Why there’s such a fuss over duplexes and triplexes

Why there’s such a fuss over duplexes and triplexes

Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios Charlotte

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Charlotte, you may have heard, is considering eliminating single-family-only zoning. Proponents say it could usher in more density and more equitable neighborhoods.

Zoom out: This is one of the dozens of ideas that city planning officials proposed in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, an “aspirational” guide aimed to provide a framework for how Charlotte grows.

  • For many, eliminating single-family-only zoning is a major sticking point.

Doing this could mean the construction of more residential buildings with multiple units, theoretically, without having to go through the clunky rezoning process. Think duplexes and triplexes and townhomes — the kind of residences you see all over in neighborhoods like Dilworth and Elizabeth, sitting a stone’s throw from multimillion-dollar mansions.

But it would not mean eliminating single-family housing altogether. That’s a common misconception city planning director Taiwo Jaiyeoba wants to correct.

“Single-family residential units will continue to be there,” Jaiyeoba told me in a recent interview.

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“Those zoning areas that are exclusively for single-family residential development today … we’re going to encourage or at least set policies that will allow us to be able to have townhouses, duplexes, and even triplexes in some of those areas.”

Why it matters: Close-in neighborhoods like Myers Park are already dense and walkable. But the farther away from Uptown you get, the more neighborhoods sprawl. Adding properties like duplexes and quadraplexes is a way to diversify the types of housing in Charlotte.

  • Additionally, it is a way to change housing policy that some say has exacerbated inequality for decades.

“If you pile on zoning districts that don’t allow for other types of living, the creation of HOAs, deed restrictions and covenants — that is how you build a policy framework that excludes people,” Charlotte city councilman Braxton Winston told me.

Yes, but: Eliminating traditional single-family-only zoning is controversial. Those against it range from community leaders to developers to real estate agents.

  • For instance, housing nonprofit Equitable Communities CLT says density does not necessarily mean affordability.
  • “While there are some benefits (e.g. environmental) of increasing housing choices and therefore density in our neighborhoods, it will not minimize our income and racial neighborhood diversity,” the group said in a memo. 

In other words, it’s not just wealthy neighborhoods that have concerns. There’s fear among housing advocates that developers will buy up single-family homes, knock them down, and replace them with a half-dozen million-dollar townhomes that displace people.

Multiplex rental on Bay Street in Elizabeth

Multiplex rental on Bay Street in Elizabeth (Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios Charlotte)

During a public hearing Monday night on the Comprehensive Plan, residents voiced another common concern: That eliminating single-family-only zoning would harm a neighborhood’s character.

Myers Park resident Georgine Jeffries, a mom of two who lives in a 1930s home on Selwyn Avenue, said that single-family lot designation “preserves the historical architecture of our city.” Speaking against the plan, Jeffries said she worries she and her neighbors could be pushed out.

“I urge you to protect and preserve this city’s neighborhoods just like my family and I are working to protect and preserve our historical home,” Jeffries told council.

  • Others speaking against the plan said it is contradictory. They voiced concern over both preserving green space and trees while increasing density.

Resident Jesse Kimmel lauded the expansion of duplexes and triplexes around Charlotte. He remembers fondly his time living in a multiplex in Plaza Midwood when he first moved to Charlotte. He called the period “foundational” in his understanding of living among people who don’t live or look like him.

“If you do not try new ideas, you will not see new results,” Kimmel said.

Eliminating restrictive zoning would allow single-family homeowners to add secondary homes on their properties for uses like Airbnb, adds city councilman Winston. This is a way homeowners could build wealth without going through rezoning.

Single-family-only zoning, he adds, prevents homeowners “from fully realizing the investment potential in their land.”

Minneapolis approved its own comprehensive plan in 2018 that legalized the construction of duplexes, triplexes and other multi-family residences anywhere in the city.

  • But the change resulted in the construction of just 16 duplexes and four triplexes in 2020, per Axios Twin Cities. Developers converted 22 existing properties into duplexes and triplexes. All told, the city added about 70 new housing units in the first full year of the new zoning rules.
  • It’s difficult to find vacant lots in desirable neighborhoods, builders say.

Back in Charlotte, Dilworth is one example of a close-in neighborhood already with a diverse stock of housing.

“I can say in the Dilworth historic district, I haven’t heard much fear over the elimination of single-family-only zoning. We have multiplexes on almost every corner,” said Franklin Keathley, president of the Dilworth Community Association.

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