You Want to do WHAT with that Land?
When you hear the term “land use planning” unless you are a developer, a REALTOR®, or on the staff of a local planning department, your eyes probably glaze over. However, property rights and land ownership are a basic tenant of our American freedom that underlies all real estate transactions and markets. How that land is used is the foundation of a community, its quality of life, and its economic vitality.
As REALTORS® we are very focused on land use planning and are working closely with several area local governments to be certain that the updates that they are currently developing reflect the needs of our community. What makes the issue uniquely challenging particularly in New Hanover County is the scarcity of developable land, and what makes it challenging in all the counties in the region is the tremendous rate of growth in population. As a result of these challenges, local governments must consider innovative land use plans and processes to ensure sustainable growth for the decades to come.
Communities use what is called a comprehensive plan to outline its goals for the future, to build a platform for future land use, and to serve as a basis for zoning, subdivision and land use codes. In the past five years, New Hanover County, the City of Wilmington, Pender County and Brunswick County have adopted Comprehensive Plans – updating regulations for the first time in decades. Both New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington are now actively working to adopt a land use documents, also known as a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) or Land Development Code (LDC) that will take the broad vision of the Comprehensive Plans and determines the specific rules for the development of land. Some people may refer to these codes as zoning rules. The Town of Carolina Beach is moving forward with an update of its land use plan and is holding a public input meeting in August.
As stated in the Cape Fear REALTORS® (CFR) 2020 Public Policy Statement, “the adoption of a UDO is vital to the economic development of the area in setting the growth plan for decades to come. CFR is working closely with local counties and municipalities to advocate for an updated code that allows for real estate development at all price points to be built throughout the region, while preserving community character and encouraging the protection and preservation of environmental characteristics unique to the region.”
What makes the revision of land use plans so critically important is that it allows counties and municipalities to directly address growth challenges and economic opportunities. It is essential that as local governments pursue updates to land use revisions that the process is one that engages stakeholders, is transparent, and proceeds on a timely basis.
Although no two communities are exactly the same, successful case studies have proven the effectiveness of various strategies in addressing land use, whether the goal is to provide more affordable housing, protect natural infrastructure, maximize the utility of scarce land, or a combination of these or other reasons. Changes to the restrictions on height and density of developments is an obvious and often used tool in land use planning, as are incentive based variances relating to those aspects.
A newer, more holistic method in land use planning is the use of form-based code. This type of planning is place-specific but shifts the focus to the physical features of an area while still considering uses and standards. Development under a form-based code can be more efficient, offering a level of predictability and consistency, and possibly eliminate added processes such as a special use permit hearing.
National Association of REALTORS® Land Use Initiative (LUI) assists CFR in our public policy advocacy of land-use issues by providing legal analysis of proposed legislative and regulatory land-use, and real estate transactional, measures – comprehensive plans, amendments, legislation, ordinances or regulations – that impact the transfer of property and private property rights. The LUI has provided CFR with numerous grants over the past decade to assist local governments with their planning revisions.
While the nuts and bolts of land use planning may not be that intriguing, it is critically important to the future of our community and Cape Fear REALTORS® will remain actively involved in the discussions and will continue to bring innovative best practices to the forefront.
For more information on this Land Use Issue and other public policies, click here.
Cape Fear REALTORS® and its nearly 3,000 members are the region’s Voice of Real Estate. Cape Fear REALTORS® through advocacy, education, and community involvement support efforts to protect the rights of property owners, to promote the availability of housing, and to provide resources to guarantee every individual has the right to share in the “American Dream”. For further information on this topic and the association, please visit www.capefear.realtor or contact the Cape Fear REALTORS® at 910-762-7400.
Cece Nunn - Sep 28, 2020
Christina Haley O'Neal - Sep 28, 2020
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