The Chapel Hill Town Council voted last week to amend the Land Use Management Ordinance to allow Conditional Zoning.

Mayor Pam Hemminger says conditional zoning will allow for more conversations with stakeholders and the public during development projects.

“It gives the council more latitude for turning something down just because they don’t like it, or for asking for more conditions – that’s what conditional zoning means,” said Hemminger.

The current structure is quasi-judicial and legally prevents Hemminger and council members from discussing or making changes to development projects once the Special Use Permit, or SUP, process begins.

“You really can’t get all the kinks worked out before the process begins, because it takes getting in the process with the engineering designs, the traffic counts and the flows, and the environmental stuff,” Hemminger said. “You get that as it’s going through the main part of the process, and that brings up questions and concerns and more dialogue needs to be had.

“And that’s why I think the conditional zoning tool is working well for many North Carolina communities, because you can attach those conditions, you can make buffers bigger. In the SUP process, if the applicant meets the four findings there, you don’t have the right to turn them down, legally you don’t.”

The tool is used in about 45 percent of all rezoning applications statewide, according to town documents.

The council also adopted the project charge for the town’s Land Use Management Ordinance Rewrite Project.

The project, initiated in April of this year, aims to improve tools for planning and managing growth and development so that the tools implement the community’s vision, values and policy goals.

According to Hemminger, the rewrite will improve the ordinance and associated land use tools, such as the Future Land Use Map, but it will be a lengthy process.

“We’ve had planning board input, we’re going to be going out and doing stakeholder gathering of information,” Hemminger said, “things that worked well in their opinion, things that need to be fixed, things that no longer make sense or things that are missing. And gather that stakeholder information, then actually begin the process of rewriting.”

One of the problems the rewrite will aim to fix is confusing and vague language.

Last Wednesday’s meeting included an overview of the process to refine the first phase of the rewrite project, the Future Land Use Map.

The map is a visual guide to future planning that depicts the town’s goals and will affirm what stays the same and what is expected to change.

Photo via Town of Chapel Hill