The Comprehensive Plan’s Number 2, The UDO

The draft for the Raleigh Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) was released yesterday. Jump right into it at this link or keep reading as I’ll attempt to introduce it and explain why this is important.

For those that aren’t aware, the 2030 Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2009. This plan is a guideline for how the city should grow over the next two decades. Different areas of the city are zoned differently and suggestions are made on how to handle many topics like parking or open space. The Comprehensive Plan was simply that, a plan.

So how do you get this plan to actually happen? The plan has some areas being higher density than others. Do you just ask developers to build and hope out of the goodness of their hearts they will oblige? In comes the UDO, the tool to get the Comprehensive Plan to happen.

Let’s compare two situations involving developer A, let’s call him Issac, and developer B, we’ll call him Walter.

Present Day

Isaac and Walter come to Raleigh and want to build stuff to make money. They take a look around Raleigh and read up on the development codes to decide what and where they should build.

After looking through all the codes and regulations, Isaac decides he can make the most money by building single family homes on 600 acres off highway 70 in Northwest Raleigh. He even notices that a development like this doesn’t require much city approval and he’ll save money by not having to gather impact studies or public comments about the development.

Isaac presents his plan to the city and the plan is approved because it meets all the requirements.

At the same time, Walter is looking at building near downtown. He too wants to build single family homes but there isn’t enough room for a neighborhood like the one Isaac is going to build. Walter decides to build a medium density townhome complex along Person Street. He thinks his townhomes being close to Krispy Kreme will be a hit.

Walter has to meet the same requirements that Isaac has to but a higher density development like the one he envisions requires a bit more study. Walter needs to get his development approved by more city commissions and he needs to spend more money on gathering the right information to present to those commissions.

In the end, Walter’s development takes much longer to get approved and he spent more money to build his townhomes. He is also lucky that the nearby neighbors didn’t complain too much because the neighborhood’s opinion could have slowed things down even more.

You see, the current state of things in Raleigh almost encourages these sprawling developments because developers, like Isaac, go after the easy build that will get approved with little cost to themselves. The denser developments that Walter wants to build have to go through so much more scrutiny that its amazing people are building downtown today.

Here comes the UDO

Isaac and Walter’s development will change after the UDO is approved and implemented in the next few years. Rather than developers looking around Raleigh for what to build and then having to get it approved, the UDO will tell all developers what we want, where we want it, and if they want to deliver it will get approved very easily.

For example, if the UDO specifies that we want medium density townhomes along Person Street, Walter can come into Raleigh and say that he is willing to deliver that. Since it’s in the UDO, Walter gets the approval and he can start building. No big review, no long discussion, done and done.

This UDO is important because it now encourages developers to build what we want by cutting out all the red tape. Low density housing in the suburbs or mega-high skyscraper in downtown, it doesn’t matter. Whenever the developer steps up and says they are willing to build what is in the UDO, it’ll be approved.

Now this is a simple way at looking at the UDO but I hope it paints a picture of what the new process will do. You need to care about this, especially if you are a property owner, because development around you will essentially be pre-approved and if someone is willing to build it, it will get done.

I’m working with Philip Poe and some others at to help digest the draft document that was released yesterday. There are a lot of picures in the document but it stills stings to go through over 300+ pages of development code.

I can see the most comments about the UDO coming from transitions and how dense downtown skyscrapers would step down to neighborhoods with historic housing.

I plan to write up some posts on specific sections of the UDO on so follow along over there.

I also want to highlight some UDO workshops that are coming up soon. This is a great way to learn and ask questions. The kicker about this UDO draft is that public comments on it are only being taken for two months, ending June 6th, so writers seem to be scrambling to try and go through it and get the word out.

Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try my best to help out.

Three meeting times to choose from—

Wednesday, April 20, 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Fletcher Opera Theater, 2 East South St.
Consultant’s Presentation begins at 12:00 noon

Wednesday, April 20, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Fletcher Opera Theater, 2 East South St.
Consultant’s Presentation begins at 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, April 21, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Optimist Community Center, 5900 Whittier Drive
Consultant’s Presentation begins at 7:30 p.m.

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  1. Excellent! Thank you Leo for shining more light on this subject. Clearly builders and developers are paying attention, but residents need to also learn what they need to know so they can provide needed inputs for the future make up of their neighborhoods. The DLA supports this process as the new coding will acknowledge the unique requirements for higher density downtown living.

  2. I love everything you’re doing but I wanted to ask if you could shed some light and commentary on the RBC rumor that they may sell and disappear. With the exiting of Progress Energy how serious a threat is this to DT and the future of Raleigh? Is Raleigh going to try and court Caterpillar?

    Again, I love your blog! I read it all the time!

  3. Michael, I’m not really caught up on those events and honestly it is way over my head. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

  4. Leo, thanks for the hard work. I will try to attend one of the presentations, particularly the 04/20 early presentation. If you are going to be there, feel free to shoot me an email and maybe we can chat a little.

    Michael, I am not informed to the point of making definite statements, but I will try to shed some light if I can. RBC Bank is purely speculations. Probably a way to pressure its management to produce better results, which is why they also try to emphasize that later this year we should see positive results. Still, it is possible to see a merger with, or a purchase by another bank, but the end result may not be as harmful to us as we think. A lot will depend on how Highwoods will handle the space. As for Caterpillar, I have one word for you: Boeing. Caterpillar is playing every card they have to get more from the state of Illinois and the city of Peoria, where they currently employ over 17,000 people. Are our leaders going after Caterpillar? Most likely yes, but without many hopes it would be hard to make a strong case for Raleigh.

    The loss of PE is a major blow, and not only for downtown. We are losing the only Fortune 500 company in Raleigh. Even if Red Hat was to move downtown, we would barely make up for the PE employees that will be moved out, or lose their jobs as a result of the merger. Hopefully, the additional employees at the two Green Square buildings and the new NC SECU Building will help offset the loss.

    Lastly, Caterpillar may be a candidate, but I say that with reservations. If Illinois cannot come up with enough incentives, we may be able to bid successfully for the HQ, even though I suspect this will not include all the employees they have in Peoria. At best, no more than 1500 employees, but this would be enough space to build a 30-40 story building, minimum (15-20 floors of office space, plus an integrated parking deck, plus retail, plus another 5-10 floors of speculative office space for future growth).

    Of course, this would be an ideal situation, but we have the space, the economic climate, the momentum, the credentials and the will to attract most major employers. Sometimes we lack belief in our ability, but if Red Hat chooses downtown our attitude may change for the better.

  5. You are welcome, Micahael. I am sure others will be happy to offer another perspective. We are merely speculating based on facts available to us right now. The dynamics may change the route of things, though.

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