What is Infill Zoning?

As the name suggests, "infill zoning" laws and ordinances that apply to vacant land and/or to buildings/land that have fallen into disuse. There are many types of infill zoning regulations, but two of the most common are what might be called "harmony" ordinances and "gravity" ordinances. The first type essentially requires that development of any vacant lot/parcel must be consistent and in harmony with the character of the land uses/buildings in the neighboring area. An example of this type of infill zoning requirement can be seen from the Municipal Ordinances for Salisbury, North Carolina. Section Sec. 6.3. -- entitled “Infill Provisions” -- has the “intent to encourage consistent and compatible development of underutilized and bypassed parcels.” The infill provisions apply to “... existing vacant lots of record and any lot of record further subdivided by any means other than a Major Subdivision…” Among other requirements, the Salisbury infill provisions regulate compatibility with respect to architectural style, building type, sidewalks, setoffs, frontage and more.

What might be called "gravity" type infill ordinances generally include a "harmony" component but are more focused on either mandating or incentivizing new development or redevelopment of existing land/buildings within municipal areas that have either become vacant or fallen into disuse or blight. Correspondingly, these types of infill zoning plans seek to dis-incentive development on the edge of an urban area where land might currently be undeveloped or underdeveloped. The general idea is to “pull” development into the center of an urban area. Infill zoning laws are often justified as efforts to build affordable and "walkable" housing, to protect “green spaces” and to curtail urban sprawl.

Often, these "gravity" type infill zoning laws are coupled with city development plans that involve use of eminent domain powers, particularly in areas of so-called "blight." In North Carolina, local governments and agencies can take private property for "public use" through the use of the power of eminent domain (as long as fair market compensation is paid). In North Carolina, use of eminent domain is allowed to remedy blight but only as allowed by statute. See N. Car. Gen. Stat. 160A-503(2) and 160A-503(2a). Essentially, the land and/or buildings in question must meet the definition of blighted under the statute, more than two-thirds of the land/buildings in a designated geographic area must be so blighted and the power of eminent domain can only be used to take to blighted land/buildings. But, once the blighted land/buildings have been taken, the infill zoning laws and regulations will -- in theory -- result in redevelopment of the area.

Wake Forest is an example of a North Carolina municipality that has had some success with using infill zoning as part of a larger revitalization effort. See media report here.

In 2004, the Town of Wake Forest created a revitalization plan for their historic downtown area. The plan involved various investments in infrastructure and streetscape projects to make the downtown area more "livable" and to encourage more business and social activity. The revitalization included harmonization requirements for any infill developments including requirements that commercial and housing infill developments be structurally and aesthetically consistent with the historic nature of the downtown. As a whole, the plan was an attempt to incentivize and encourage town-center development (as opposed to development on the edges of the town). From the report, it seems that Wake Forest has had success with its plan.

There are obvious advantages to both types of infill zoning laws. On the “plus” side, drawing development into the center can revitalize commercial and residential areas, can sustain, and raise housing and land values, can sustain and increase corresponding tax revenues (which tend to be higher in metro-centers), can preserve the historic and aesthetic nature of areas, can relieve stress on transportation and utility systems and more.

On the other hand, infill zoning is not always popular when redevelopment is occurring. Traffic congestion, noise, dust, and other inconveniences can have adverse consequences for neighbors while the infill construction is ongoing. Costs for developers can also be higher than developing lands on the edges of town.

Contact Experienced Mecklenburg County Land Use/Eminent Domain Attorneys Today

For more information, and to schedule a confidential consultation with experienced and dedicated eminent domain and condemnation attorneys in Charlotte, contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Use our “Contact” page or give us a call at 704-370-2828. We handle land use, zoning, and condemnation legal matters in federal court, in Mecklenburg County and elsewhere in North Carolina. We have offices in Charlotte, Lake Norman, and Union County.