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. 

Planning Commission Public Hearing Draft – April 11, 2017

Below is the draft revisions of the consolidated design district regulations, updated from the December 2016 public review draft. The Planning commission received this draft as an informational item at its March meeting.  All text is shown as underlined to reflect the creation of the new Article 16, Design Districts, even if the text reflects current standards. A primary difference from this version versus previous drafts is that 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

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