not going to reveal how they'll be planted until after you buy them. (Nor can you go buy some others if you don't like the way the garden turns out.)

I'm reminded of that old Cole Porter song:

You do something to me,
something that simply mystifies me.
Tell me, why should it be
you have the power to hypnotize me?
Let me live 'neath your spell,
Do do that voodoo
that you do so well.
For you do something to me
that nobody else could do!

***

Poe is a member of a UDO advisory group named by the Council to meet periodically with the consultants and staff. Indeed, he's one of the members tasked with representing the public interest; others are representing real estate interests or, as lawyers, their clients' interests.

But after a year of meetings, even the diligent and civic-minded Mr. Poe is feeling a bit "mystified" about the UDO's many twists and turns and whether, as almost but not quite written, it will improve on Raleigh's famously loose, pro-developer development standards or in some unforeseen ways — at least unforeseen by the public — augment them.

So he's issued a "Help Wanted" call: "Please help spread the word about the UDO. The schedule has only allocated two months for the public's review of the initial draft of the UDO."

At the most recent Council meeting, the chair of the advisory group, Rod Swink, asked Meeker & Co. to slow down and give the public a fair chance to understand the document before it's adopted. Swink said:

Over the course of our many meetings we have found much to like about the new code as drafted. We are totally in support of its intent and believe that it will be a major improvement over our current tool, and one that we all want to see in place as soon as possible. Having said that, we do have some concerns.

First, we have not totally revised our city development code in years, and everyone believes that we will not likely do a total or even major revision again for years to come. Therefore, we are eager that the code we put forward be the best code it can be. We do not seek perfection, but we do want this to be fully vetted and properly tested to minimize the need for future revisions, and to maximize citizen and business confidence in the process.

Given the pace we have all been on, we are concerned that the proposed 60 day review period once the consolidated draft has been released on April 6 will not be sufficient for thorough analysis and thoughtful commentary.

Second, once the review period has passed, there is an even smaller window from June 6 to a possible July public hearing during which time staff must prepare the final document for official public comment. This will require staff to not only consider all of the comments generated during the open review, but also decide what, if any, changes are needed.

Third, given the compressed review time available, those most vested in the outcome of this process may not have sufficient time to become fully comfortable with the document, leading to the risk that some may not support that which they do not understand. While we as a group represent many key stakeholders, we are just a small number of those whose opinions matter.

Finally, there has been some concern expressed by some members of the Advisory Group that releasing the proposed code separate from the proposed zoning map may limit people’s ability to fully understand the implications of the UDO. Their belief is that without the map, people will not engage in the review process and until the map is available, the code has limited value.

Meeker essentially dismissed Swink's concerns, saying he'll await a report from staff as to how things are going after 60 days.

As usual, Councilor Thomas Crowder weighed in on the side of more opportunity for public comment. And as usual, when Crowder spoke up for the public, Meeker ignored him too.

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