Density / Urban Sprawl

A similar episode of the podcast The War On Cars pointed out some of the same stuff. If you’re into that sort of lilt, check it out.

1 Like

Consider the source, nuff said


Most existing subdivisions have restrictive covenants that don’t allow a duplex to replace a SFH.

In the end, the free market decides. Wealthy people will always be able to buy large lots. I don’t think you will see the Oregon situation replicated here. The amount of habitable land in western Oregon (the populated part) is tightly constrained by rivers and mountains. That’s not the case in the Triangle.

Raleigh can outlaw new SFH if it chooses, but the act would be essentially meaningless because very little raw land remains in the Raleigh ETJ.

1 Like

Oregon did not outlaw SFH. It outlawed ONLY ALLOWING SFH. I get where you are coming from with it not being such a big deal because of the subdivisions, I think it is is a much smaller deal than people think because my neighborhood allows Duplexes today (on a little bit bigger lots), and of the 300 lots that I saw could have a duplex only 3 have been built. In some ways this is a good description of what happens in housing. A change that would allow a couple duplexes a year is held up as “Doubling Density!” so nothing changes.


I’d actually like to know exactly how much raw land does exist in Raleigh’s ETJ, because I get the sense that it’s a lot more than we might think. On top of the raw land, there’s a ton more land that’s redevelopable.
I agree that the market will drive what happens to the extent of zoning, or by pursuing rezoning. The days of large lot format, single family home neighborhoods being developed in the city limits are essentially over. New homes on larger lots (1/4+acre) in the city are going to be primarily relegated to infill or tear-down situations.

1 Like

You can go to iMAPS and turn on the ETJ layer. There is still raw land in the far northwest, adjacent to Durham. There are tracts between Strickland and 540, some large tracts in the northeast along and across the Neuse, tracts in the southeast along Walnut Creek and between 40 and Rock Quarry. But some of those tracts may be constrained by floodplain or riparian buffers. The single largest undeveloped area in the ETJ appears to be Umstead and the forest next to it… forget those. An eyeball estimate is 12-15% of the ETJ remains usable.

I agree that redevelopment is much more likely to produce high-density housing than the outlying ETJ where developers will tend to continue with SFH. Not much hope for transit out on the edge of the ETJ.

1 Like

Infill will almost always be high density housing, except for the house-4-house teardowns that will continue. That said, I think that the edge ETJ development will also be way more densely developed than SFH neighborhoods of yesteryear. I expect to see more and more projects like 5401 North with a combination of housing types, accompanied by some light commercial and community amenities. SFHs will be on much smaller lots.

Agreed. To a large extent the question of lot size for SFH is taking care of itself anyway. Rising prices for raw land inside or near the Raleigh ETJ are forcing developers to do 6 or more SFH’s per acre, unless they are building million-dollar houses. New builds for low-density SFH are more likely to be seen in watershed-restricted areas that will accommodate nothing else or much farther out (e.g. Zebulon and Rolesville).

You lost me.Do you mean OP? Huffpost? What is your thought on this?

I imagine that larger lot SFH neighborhoods across all of Wake County will quickly become a thing of the past as developers try to maximize the quantity of Wake County addresses. As crowded as the schools may be, and as much as people in general like to complain about the system, it’s still a selling point vis-a-vis many adjacent counties. Wake holds a level of cache that commands a premium, and that will be reflected in building practices over time.

1 Like

There will always be exceptions. Most of Wake County north of 540 and west of the Falls Lake dam is R-40W (one SFH per acre) or R-80W (one SFH per 2 acres). Chunks of land in south Wake near Lake Johnson and Lake Benson have the same zoning. The “W” means watershed protection, and I can’t imagine the County would change that.

You also have to contend with large numbers of subdivisions where the developers put restrictive covenants on the land that preclude anything higher than R-6. The County and the municipalities can’t override those covenants. In theory the NC General Assembly could, but that’s not going to happen and even if it did, people would ask the courts to rule it unconstitutional (with a good probability of success).


The watershed is an exception and will remain an exception, and will continue to host much of the market’s top tier like it does now. Regarding existing developments and their covenants, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about new developments throughout the rest of the county. Lot sizes will continue to shrink over time.

1 Like

They probably will not shrink anytime soon for sure in the Wake County jurisdiction. There are 15 municipalities currently with Wake County and they can do whatever they want individually within their respective jurisdiction. But those are already relatively smaller lot sizes than within the non-municipal parts of the county.

Over half of the land that’s still under County jurisdiction has W zoning. Most of the rest is R-30, 1.45 dwelling units per acre. At the current rate, it seems that most of the R-30 will be built out faster than any consensus could emerge about rezoning it to higher density. Only about 15% of the County population lives ITB Raleigh, if that’s what one defines as urban. The rest of the county, including the other municipalities, appear to be totally fine with low-density suburbia if that’s what the free market demands.

1 Like

My whole point is that I think that the free market is going to drive smaller lot SFH more rapidly than I think most of us expect.
I imagine that this example is going to be more and more of the norm. This house is on .11Acre (under 5000 sf) and it’s located outside of I-540. It’s also a sizeable home, not an entry level home.


I don’t think anyone is proposing to eliminate R-40 or R-80 lots.

The idea is that you would eliminate zoning that limits you to “only” a single family 1 acre lot. In general, residential zoning limits how many units you can have, not how few units you can have.

There would still be watershed protections, but they could be based on impervious percentages.

I don’t think Raleigh is there yet, and we may never be there, but as a smart growth concept it makes alot of sense after your city is built out. Take away the single family house limitation and let the market determine what works.


IMO, Raleigh and Wake are many decades away from venturing into elimination of single family zoning. I just don’t see it happening. Frankly, I’d rather leverage the fact that we do have single family zoning in much of the city to create a sense of urgency around developing TOD nodes to create revenues to maintain the infrastructure of our current SFH built environment.
That all said, many of these issues are emotional and generational. Maybe it will happen sooner than many decades and I just don’t see it on the horizon yet?

1 Like

Updated stats on the size of the cities within Wake County… for those of us who love numbers and stats.



Note that Raleigh’s total includes the portions in Durham County. Cary and Wake Forest does not include the city limits within Chatham and Franklin County.

Where did you find this data?

1 Like