On Monday, January 8, the Charlotte City Council’s Transportation, Planning and Development Committee had their first meeting of the year, and a lot was covered. Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) interim CEO Brent Cagle delivered an update on recent happenings, Planning Director Alyson Craig gave an informational presentation about the UDO and community engagement, and Chief Sustainability and Resiliency Officer Sarah Hazel provided an update on the Strategic Energy Action Plan (SEAP) with next steps for the city. Here are the highlights.
Rail Car Maintenance
- On December 30, a light rail operator noticed a clicking sound. Turns out a wheel had a flat spot that was quickly removed by maintenance staff. The same vehicle was brought in for a clicking sound again on January 5.
- It was determined that the wheel had “excessive play,” which is another way of saying it was wobbly. The CATS Safety and Security team notified NCDOT, who then issued a directive to remove all rail cars of the same make (100s and 200s) from service.
- All rail cars that have been removed from service will be sent to Florida for maintenance over the coming months.
- Light rail service will not be affected. The schedule and frequency will stay the same using rail cars of a different make (300s).
- This is a good example of how CATS is working more effectively under new leadership and it demonstrates how trust in leadership has grown.
Transit Work Group
- The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will be on site in Charlotte this week to conduct fieldwork for their two reviews. The draft reviews are likely to be complete in the coming months.
- The work group is also working on a risk analysis for CATS and will report more details in coming meetings.
- Before Christmas, a bus operator was struck by a stray bullet on LaSalle Street. The bus was not the intended target and the operator is recovering well.
- National Transit, the new management company for CATS, came to Charlotte last week to meet CATS staff and operators. Their contract begins in February.
Pre-UDO Rezonings Applications
- City staff recommended extending the deadline for any rezoning applications that are not complete but were filed before February 1, 2023. This date of February 1 was the cutoff for any new filings before the UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) went into effect. Filed applications would currently have to be completed by March 1, 2024. The proposed change would push that deadline to December 16, 2024, as long as the required public hearing was held by April 15, 2024.
Second UDO Clean-Up Text Amendment
- The staff presented a brief preview of the second segment of clean-up text amendments. The primary intent is to reinforce the principles in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan or prevent creative exploitation of specific rules (i.e. “finding loopholes”).
A few highlighted text amendment topics included clarifications for:
- Driveway widths for duplex, triplex, and quadruplex buildings.
- Accessory drive-throughs must have at least 24 seats and have already been in use on or before June 1, 2023.
- Outdoor entertainment is not permitted in Neighborhood 1, and the sidewall heights for residential structures can only be increased if the proposed structure is moved farther from the side setback.
- More details on how the Residential Infill Overlay (RIO), Neighborhood Character Overlay (NCO), and Historic District Streetside (HDO-S) will be administered
A closer look at the Neighborhood Character Overlays
- The first group of 11 applications were received in the Fall 2023.
- Ten of those applications met the eligibility criteria outlined in the UDO, but only six were selected based on an additional prioritization process.
- The first neighborhoods selected for the Neighborhood Character Overlays were prioritized on the age of the neighborhood, vulnerability of residents to displacement, lack of eligibility for national or local historic districts, and location within a Corridor of Opportunity or adjacent to a historic district.
- The six chosen include Rolling Acres, Clanton Park, Metford Acres, Eastway-Sheffield Park, Washington Heights, and Belmont.
Strategic Energy Action Plan (SEAP) Update
Duke Energy’s Green Source Advantage (GSA) Bridge Program
- One goal listed in the SEAP (Strategic Energy Action Plan) is to reduce energy use intensity by 10% by 2030 while also shifting towards use of energy produced without burning fossil fuels. City staff is working with Duke Energy to find solutions to meet this goal.
- Duke’s GSA Bridge Program helps large-scale customers, like the City of Charlotte, to meet renewable energy goals. This project would support investment in a solar farm and will provide the greenhouse gas reduction benefit equivalent to taking 24,000 vehicles off the road annually.
- The cost of this program would be roughly $1.17M annually and will bring the city within 19% of the adopted SEAP goal of powering city buildings from zero-carbon sources by 2030.
- Benefits of the program: Helps the local energy grid decarbonize faster, provides beneficial environmental and health impacts, and invests in the local clean energy economy.
- The program provides the same amount of energy annually as is needed for 13,000 homes
- This program is 2.5 times bigger than past options and more cost effective since more megawatts are produced.
- Council Member Driggs said investing in this program would be “a credit to the city”
Updating the 2018 SEAP
- A few weeks ago, the city published a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a consultant to help update the SEAP (Strategic Energy Action Plan).
- This update will include extensive public and stakeholder engagement. A detailed plan for this effort will be presented to council once the consultant is on board.
- Sarah Hazel said “our goal is to be really deliberate” in outreach and in making sure that equity concerns are addressed.
- The update is expected to go before council for adoption in winter 2024/2025.
After a rocky year at CATS, we are delighted to see trust between operators, CATS leadership, and NCDOT growing. It takes time to rebuild trust, and there is still more work to be done, but the handling of the rail car maintenance situation shows a tremendous improvement. We are also pleased that frequency of service will not be affected as the rail car maintenance is completed. It is imperative that our public transportation options operate on a fast, frequent, and reliable schedule that people can trust.
We support updating the UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) as long as it aligns with the goals and spirit outlined in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Additionally, the changes should promote walkability, create safe and enjoyable places, and amplify transportation options that reduce our dependence on cars.
Overlay districts could be an effective tool in protecting vulnerable communities and having a prioritization process that focuses on serving the most at-risk members of these communities is a wise decision. The overlays can help balance preserving neighborhood character and allowing more housing opportunities.
We were also thrilled to see Sarah Hazel speak with the TP&D Committee about the GSA Bridge Program. We were worried that the goals outlined in the SEAP would fall far behind the mark, but thanks to Charlotte City Council’s almost unanimous adoption, the GSA program will move the City towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. The economy and environment of the Charlotte region will benefit as we invest in an energy source that not only mitigates our climate impacts, but also will help make us more economically resilient by diversifying our regional energy grid. We spoke at the public hearing for the GSA Bridge Program and you can read our comments here.
This investment will help us end the estimated 350,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year that are caused or worsened by combustion-related air pollution. Our most vulnerable residents -- children, the elderly, low-income residents, and communities of color-- are disproportionately impacted by air pollution and are most vulnerable to negative health and economic impacts of the climate crisis.
Congratulations, City of Charlotte, for supporting the transition to renewable energy and investing in our future.
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