Tiny Tuesday: Neighborhood Character Overlay Districts

Last year developer Kelvin Young launched Keyo Park, billing it as the first tiny house community in Charlotte, North Carolina. Located in the Coulwood area, small lots (about a tenth of an acre) are available for buyers to build custom homes between 493 and 1000 square feet. Young helps buyers to design their floor plans and finishes.

But in contrast to many cities that have embraced new zoning laws to enable tiny houses, Charlotte is experiencing a pushback. Coulwood residents have complained that Keyo Park could lower their property values. In response, city planners are studying the concept of a “neighborhood character overlay district,” which can block development with the pretense of preserving the existing atmosphere. Neighborhoods would have to apply for the designation, which would carry minimum lot sizes to prevent subdivisions.

In this Charlotte Observer article, opponents say the new idea promotes NIMBYism. High-density, affordable developments already tend to spur backlash, and in a city with a 40,000-unit shortage they should be promoted rather than discouraged. The “lower property value” argument, opponents say, is a code used by residents who are actually trying to prevent low-income, ethnic, or immigrant families from moving to their neighborhood. Advocates say a lengthy approval process ensures only residents with a legitimate case will follow through.

This editorial does a great job of laying out one man’s antipathy for neighborhood character overlay districts. He points out that McMansions have never generated the same backlash: “Because as much as we complain about the size of these monsters, deep down inside we kind of like seeing rich folks move in next door.” Whatever residents may think about property value, housing costs continue to climb, and that fact is devastating middle- and lower-income homebuyers.

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