In early February, Raleigh’s newly installed City Council summarily abolished Raleigh’s 18 Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs) without any notice or public comment. Supposedly, they were clearing the decks to “improve” citizen engagement. Three months later, however, the ONLY thing they’ve managed to do is replace the CACs’ community-run zoning review process with a quickie substitute controlled by the rezoning applicant — i.e., the developer.
In other words, the developers are in charge and the public is sidelined, together with long-standing practices of fairness, community deliberation, negotiation, and a democratic vote to apprise Council of community sentiment.
Let’s compare the CACs’ community-run zoning review process with the new Council’s Applicant-run process:
|See Notes below for more details||CAC-Run||Applicant-Run|
|1||How many meetings to review completed zoning application?||2 Community-run meetings||0 or 1 Applicant-run meeting|
|2||Is public notified?||YES. Public notified by City & CAC emails & social media||NO. Only property owners within 1000 feet notified by mailed letters|
|3||Is public Invited?||YES. Public invited||NO. Only notified property owners invited.|
|4||Are meetings at predictable times?||YES. CAC meetings at established monthly date, time & location||NO. Meeting time & place picked by Applicant|
|5||Are meetings run by democratically elected person?||YES. Community-elected CAC Chair or Vice-Chair presides||NO. Applicant or a hired presenter presides|
|6||Is presentation impartial?||YES. City Staff participates & represents the public’s interests||NO. Presenter represents Applicant’s interests|
|7||Who reports meeting discussion & results?||Elected CAC Officers & City Staff||Applicant|
|8||Do negotiations between community & applicant result in a vote?||YES. The CAC vote taken at 2nd meeting, after negotiation period||NO.|
|9||Is Applicant incentivized to negotiate in good faith?||YES. CAC vote gives applicant incentive to negotiate fair zoning conditions with community||NO.|
Over the past 50 years, Raleigh’s 18 CACs developed an authentic, community-owned process for neighborhood engagement in all things, including reviewing zoning applications. The matrix above shows how the new Council has destroyed longstanding precedents for public engagement and grass-roots community participation in the zoning process.
BOTTOM LINE: Reconstitute and Continue Improving the Citizens Advisory Councils.
Conditional Use Zoning Negotiations: The most common form of zoning in the North Carolina Statutes is Conditional Use Zoning, which allows developers and impacted neighbors to negotiate legal amendments or Conditions to the developer’s zoning application. These binding Conditions modify the zoning application to mitigate the impacts of a development, thereby allowing the developer and impacted neighbors to negotiate a mutually acceptable development project in good faith.
While zoning conditions often vary with the scale of a development, typical conditions mitigate the impacts of building heights, traffic, noise and light by specifying height limits, traffic limits and enhanced buffering via walls, fences, landscaping and other building and site design adjustments.
The CAC-run zoning review process has been designed to ensure adequate time for community negotiation of appropriate Zoning Conditions. As the Comparison Matrix above shows, the new Council’s Applicant-run process severely limits or eliminates the community’s ability to (1) acquire unbiased project information and then (2) negotiate Zoning Conditions in good faith.
Row 1: Meetings.
Pre-submittal – Before any formal zoning application is submitted to the City, State law requires an Applicant-run pre-submittal meeting with neighboring property owners
Post-submittal – Once a formal zoning application is submitted, the CAC-run process includes 2 additional community meetings, while the new Applicant-run process may have no more community meetings unless the impacts of the zoning case are deemed significant, as detailed here: https://cityofraleigh0drupal.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/drupal-prod/COR22/TC-03-20.pdf
Row 2: Notice. The Applicant-run meeting notice is via direct mail to property owners and may include 1 or more yard signs posted at the subject property.
Row 3: Invitation. It is unclear whether the posted yard sign(s) will invite non-property owners or others residing more than 1000 feet from the project.
Row 6: Impartiality. City Staff has no official role in the applicant-run meetings therefore it is unclear whether any City Staff will be required to attend the applicant-run meetings.
Row 9: Incentive. Without the CAC vote, the applicant has no incentive to offer zoning conditions that reduce project impacts.