A study sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration, “Hidden in Plain Sight, Capturing The Demand For Housing Near Transit,” found a growing preference for housing near transit. Population groups that have the deepest preference for housing very close to transit are precisely the populations that are projected to grow rapidly in the coming decades. Household size is shrinking, producing more households of empty-nesters, never-nesters and singles. Baby boomers are aging, swelling the ranks of older households. The Charlotte metro area is not exempt from these changing conditions and has experienced significant population growth. Since 1990, Charlotte’s population has jumped nearly 68 percent to 664,342. By 2017, the Charlotte population is expected to be approximately 950,000. So, what have we done to anticipate these changes and what more can we do to prepare?
In 1994, the Charlotte City Council adopted the Centers and Corridors Land Use Vision, a long-range guide for land use and development in the region. The plan identified five major corridors as the focus of growth, thereby maximizing use of our transportation system and infrastructure. In 1998, the 2025 Integrated Transit/Land Use Plan was adopted to develop a transit system that would improve mobility and put the land use vision into action. Charlotte-Mecklenburg voters also approved a half-cent sales tax to fund transit improvements.
By the late 1990s, spurred by the combined impact of restored trolley service, the promise of light rail and the city’s investment in public infrastructure along the rail corridor, more than $250 million in private investment had transformed former textile mills and industrial land into attractive mixed-use developments. The Charlotte City Council adopted Transit Station Area Principles in 2001 to provide policy guidance on transportation elements in the future station areas.
In 2003, the Charlotte City Council adopted transit-oriented zoning districts to transition from an auto-dominated, dispersed, single-use development pattern to a mix of land uses in a compact setting that will support pedestrian and transit activity. The minimum density for residential development is 20 units per acre (one-quarter mile of stations) and 15 units per acre (one-quarter mile to one-half mile walk of stations). The new zoning allows more flexibility with regard to parking. Where possible, the city’s plans recommend a generous setback from the rail right of way and a continuous multi-use path along the tracks.
We recognize that development initiatives cross many functional, internal borders and must be well coordinated from both the technical and developmental standpoint. Due to on-going collaboration of several city departments, including the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), Planning, Economic Development, Engineering & Property Management and Charlotte’s Department of Transportation (CDOT), we are building successful partnerships by assisting developers as they navigate the “regulatory waters.” In fact, the Planning Commission is so committed to TOD that the commission will sponsor the rezoning of sites that support the city’s vision. However, we also recognize that without strong market forces and a progressive development community, the policy framework and collaborative environment only goes so far.
The city’s first rapid transit line, the Lynx Blue Line, will open in November. As evidence of the positive market forces, between projects completed as well as those announced, approximately 7,800 residential units are expected along with approximately 400,000 square feet of commercial space within the corridor over the next few years — involving the rezoning of approximately 300 acres and resulting in approximately $1.84 billion in development investment.
We also see redevelopment potential within the transit system itself by recognizing that surface parking lots are not the best land use but yet are absolutely necessary to the successful development of a new transit system. Taking the long view, these properties may be assets that can be offered to developers to achieve transit-oriented development, including the necessary parking. While not all of these sites will be suitable for redevelopment, interest already exists regarding incorporation of some sites into transit supportive redevelopment.
So, what’s next? We recognize that it’s not a question of if we are going to grow and change — but rather how? To that end, a 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan has been adopted, and there’s a desire to achieve sustainability and the efficient use of public infrastructure. Those topics are present in just about all of our conversations today. The good news is that TOD fits the bill. So, Destination: Tomorrow!
Tina M. Votaw is the transit oriented development specialist for the city of Charlotte/Charlotte Area Transit System.