Divisive zoning change addressed

Divisive zoning change addressed
October 04
04:00 2018

By Todd Luck

The Chronicle

The City Council voted on a controversial zoning change that would expand where residential development is allowed.

The council voted 5-3 in favor of a proposed zoning amendment to allow multifamily and townhome construction in Highway Business (HB) and General Office (GO) districts, and would eliminate the need for such projects to go through the zoning process, which includes a public hearing and approval by the City Council.

Since it didn’t get at least six votes, it’ll be voted on again in the Oct. 15 City Council meeting, where it could pass with a simple majority.

The amendment has been debated for almost a year, with changes added to it so multifamily in HB districts would require an at least an acre and in GO would be limited to 18 units per acre. The zoning change is supposed to encourage residential development in those areas, which proponents say is important since there’s not enough housing, especially affordable housing, for Winston-Salem’s future growth.

Opponents, which include several neighborhood groups, don’t want to lose the ability to sound off on such projects in the zoning process.

Resident Diane Fitzhugh said new housing could be an effective way to revitalize certain areas of the city, but she didn’t want it done without a public zoning hearing.

“This ordinance will eliminate the democratic check and balance system that allows for public hearings to review and question the consequences of such development,” she said.

Carolyn Highsmith with the New South Community Coalition said it could “jump start” mixed use development and gentrification in surrounding areas, with lower income neighborhoods being overrun by higher end development.

“Without citizen input in any new mixed use development proposal, there can be unforeseen and destructive consequences,” she said.

Jon Lowder, executive director of the Piedmont Triad Apartment Association, said it won’t cause gentrification.

“This is the first time I’ve been in a public meeting where the likelihood of apartments led people to think that property values would increase,” he said.

Lowder said normally surrounding neighborhoods worry that the traffic and other impacts caused by a new apartment complex will lower their property value. He said this was an opportunity to create needed housing without displacing anyone or raising “not in my backyard” neighborhood concerns, since no one currently lives in HB or GO districts. He said if more residential units aren’t created, housing will become more expensive and “lead to the gentrification everyone fears.”

Troi Hicks with the Winston-Salem Regional Association of Realtors and the Homebuilders Association of Winston-Salem said residential development can be a good fit in HB areas.

“Strategically planning to add housing options along growth corridors will benefit the city’s long-term vitality by improving the condition and appearance of these highly utilized corridors,” she said.

City Council Member James Taylor, who is also The Chronicle’s publisher, had concerns over the potential impact of the zoning amendment in his ward and moved to change the ordinance to have hearings for residential development in HB and GO. City Attorney Angela Carmen said that if the city required a hearing for certain uses allowed by the zoning, it would open it up to legal challenges. Taylor “very reluctantly” withdrew his motion.

Then both HB and GO amendments passed in separate votes, with the council voting 5-3 each time. Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke and City Council Member Denise “DD” Adams joined Taylor in voting in against it.

The areas of the city affected by this are relatively small, with GO located in isolated spots around the city and HB districts existing mainly along some parts of University and Peters Creek parkways and Stratford and Reynolda roads.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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