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RTP Master Plan Update: Zoning Gives Room to Grow

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The Research Triangle Park’s new Master Plan, set for unveiling on November 9th, has already generated a laundry list of implementation steps. On the heels of legislative changes approved over the summer, we are now in the midst of an overhaul of the zoning regulations that affect the Park. 

On October 1, the Wake County Board of Commissioners gave its approval for revisions to their Unified Development Ordinance that deal with the RA (Research Applications) District, which is RTP’s zoning in Wake County. The main goal is to give more flexibility and increase development potential for existing Park businesses.

A summary of the approved changes:

  • Smaller setbacks, allowing buildings and parking lots to be located closer to streets and neighboring properties. These setbacks are still generous when compared to other commercial development.
  • Allowing lots to be smaller and narrower, to better accommodate sites for small companies.
  • A height limit, which may seem to work against increased development potential, but will actually provide some guidance as increased intensity leads to taller buildings (the tallest building today in RTP is 6 stories, while the height limit allows 10-14 stories).
  • A flexible standard for parking that simply asks companies to provide the spaces they need, rather than using conventional calculations.
  • Permitting a few additional uses: K-12 schools and cultural exhibits.
  • Increasing the amount of permitted signage, to better identify where companies are located.

RTP MapThe approval on Monday only applies to the Wake County portion (the southern third of RTP), but very similar changes are under consideration by Durham County as well.  As a step in Master Plan implementation, the amendments represent a low-hanging fruit, with a quick turnaround and tangible benefits that apply to all property owners in the Park.

No announcement of new development accompanies the change in zoning, but it does pave the way for future company arrivals and expansions. And at the rate that company expansions are being announced in RTP, it shouldn’t be long before we see projects that take advantage of these new standards.  All of this will begin to slowly and carefully modernize the development character of the Research Triangle Park. Buildings can be a little closer to the road, lots a little smaller, and the palette of uses a little broader. Campuses can start to connect a little more, while maintaining the pastoral character of the RTP landscape.

Besides offering flexibility, the changes in zoning are expected to create more consistency between County ordinances (once Durham has completed their process). The two zoning districts that apply to the bulk of RTP – the RA in Wake, the SRP (Science Research Park) in Durham – were established at different times and have been updated separately over the years.  Consistency will make regulations easier to understand, and keep various sites in RTP on more equal footing.

The new zoning does not represent a complete solution, as portions of the Park may be suited to higher densities and a broader range of uses than what’s discussed here. Master Plan concepts for clustered development are now being fleshed out, and the regulations that accommodate them will be designed in the near future as the implementation process continues.

While we originally hoped for a Master Plan unveiling in October, we are now planning a November 9th event, hosted at RTP Headquarters with live-streaming available. Specifics to be announced soon! In the meantime, we are excited to check off another accomplishment with the adoption of new zoning standards for Wake County.

Author: Corey Liles, The RTP

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