Zoned Out

Spent a tad more than 5 hours discussing zoning and zoning related issues today.

Had an incredible work session with UNC’s Counter-Cartographies Collective (, who “seek to create collaborations for engaged research and cartography — transforming the conditions of how we think, write and map and the conditions about which we think, write and map.”

Got a quick refresher on ArcGIS and then got some excellent practical advice on how to work with our local GIS (geographical information) to tease out socio-economic trends within our community. The technical know-how of the UNC students is impressive, the commitment to rethink cartography’s role in shaping our world view even moreso.

Maps, as one of the CCC members noted, are presented as fact. We habitually consume their content without due consideration, assuming the scientific trappings they come bundled with convey a solid certainty.

But maps can lie. They are often stripped of social context and employed to force a particular narrative. The CCC is interested in expanding the capabilities of maps – integrating a wider community-based context – exposing a richer variety of stories within our community.

After the work session, I sped off to the Southern Human Services building for a review of the County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).

Nearly two years ago the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) decided to move forward on cleaning up the County’s land use regulatory framework. The BOCC was presented 6 options – ranging from doing nothing to completely re-writing and reforming the code to best manage development. The BOCC elected to start conservatively and instructed both the OC Planning Board and planning staff to work, first, on consolidating 800+ pages of regulatory code spread across 7 books.

Sponsored by Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (NRG), tonight’s meeting was sparsely attended by 11 citizens (I was the only guy). Quite a few familiar folks: Julie McClintock, Mickey-Jo Sorrell, Janet Smith, Estelle Mabry, Penny Rich, Alice Gordon, Lynne Kane, Marty Mandell.

As Orange County’s Planning Director Craig Benedict walked us through the revisions and consolidations it became clear that this particular version of the UDO pushes no boundaries. As best as possible, the language was preserved. Where absolutely necessary, contradictions smoothed over.

Left out? Needed process revisions, a framework for dealing with development agreements, stronger noise/light pollution protections, regulatory alignment between County and municipalities to name a few.

Essentially, the document the Planning staff and board will deliver to the BOCC for approval Feb. 28th is what the BOCC asked for – a condensed melange of 7 books of directives generated over the last 3 decades.

We will have to wait until phase 2 of the process to get clarifications, improvements, expansions and condensations of the material. So, similar potentially confusing regulatory diktat in a much more readable format.

I commend the folks who worked so diligently to get us this far – it was no simple feat – but I do feel some disappointment that we didn’t get a more vital document to manage our County land-use policies.


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