To Rezone or Not To Rezone, That is the Question.
Few local political issues evoke deeper, white-hot passions than questions of whether Greensboro City Council should approve any given rezoning application. On the one hand, this is surprising. For example, whether a single small piece of land in our City of nearly 300,000 persons allows for one home versus several homes versus a small office building does not directly address the larger challenges that confront Greensboro, such as attracting jobs and public safety. On the other hand, however, this is not surprising. Among other things, zoning decisions often determine “what our City looks and feels like,” where infrastructure and other improvements are made, and if and how Greensboro grows.
Whether surprising or not, however, one thing is clear: folks are often confused about (1) the framework Council persons frequently employ in making zoning decisions and (2) the degree to which Council persons rely on various factors frequently cited by supporters and opponents of rezoning applications.
In this connection, below are three of my observations on the topic, some of which I shared at a Greensboro City Council meeting in January 2018.
- “Highest and Best Use”
“Highest and best use” is a term to which I and certain other Council persons often refer. In short, in the rezoning context, it means identifying the best land uses which are consistent with the Council person’s vision for the particular area the City, as well as other adopted policy goals of the City Council (such as the promotion of infill development and maintaining the “character” of existing neighborhoods). This is the lens through which I and some others view facts and claims in connection with rezoning applications. Reasonable minds can and often do disagree about what constitutes the highest and best land use.
Rezoning applicants frequently meet with persons or organizations that neighbor the property that is the subject of the rezoning application. Occasionally, such meetings lead to animosity from neighbors who become displeased with the applicants for communication reasons, such as a perceived failures to provide complete or accurate information (like definitive site plans).
However, the meetings often result in changes to the rezoning applications that end with better development in and for Greensboro. Further, engagement of neighbors may result in their sharing helpful history or information about the property at issue. Accordingly, such meetings are strongly encouraged and appreciated.
However, the desires and views of individual neighbors (or any given interested person or stakeholder, for that matter) may or may not be consistent with the highest and best use of the land or the interests of the entirety of the City. Moreover, persons are human. While at times it may be appropriate to postpone making decisions to allow for better or further communications, the fact that a person could have communicated better is not a sound basis for not supporting, at all or at some point in the future, what is otherwise in the City’s best interest. Too often the charge of “poor communication” (especially when it relates to City staff) is a pre-textual or expedient justification offered for not supporting the right, but politically difficult or unpopular, decision (both on rezoning and other issues).
- Traffic and Property Values
Forecasts of increased traffic and decreased property values are often offered as arguments for why rezoning applications should be rejected. However, forecasts not based on evidence or facts are mere speculation. Rezoning decisions should not be based on naked speculation, especially where experts (e.g., property appraisers and traffic engineers) can and regularly do opine on such topics based on actual facts and data. Moreover, when proposed development meets certain criteria and thresholds (e.g., the development may generate 100 or more peak hour trips and/or 1,000 or more daily trips), traffic studies are required by City ordinance and conducted. Such studies are evidence-based, using well vetted national models, and inform on the question of the suitability of the development with or without infrastructure changes or improvements, such as adding stoplights or traffic lanes.
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A link to a video of the January 2018 City Council meeting I mentioned can be found here: http://greensboro.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=3501. My comments on the topic are begin at the 1:26:50 mark. A link to a more recent (and somewhat illustrative) rezoning matter covered pretty extensively by the local press can be found here: http://www.greensboro.com/news/local_news/greensboro-council-s-objection-to-trosper-rezoning-not-a-new/article_efe5698c-3220-552e-8cd2-1c3556f2fb0a.html