With lawsuit looming, Raleigh leaders debate tweaks for ‘Missing Middle’ housing changes
In December, Raleigh leaders passed controversial development rules that make it easier to build different types of housing throughout most of the city.
On Tuesday, they debated changing them.
The reforms, often called “missing middle” because they encourage types of housing between apartment complexes and single-family homes, have spurred debate nationwide and locally.
In Raleigh’s Hayes Barton neighborhood, residents unhappy with planned $2 million townhomes that no longer have to go through a rezoning process recently filed a lawsuit against the city..
At a Raleigh City Council work session Tuesday, staff presented feedback from six community meetings: one virtual meeting and an in-person meeting in each of the five City Council districts.
No vote was taken, nor was a timeline for possible changes announced. However city staff members said a report in April will detail how many homes have been approved or are in the approval process under the missing middle rules
The rules change nearly a dozen things including making it easier to build duplexes, townhomes, backyard cottages, tiny houses and some apartments. The rules also allow greater density along bus lines and if open space is preserved on the property.
‘That can be scary’
The missing middle rules have left people confused about what can be built around them, said Council member Jane Harrison.
The city should take another look at setbacks and neighborhood transitions for missing middle regulations, plus measures to encourage affordability, preserve the environment and minimize displacement, she said.
“I think if our plans or this text change is so complex that there’s no way to know (what happens nearby), that presents a little bit of uncertainty for folks that can be scary,” Harrison said.
Council member Christina Jones asked how to get more community engagement. Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said the City Council has already asked if a neighborhood meeting could be added when someone applies to build under the missing middle rules.
However, Council member Jonathan Melton said adding a neighborhood meeting could raise expectations.
“The intent of this text change is to allow these types of development by right,” he said. “I’m worried people are going to come with the expectation that there’s going to be some sort of vote or some sort of impact on the process. And that’s not going to be there. And so I think we have to be careful about that, because we don’t want to create more confusion.”
The city also needs to be careful about requiring neighborhood meetings for duplexes and townhomes and not for single-family houses, he said.
“What message are we sending about the types of people that live in the single-family, expensive homes and the types of neighbors that we welcome into multifamily living?” he said.
The missing middle changes were passed by the last council. Four new members who joined the board in December all said in a News & Observer candidate questionnaire. that they wanted to repeal the missing middle rules.
Part of Tuesday’s presentation reviewed the voluntary demographic information that people who attended the meetings submitted.. Planning Director Pat Young said attendees tended to be older, wealthier white homeowners, which is similar to other planning meetings. But he said the demographics were closer to an accurate reflection of the city’s demographics than other planning events thanks to the city’s community outreach.
“My challenge to anyone who’s listening in the public is, as we continue to have conversations, as we continue to try to try to solve our housing crisis that no city has solved, that we’re working through creative solutions. Y’all have to show up,” Melton said. “Young people have to show up. Renters have to show up. A lot of the people we’re hearing from in this process now, they’ve got theirs. This is for your future.”
Council member Mary Black, the council’s sole renter, echoed Melton’s comments.
“I hope that people feel empowered to be a part of the process’ she said. “What I hear when I talk to renters is that they just don’t feel like they are part of this process in the city. That things are changing and growing and it’s like more happening to them without their real concern being a part of it.”
Missing middle lawsuit
The missing middle changes were approved in two text changes in 2021 and 2022.
A text change is a way to change development rules and follows a process like a rezoning. The city gathers community feedback, sends the changes to the planning commission and holds a public hearing before the City Council votes. However the public notice is more general in contrast to a rezoning case that requires mailing public notice to property owners near the proposed rezoning site.
Some critics of the new rules says they were unaware of what the city was considering until plans were submitted in their neighborhoods.
The Hayes Barton neighborhood formed the “Save our Neighborhood” group after developers proposed tearing down a nearly 100-year-old house to build 17 townhomes, valued at $2 million each. Six residents have sued the city over the missing middle changes and planned townhomes.
The lawsuit argues the city didn’t follow the proper implementation process and should have followed the notification rules for a rezoning instead of for a text change.
The neighbors, who live next to or near the planned townhomes, argue they will be “uniquely and adversely affected and will suffer special damages” due to increased traffic, decreased safety at the intersection near their driveways, increased stormwater runoff and a loss of property value. The lawsuit also claims the townhomes would change the nature and character of the neighborhood.