Updates to Durham's Design District Zoning Regulations


Durham’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) implements Design District zoning districts to emphasize development “form” instead of “use,” along with an emphasis in creating a relation to the public realm or streetscape. These districts focus on an urban, pedestrian and transit-oriented type of development seeking to encourage multi-modal transportation with development intensities to support this activity. 

These districts were adapted and inspired from Durham’s first “form based” codes called Downtown Durham Overlay districts (-DDO). The Downtown Design District (DD) was first established in 2010, and replaced the – DDO zoning district. The second design district, the Compact Design District (CD), was adopted in 2012 and established within the Ninth Street Compact Neighborhood area.  Compact Design Districts will also be proposed in the coming years around other future light rail stations with Compact Neighborhood Tier designations.

Since the adoption of these zoning regulations, staff has monitored the effectiveness of the regulations, seeking to clarify and update the standards through feedback from city and county staff, the private sector, and community stakeholders. In 2014, as part of an overall set of technical amendments to the UDO, a number of technical amendments were made to the design district standards that focused on clarification of existing text and codification of certain interpretations of text. Staff also began development of a more comprehensive set of amendments that are more substantial in nature and the subject of this set of amendments.

Proposed Updates

Staff has worked with other departments to develop and review the proposed changes, which include changes to height calculations, new street typology standards, new open space requirements, and new/revised automobile and bicycle parking requirements, to name a few. Staff has also enlisted the help of two focus groups consisting of local design professionals to seek additional feedback regarding proposed changes.

Another significant proposed change is not regulation-oriented, but format-oriented. Staff has received comments regarding the way Design District regulations are written throughout the UDO, indicating a desire for the regulations to be found in one location. Staff has therefore attempted to consolidate the regulations applicable to design districts into one new Article (a new Article 16). Thus, the links to sections 16.1 through 16.6 below represent this proposed consolidation of regulations. 

An initial set of draft revisions was released in September. Coinciding with this release, two public information meetings were held on September 22nd and 27th to discuss the proposed changes and allow for additional public input. A second, revised draft was released for public review and comment in December 2016, and was also provided to the Joint City-County Planning Committee (JCCPC) at its January 2017 meeting. Based upon the comments received from the public outreach and JCCPC review, staff made additional revisions.

These updates primarily focus on the current regulations as applied to Downtown and the Ninth Street Compact Neighborhood. Future amendments in the coming years are anticipated, as necessary, as staff work on establishing the Design District zoning on the future light rail station areas with Compact Neighborhood Tier designations. 

Governing Body Public Hearings

On April 11, 2017, the Durham Planning Commission held a public hearing and recommended approval of the proposed text amendments. At this time, the amendments will be schedule for the Durham City Council and Board of Commissioners for public hearings before each governing body.

City Council hearing date: August 7, 2017
Board of Commissioners hearing date: August 14, 2017

Below are the proposed revisions of the consolidated design district regulations. As with previous drafts, all text is shown as underlined to reflect the creation of the new Article 16, Design Districts, even if the text reflects current standards. Consistent with the Planning Commission draft, landscaping and parking standards (except for Street Tree requirements) remain in the respective articles (Articles 9 and 10), instead of incorporated into Article 16. New or substantial changes to existing regulations, however, are highlighted in GREY. 

  1. Sec. 16.1: Applicability and Uses
  2. Sec. 16.2: Site Design
  3. Sec. 16.3: Building Design
  4. Sec. 16.4: Streetscape-Streets-Block Design Standards
  5. New Article 17, Definitions
  6. Miscellaneous Revisions
Revisions Subsequent to the Planning Commission hearing
Based upon additional comments received subsequent to the Planning Commission hearing on April 11, 2017, the following significant revisions have been made and incorporated within the proposed amendments. Other typographical, syntax, organizational, or diagram revisions have also been made but have not been listed. 
a. General: Removed the “Section Contents” sections from each new section in Article 16. The Planning Department has deployed a new searchable online UDO that provides this functionality. Therefore, incorporating these sections into the Ordinance would be redundant.

b. New Section 16.1, Purpose, Applicability, and Use Regulations:
1) Paragraph 16.1.4B, Ground Floor Residential Uses and Overnight Accommodations: Added new text to require nonresidential uses for buildings proposed with one or two dwelling units. This will require use of the commercial building code and thus allow for design standards otherwise prohibited due to SL2015-86 Zoning Design and Aesthetic Controls. 
2) Paragraph 16.1.4D.3, Ground Floor Use Limitations: Clarified the extent to which nonresidential uses in the designated areas in this section shall be required on the ground floor, setting a minimum depth of 20 feet which is consistent with proposed structured parking ground floor requirements.

c. New Section 16.2, Site Design:
1) Paragraph 16.2.3A.1: Removed service area description to avoid redundancy with the definition of “service area.”
2) Paragraph 16.2.3A.4: Added text to clarify that the required placement of garage entries for individual dwelling units, such as an individual garage for a townhouse or condominium unit, can only be along alleys or common access drives and not along street frontages.

d. New Section 16.3, Building Design:
1) Paragraph 16.3.1L.3.d: Added “metal” to the list of appropriate primary building materials for the Monumental building Type, recognizing this is an important material to allow for a variety of reasons, such as innovative design, practicality, or due to structural necessity especially regarding the rehabilitation of existing structures.
2) Paragraph 16.3.2, Structured Parking: Clarified that ground-floor non-residential uses for a completely residential development can consist of typical ancillary uses such as lobbies, fitness rooms, and leasing offices.
3) Paragraphs 16.3.3C.1.a and 16.3.3C.2.a: Clarified that the additional height limitation when adjacent to non-design district property applies only to the S2 sub-district. The height table alluded to this but the text did not. 

e. New Section 16.4, Streetscape, Right-of-Way, and Block/Lot Standards:
1) Paragraph 16.4.1C, Exemptions: This is section was relocated from within the streetscape amenities section to provide better clarity of its intent.
2) Paragraph 16.4.3A.2.g, Medians: Added text to include trees and shrubs for medians, not just groundcover. The intent is to require this type of landscaping within a median but to not prescribe an actual amount at this time. Text also clarifies that appropriate species based upon the Durham Landscape Manual must be used.
3) Paragraph 16.4.4C, Lot Standards: Added text to allow individual townhouse lots to abut alleys and common access drives, and not just streets or pedestrian malls. This reflects a unique nature of townhouse developments, where an overall site is made up of interior individual lots for each townhouse unit. The current text would unnecessarily force development to go through the condominium process which would not significantly enhance an actual project design.

f. New Section 17.3, Defined Terms:
1) Clarified with additional text that garage entries are considered “service areas” to limit placement along street frontages. 

g. Miscellaneous Sections: 
1) Clarified paragraph #1 in paragraph 10.4.4E, Standards for Design Districts, to indicate that all bicycle parking in the streetscape shall utilize u-racks.

For information, contact Michael Stock, senior planner, at 919-560-4137, ext. 28227 or by email.