Charlotte’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan – El Cardinale’s Opinion

I admire the work Taiwo Jaiyeoba and the Planning Department staff are doing on Charlotte’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan. It’s a great start.

And much has been written about its call for more dense-housing options like duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes, and this in mostly single-family neighborhoods.

But there are other aspects of the Plan that merits attention.

In the 320-page Plan, specifics related to commercial development are rare. The city is projected to grow by nearly 360,000 people by 2040. Where will they shop? Where will they receive services? Where will they work? The Plan fails to specify the specific areas and the zoning changes that will be coming in the future.

For three decades, I’ve worked in commercial real estate, and I struggle to make sense of how this Plan will regulate commercial development. I understand that these comprehensive plans are meant to chart a path to guide future growth. But a plan that is too aspirational is not achievable.

For example, the Plan talks about “place types,” not zoning districts. I do not understand how to develop in “place types.” Charlotte has zoning districts, but where is the Plan’s geographic map showing zoning’s future? I don’t see it anywhere.

Suppose you are Amazon or Trader Joe’s or Little Lilly’s Lemonade stand and you open this plan to see where the city will allow you to locate. You wouldn’t find it.

I work as a consultant, and if a developer from out of state asked me—according to this plan where they should build their next warehouse, it would be impossible to give them an answer.

The no-zoning-map is only one issue. Some worthy goals are set, but the how-to is missing. Consider the plan’s goal of “zero tree-canopy” loss. As a former board member of the Catawba Lands Conservancy, I fully support preserving the greenscape of our region. But when the plan talks about no loss of tree canopy without saying how it will accomplish that, then it is a plan that is doomed.

I was surprised. This plan considers everything from reducing obesity, obtaining zero pedestrian deaths, to becoming a city where everyone lives a quarter-mile from a grocery store. In fact, the plan includes more than 400 goals.

However, approximately 80% of the goals have no cost estimates, and the mobility estimate of “$8 to $12 billion” leaves me wanting a lot more detail. I would like to see the city share the models used and provide detail on the projections and assumptions. I expect the city has this information but chose not to include it. Let’s have transparency with the numbers and economic analyses that went into developing these guidelines.

There are 1.179 K jobs in the entire Charlotte MSA. The 20-year growth rate is 2%. The number of jobs projected in 2040 is 1,752 K, roughly 583 K additional jobs.

Currently, there is 340 M SF of industrial space or 288 SF per job. Therefore, there will be a demand for an additional 168 M SF of industrial space. Assuming you can build 10 K SF on every acre, the entire Charlotte MSA will need 16,790 more acres of industrial land. That is about an additional 25 square miles.

Again, I suspect that one of the city’s consultants has done this type of work. I just want to see it and use it to map future growth.

Another issue—when I read this plan, I don’t recognize Charlotte. I understand we are talking about a future version of the Queen City. But while we’re envisioning a new future, I’d like to see a plan leverage our institutional knowledge and build upon what has worked in the past.

Otherwise, when the shortcomings become apparent—and they will—the communities who should benefit the most will be disappointed. This is, perhaps, the most bothersome shortcoming with the plan.

When former City Planner Martin Crampton rolled out Charlotte’s last comprehensive plan, the 2005 Comprehensive Plan, he had his hat swiftly handed back to him. My mother served as the chair of the city’s Planning Commission during that time, and I remember many dinner-table stories about politics and planning. When the 2005 Plan was first presented, there was wide disagreement about it, and Crampton and his staff went back and worked for another 18 months. The finished product was approved and remained something that resulted in the development shortcomings and successes we currently have in Charlotte.

Charlotte Planning Director Taiwo Jaiyeoba is pushing for the City Council to adopt the Plan, and says the state requires it to be signed by an April deadline.

I respectfully suggest that the planning department ask its attorneys to look into this assumption. State statute 160D-501a gives a deadline for when every state plan must be in compliance. Charlotte already has a plan in compliance. As such, we do not need to rush this new plan through. We should take more time to craft this report.

The button line is: the city needs to forget about the deadline and do more work on this plan, which includes hundreds of goals, many of which are unrealistic, impossible to accomplish, or built on a faulty premise.

I admire the work Jaiyeoba and the Planning Department are doing. It’s a great start. They just aren’t finished yet.

Real estate transactions can be fraught with frustration and pitfalls.

Sometimes the hardest part turns out to be working with your broker, the person who is supposed to help you through the complexities. Veteran commercial real estate broker and client advisor John Culbertson discovered that brokers’ interests aren’t always aligned with those of their clients. He realized there was a better way to advocate for clients and get the deal done.


Stay up-to-date with Cardinal Insights, our award-winning newsletter.


Our clients get senior-level attention.

We’re grateful for our clients. They are extraordinary leaders who have achieved tremendous results. When we think about the companies and people we are fortunate to work with, we are blown away.

Ready to get started?