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Fighting for urbanism from a cul-de-sac?

Aerial shot of Grandover, a community in Greensboro
Marketing materials
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Grandover
Grandover: Rules against duplexes and triplexes next to single-family homes.

This story originally appeared in the Inside Politics newsletter, out Fridays. Sign up here to get it first to your inbox.

When he was Charlotte’s planning director two years ago, Taiwo Jaiyeoba spearheaded the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which aims to remake Charlotte into a sustainable city less reliant on cars — as well as one that’s less segregated by race and income.

The plan ended zoning for only single-family houses, in hopes that developers would build more duplexes and triplexes, creating what’s known as “missing middle housing.” It also wants to create “10 minute neighborhoods,” where people “should have access to essential amenities, goods, and services within a comfortable, tree-shaded 10-minute walk, bike, or transit trip by 2040.”

The City Council narrowly approved the 2040 Plan, with the duplex/triplex issue becoming something of a municipal culture war.

Some felt threatened by the city’s move to change the spread-out city into a more dense one. There was also concern that making it easier for developers to build would accelerate gentrification.

A recent article in The Assembly recounted the fight. It wrote that Jaiyeoba, who is now Greensboro’s city manager, is worried that the Charlotte City Council is not fully committed to his plan.

Taiwo Jaiyeoba can’t help himself. Sometimes he still tunes into Charlotte City Council meetings. Call it an old habit the city’s former planning director can’t break. 

And he’s bothered by what he sees.

Looking on from afar, Jaiyeoba was frustrated to see old debates play out on the dais. They are a signal that Charlotte’s future is unwritten. Ongoing political disputes, growing ire from residents, and limited policy options suggest the city’s progressive new order may be a fragile one — if it ever existed at all.

Jaiyeoba is still apparently checking in on Charlotte, so Inside Politics thought it might be time to check in on him.

Surely in his new home in Greensboro, he’s leading by example and living a higher-density lifestyle in a walkable, transit-friendly neighborhood like the kind he advocated in Charlotte … right?

It turns out, not so much.

Jaiyeoba lives in Grandover, a sprawling, planned community on two golf courses near Interstate 85.

It’s one of the least dense communities in Guilford County.

His home is on a cul-de-sac, which hampers connectivity. There are no sidewalks on his street.

Grandover doesn’t have the qualities of a 10-minute city, with the nearest grocery store and bus stop nearly two miles away.

What’s more, Grandover is governed by an association that has rules about what can be built where.

While a key part of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan was to allow duplexes and triplexes in areas once zoned for only single-family homes, Grandover prohibits duplexes and triplexes to be built on Jaiyoeba’s cul-de-sac that’s entirely single-family homes.

A woman who works at Grandover said the rules also prohibit homeowners from building what’s known as ADUs on their property. Those are “Accessory Dwelling Units” that can be rented out or used for an aging relative. ADUs are a key part of Charlotte’s 2040 Plan.

Writing about the private lives of public officials is a sensitive subject.

But journalists often note when someone’s public statements differ from their own actions.

That can be when a public official champions public schools but sends their children to private school. Or when someone urges the community to obey health directives, but then ignores them in their personal life.

In a text message, Jaiyoeba said he doesn’t understand why his residence is an issue.

He said a street one minute from his home has a sidewalk. He said he drives five minutes to a bus stop, where he commutes to work each day.

He also noted that Grandover also has smaller homes and senior housing. (That’s true, although the development has segregated the different types of housing, placing them far apart over Grandover’s 1,500 acres.)

During the height of the 2040 Plan debate, the Charlotte Ledger noted that Jaiyeoba lived in Union County, in a single-family house on a cul-de-sac in a gated community.

At the time, he said the 2040 Comprehensive Plan is “320 pages long, and the focus of this work has always been about doing what’s in the best interest of Charlotte’s future, not on individual employees who may or may not be impacted by this.”

Perhaps it’s not realistic for Jaiyoebia to live in a house in Greensboro that’s a few doors down from a triplex, that’s near a bus stop, that’s a 10-minute walk to a grocery and a restaurant, that’s on a street with a sidewalk full of pedestrians.

After all, Greensboro is a sprawling suburban city like Charlotte.

But he has chosen to live somewhere that has none of those things. He is now working to implement Greensboro’s 2040 Plan, which aims to make the city “car optional.”

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
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