Economic Development Equity Housing Land Use

Zoning 101: Residential

As the city of Raleigh continues to grow, more and more properties are being redeveloped and their uses are changing.  In this article, we’ll provide a high level overview of the process that determines what can be built where, and how that impacts day to day life in the city.

Before we dive in, land use zoning and development tends to have a large number of factors, requirements, and dynamics at play.  This article is intended to provide a starting point and will not address the large amount of nuance in the code. Please stay tuned for future articles which will provide a deeper dive.

What is Zoning?

To start with, every property within the city limits is a member of a zoning district.  This zoning district determines what can and can’t be built on the property, along with what uses are permitted. A single zoning district will typically cover multiple individual properties (a neighborhood, shopping center, industrial park, etc), but it can also contain a single property (gas station, bank, etc).  

In Raleigh, our city zoning is defined in the Unified Development Ordinance. The UDO, as it is affectionately called, underwent a major public process and overhaul in 2015 and is regularly revisited as a body of law via text changes and amendments.

There are two main types of zoning districts in the City of Raleigh: Residential and Mixed-Use. Let’s start with residential this week.


Residential zoning districts are designed for neighborhoods with densities of up to 10 dwelling units per acre and building heights no taller than three stories and 40 feet. They also allow a small number of non-residential uses, like schools and churches.

The terminology for residential districts is pretty straight forward.  All district names will be in the format of “R” and then a number, with the number being either 1, 2, 4, 6, or 10.  This number identifies the number of “units” that can be built per acre of land. For example, in an R-6 district, you can build 6 units per acre.

Now you’re probably wondering, what a “unit” is.  A unit, is one fully contained housing entity.

A single family home (detached house)

A duplex (attached house) would be two units

A townhome:

An apartment unit:

The defined building types can be found here

Sec 1.4.1 Building Type Descriptions

In addition to the number of residential units allowed, residential districts also include requirements around the lot size and structure placement on the lot.  Single family and duplex homes require a minimum lot size, the size is dependent on the zoning district, but the general intent is to provided designed spacing between properties so all properties aren’t located right next to each other. Related to minimum lot sizes, there are also setback requirements which specify how far back from your property line (on all sides) you must build the home. Again, this is to provide a predictable amount of spacing between properties.  

The minimum lot size and setback requirements are dependent on the zoning district along with which type of structure is being built.  The full chart of requirements can be found here:

Article 2.2 Conventional Development Option

Next week we’ll talk about Mixed-Use districts. Oh what fun! Come back to geek out on zoning with us, y’all! 

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