By Adam Powell
Michelle Cassell, Managing Editor, contributed to this article
The year 2024 is going to be an important one for the Town of Chapel Hill from the standpoint of rewriting its Land Use Management Ordinance, or LUMO. On Tuesday, January 9, town officials sent out a newsletter titled “Rewriting Our Rules: A LUMO Update,” which provided residents with several details about the current state of the process and where things will be going in the coming months.
The Town of Chapel Hill is rewriting our land use rules,” stated the town’s newsletter. “This update to our Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) will help implement the Town’s goals because LUMO shapes the places where we live, work, learn, and play.”
On Wednesday, January 17, town staff, including Principal Planner Tas Lagoo and Senior Planner Katherine Shor, along with fellow staff members Britany Waddell and Judy Johnson, will make a presentation to the newly installed Chapel Hill Town Council at the board’s 6:00 p.m. Work Session.
Town Manager Chris Blue told TLR, “Town staff continue to do excellent work around a comprehensive update to our LUMO. They have engaged the community and council about their interests and goals and are committed to bringing forward a set of land use rules that reflects those interests and goals. We’ve done a lot of work already and have much more to do this year. I encourage all residents to engage with the project by participating in public outreach sessions, attending the council meetings where the work is being discussed, and signing up for the project newsletter.”
According to the presentation notes for the Jan. 17 meeting, town staff will be asking for the City Council to provide their feedback on a wide range of issues, including missing middle housing, subdivisions, and so-called ‘flag lots,’ which are irregularly-shaped parcels of land in which buildable portions of the property are not adjacent to a town street.
“Housing types such as triplexes, four-plexes, cottage courts, and small multi-family buildings are likely appropriate along the town’s larger roads (e.g., arterial roads and some collector roads like Weaver Dairy Rd., Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Piney Mountain Rd., or Estes Dr.) or near greenways,” read an excerpt of the town staff’s prepared January 17 presentation.
Chapel Hill subdivisions, under the current LUMO, require all new construction lots to face a street that meets certain city standards regarding size, curb and gutter, pedestrian and bicycle upgrades, and whether any rights-of-way exist beyond typical roadway allowances.
The feedback surrounding subdivisions could center around the extensive costs of creating small-scale subdivisions because of the infrastructure commitments that must be made on the part of developers and town officials.
The town’s presentation lists multiple benefits to the requirements of infrastructure such as curb and gutter and sidewalks, and should be weighed against the costs associated with subdividing and developing land subject to the town’s current requirements, according to the documentation.
Town planners are suggesting that the new LUMO be more permissive in allowing flag lots, suggesting that “flag lots could promote sustainable infill and create more options for development on unusually-shaped parcels,” read the town’s presentation.
The rewriting of Chapel Hill’s LUMO is going to be moving ahead rapidly in the coming months.
Following the Jan. 17 meeting, in which town planners and town council members will offer feedback and work on potential solutions to the challenges of missing middle housing, subdivisions, and flag lots, there will be a Public Information Meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 31, in which staff will make a presentation of the updated details, while also answering questions from interested community members.
Chapel Hill town staff is looking to refine its affordable housing economic analysis, build design analysis, and prepare a new draft of the town’s LUMO, which will be shared publicly in late summer. Along the way, staff will be providing the Town Council with regular updates.
By late summer and into the fall months, town planners aim to present the new LUMO to the Town Council, Chapel Hill’s various advisory boards, and community stakeholder groups.
The goal is to have final revisions to the town’s new LUMO ready for a final presentation to the council in November 2024, where the elected board will make its last review prior to adopting the ordinance. Once Chapel Hill formally adopts the LUMO, town staff can begin producing training and informational materials on the new LUMO for the community.
Staff is planning various in-person events, such as monthly “Meet the Planner” sessions around town, additional public information meetings, and newsletter distributions, among other outreach efforts.
Recent efforts to gain feedback and get information out about the LUMO throughout town have gained traction. In October, a total of 36 participants took part in two stakeholder focus groups that discussed affordable housing incentives and building design in Chapel Hill.
Over 100 subscribers have signed up for a virtual project newsletter on the rewriting of the LUMO during the fall. In addition, two “Meet the Planner” events were held in December at the Chapel Hill Public Library and Hargraves Community Center, with more planned in the coming months. In addition, a total of thirteen participants took part in a series of “Planning Ambassador Learning Sessions” at the Chapel Hill Public Library in September and October.
Chapel Hill originally adopted its Land Use Management Ordinance back in 2003, following the adoption of its Comprehensive Plan in the spring of 2000. A dozen years later, in 2012, the Chapel Hill Town Council retired the 2000 Comprehensive Plan, adopting a new Comprehensive Plan titled “Chapel Hill 2020.” That plan merged many elements of the LUMO into an overall town strategy that addressed roadways, pedestrian and bicycle connectivity, future land uses, and addressing future climate change, among other goals.
The aims of the newly-written LUMO are vast but largely revolve around six components, as listed in the Town Council’s LUMO notes. The objectives include improving the overall usability, accessibility, and predictability of the Town’s land use regulations and decision-making, reinforcing social equity in housing and transportation, reinforcing social equity in public health, protecting existing community assets, and increasing access to local programs and amenities.
Residents can learn more about Chapel Hill’s LUMO rewriting process here.