Thursday, February 9, 2017

Davidson RAP Rezoning - An Alternate Plan

For more than a month now, proposed zoning changes to support Davidson’s  Rural Area Plan (RAP) have been roiling local discussions in Mecklenburg County’s northernmost municipality.

Starting with the official public hearing on January 10th on the proposal to rezone 2048 acres in the town’s rural jurisdiction, through a community chat with Commissioners, another Board work session, a Planning Board meeting, and a Q&A session on the subject this past Saturday, elected officials and town staff have been making a hard sales pitch.  All of that’s in addition to staff putting out multiple videos and frequently asked question (FAQ) documents on the town’s website.

The major concerns from citizens revolve around why the town would proactively rezone roughly 1300 acres of land from Rural to Neighborhood General, Neighborhood Edge, or Neighborhood Services – designations that allow more intense by right development – without having any proposals on the table from landowners or developers.

People are asking “Why now?  Why not wait until developers come forward with proposals or ask to have these zoning changes made?”

It should be pointed out that many who oppose this proactive rezoning and have commented at these public meetings will say in the same breath they support the RAP.  They think it has lots of great recommendations, but they are concerned these mass rezonings needlessly help open the door a little wider for more development in these areas.  It is not about saying these areas should never be developed.  As one person at this past Saturday’s Q&A session put it, it’s about doing what can be done to control the “velocity” of that development.

The town’s response has largely been to make two different points.  First, they say going forward with these rezonings now (which the town confusingly calls “map amendments”) is the only way for the town to legally enforce the recommendations in the RAP.  Second, there is a concern that if this action is not taken now, future Boards might not implement the recommendations in the RAP.

While the town might technically be correct with these responses, there is always more than one way to solve a problem.  These responses also ignore the reality that even if this current Board was to approve this mass rezoning exactly as proposed by staff, there is nothing to prevent a future Board from undoing or changing pieces of it if it wanted to do so.  No Board can ever really tie the hands of a future Board.

Acknowledging the amount of pushback the proposed plan has generated, it seems like a good time to start talking about other options.

For example, there is no reason the Town has to implement all of the changes at the same time. Why not implement the changes that are not controversial first and leave the more controversial pieces until later when more information is available?

The town could implement the changes to rezone the Fisher Farm and Abersham properties for future Rural Reserve, never to be developed.  It could also implement aspects of the Scenic Byway overlay district to further protect the Shearer Rd and Grey Rd corridors. Finally, the town could implement some of the proposed text amendments redefining the Rural Area designation to raise open space requirements and reduce density.  Doing this last piece without doing the more controversial rezonings would have the effect of making large scale development in the entire existing Rural Area more difficult and force developers to come forward with good solid plans and request rezoning at the time projects actually arise.  It would require the Board to trust future Boards to stick to the plan, but as is clear, they have to do that anyway.

Taking this kind of approach would allow the town to implement the best parts of the RAP while still maintaining a bit more control over future development.  It would also dial down a controversy that doesn’t need to happen.  On the other hand, continuing to defend this mass rezoning reminds one of an old saying.

“Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.”

This post first appeared in this week’s Herald Weekly at

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