- Growth & Regional Context
- Valuing the Small Town Lifestyle
- Features of the Development Code
- Establishing Land Use Patterns
- Transit Friendly Land Plans
- Preserving Rural Heritage
- Zoning Ordinance Highlights
- Mandated Design Features
PLANNING PHILOSOPHY FUNDAMENTALS
HIGH DENSITY DEVELOPMENT
PEDESTRIANS & AUTOMOBILES
GROWTH & REGIONAL CONTEXT
The Town of Huntersville is one of three small towns in north Mecklenburg County. It lies along Interstate 77, just 12 miles north of Charlotte's center city and 20 minutes from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. It is within a 10-minute drive of Lake Norman, a major recreation area. Historically an agricultural community with a small textile mill and a modest commercial area along a north-south railroad spur, Huntersville remained insulated from metropolitan area growth until the late 1980s.
With the advent of the 1990s, growth exploded, resulting in a 728% population increase from 1990 to 2000. The 2010 census figure for the Town's population is 46,773. Our Extraterritorial Zoning Jurisdiction (ETJ) has an estimated additional 2,994 people. Town development regulations govern an area of approximately 64 square miles, which includes the corporate town limits and a large ETJ. Along with the towns of Davidson and Cornelius, its neighbors to the north, Huntersville has dramatically remodeled its development regulations following a multi-year process of public participation.
VALUING THE SMALL TOWN LIFESTYLE
In an effort to preserve the small town quality of life and avoid the faceless suburban sprawl consuming the Charlotte region, town officials initiated a strategic land plan. The plan, developed during 1994-95, established a vision for the physical development of the town and surrounds, and defined a series of action steps to move the area toward that vision.
A one-year moratorium on new development was enacted to forestall additional devastation of the countryside until a new code of development regulations could be drafted and adopted. By the end of 1996, the new code was in place. It requires that new and infill development follow the principles of traditional development in the town’s urbanized area. It shapes development patterns to anchor the town on a proposed rapid rail corridor along the little-used north-south rail spur, and makes an initial attempt to preserve rural vistas in outlying areas east and west of the town.
FEATURES OF THE DEVELOPMENT CODE
The new development code is performance-based, with stringent urban design requirements. All new developments must be built on a fine-grained network of low-speed pedestrian-oriented public streets that are configured into blocks and connected into adjacent properties. The result, over time, will be an interconnected street system that is safe and accessible to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as automobiles. However, having met the requirements for streets and other public spaces, the developer finds immense flexibility to meet market demands for housing type, housing density, and mixed uses. For example, the predominant in-town residential zoning district is not regulated by housing density or by minimum lot size. Density in this district is irrelevant.
As a matter of right, apartments or other forms of attached housing may constitute up to 30% of the housing units in a major subdivision. Apartments and attached homes are permitted by-right on individual infill lots. Each single family home, attached or detached, is allowed one accessory dwelling, unrestricted as to occupancy. At urban intersections and along major streets, commercial uses with second floor apartments are permitted by-right. If developers take advantage of the ordinance's flexibility, housing should become more accessible to a broad spectrum people of various incomes and ages.
Small-scale commercial uses providing opportunities for shopping and employment will be located within easy walking distance of homes. This development form also reduces the likelihood that new housing will be formed into pockets of economic homogeneity. The most touted new development project in Huntersville includes a variety of housing types and small commercial buildings, and makes seamless street connections into an existing low to moderate-income minority neighborhood.
ESTABLISHING LAND USE PATTERNS
The development code seeks to establish a land use pattern supportive of future transit service among the towns of North Mecklenburg and the City of Charlotte.
SUPPORTING RAPID TRANSIT
The development code seeks to establish a land use pattern supportive of future transit service among the towns of North Mecklenburg and the City of Charlotte. In addition to the permissive densities allowed throughout the "urban" area of the town, sites within a quarter mile of proposed transit stops are not restricted as to housing type. By eliminating the political storms that often accompany attempts at multi-family rezoning, the town hopes to increase development interest in dense housing within a five-minute walk of transit stations.
The urban design requirements remain stringent. With all buildings, regardless of type, respectful of the scale and massing of its neighbors, and arranged in an orderly fashion along streets designed for pedestrian comfort. Since successful transit systems require a healthy percentage of walk-in riders, we believe that what is good for pedestrians is good for public transportation.
TRANSIT-FRIENDLY LAND PLANS
Huntersville is an enthusiastic partner with Charlotte and the five other towns in Mecklenburg County to develop an integrated transit/land plan for rapid transit. The north corridor, because of its rapid growth and transit-friendly land plans, is a viable candidate for the first commuter rail line in the region. The north Mecklenburg County towns are also partnering in a related effort to develop detailed urban design plans for future station areas.
As we look to the 30-year future, the advantages of applying sustainable development principles are clear. The windfall economic development being experienced in Huntersville is the direct result of offering a small town quality of life in proximity to a major urban area. However the practice of suburban sprawl is fully ingrained in the thinking of designers, developers, builders, and financial institutions. Shaping new development to fit town goals for sustainability requires constant redirection of the professionals who work in our region. We remind each developer that he is building a piece of the town. After years of experience with the new development code, we see projects of substantially better quality underway. The work required to redirect building and development practices appears to be well worth the effort.
PRESERVING RURAL HERITAGE
To reach a sustainable future, the majority of new development in and around Huntersville must be steered to those areas targeted for urban development, where pedestrian access to jobs and goods is practical, where service and infrastructure provision is economical, and where population concentrations can be efficiently served by the proposed commuter rail line and its feeder buses.
So hand in hand with flexible density standards in the urban districts, the Strategic Land Plan sought to preserve some semblance of the town's rural heritage and create an "edge" which marks the line between "town" and "country." Thus the still rural areas are seen as appropriate for the compact village or hamlet, nestled in the landscape.
Toward that goal, the new development code promotes open space preservation in outlying areas with incentives for compact development sited to maintain rural vistas.
ZONING ORDINANCE HIGHLIGHTS
Principles of traditional American town-building have guided the development of the Huntersville Zoning and Subdivision Ordinances. Standards promote a well-connected system of low-speed streets, faced with buildings and accented with sidewalks and street trees. Streets are designed for the comfort of the pedestrian and the cyclist as well as for the efficient distribution of traffic.
Mixed uses of similar scale may be placed in proximity to one another providing pedestrians accessibility to shops and services, as well as their neighbors. An identifiable public realm is the focus of the planning and development process. It is composed of streets, parks, squares, and other forms of open space, which provide opportunities for recreation and an active community life.
The zoning ordinance establishes three primarily residential districts, three mixed-use districts, and three commercial districts. In addition, overlay districts provide for traditional neighborhood development, Mountain Island Lake water quality protection, and appropriate siting of manufactured home neighborhoods.
MANDATED DESIGN FEATURES
Build a public realm. A consciously conceived public realm must be provided to strengthen and enliven the public life of the town. Town streets in combination with squares, greens, parks, or plazas should be designed into each project.
Connect pedestrian-friendly streets. The classification of town streets is found in the zoning ordinance; it supplements, but does not replace, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg-NCDOT classification of thoroughfares. Town streets are characterized by low-speed geometry and the presence of sidewalks and street trees. Space for parallel parking is provided where on-street parking will meet the day-to-day needs of adjoining development. Town streets are fully connected in a system of blocks, creating a fine-grained network to disperse traffic and meet the mobility needs of vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Street design should incorporate traffic calming intersections to forestall high-speed through traffic opportunities in neighborhoods.
Delineate town and country. Regulations work in concert with the zoning map to strengthen the identity of Huntersville by delineating clear edges to town development while providing for a more rural-appearing landscape punctuated by pockets of development.
Design buildings to respect human scale. Rigorous attention must be paid to the scale and massing of buildings and the character of pedestrian entrances along streets. Appearance standards are provided to allow for a mixture of uses and housing types while maintaining compatible relationships among buildings.
Enclose streets with buildings to create the public space of the street. Buildings should have consistent set backs and be aligned along the streets. In urban, village, or hamlet settings, buildings will be close to the street. In less urban settings, a larger setback is permitted as long as regular rows of large maturing street trees are provided to form the vertical edge of the street. Parking is placed behind buildings.
Maintain compatible building relationships along streets. Buildings of similar scale are placed alongside and across the street from one another. Changes in building scale should be negotiated at mid-block (i.e. at back property lines). This technique reduces dependency on wide buffers to separate variously sized buildings and differing uses.
Mix housing types. Infrastructure cost is offset and affordable housing is encouraged by allowing a broad mixture of lot sizes and housing types in the residential districts.
The Rural District (R) is provided to encourage the development of neighborhoods and rural compounds that set aside significant natural vistas and landscape features for permanent conservation. Development typologies associated with the Rural District are farms, the single house, the conservation subdivision, the farmhouse cluster, and the residential neighborhood.
Screen unattractive uses thoroughly. Dense screening of parking lots and other unsightly areas of projects provides good visual separation without space-consuming buffers.
Thoroughly buffer uses that disregard the human scale. Most non-residential land uses can be integrated into the townscape by regulating building placement, massing, and scale. However rigorous conditions and large buffers apply to uses that cannot respect human scale or may detract from neighborhood livability. These include big box retail, quarries, commercial communication towers, various waste handling facilities, junk yards, outdoor storage, and the like.