Unified Development Ordinance

UDO Update Continues
UDO Update

UDO Overview 

UDO UpdateThe Wake Forest Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) combines into a single document the Town's zoning, subdivision, land use, grading, storm water management, and historic preservation regulations. It outlines the requirements for all development activity.

The UDO was first adopted in 2013, along with the Manual of Specifications, Standards and Design (MSSD). With the update and adoption of several comprehensive plans, including the 2022 Community Plan and 2021 Northeast Community Plan, as well as several other comprehensive plans that are underway, the UDO and MSSD need to be updated to implement the policies and recommendations of the plans. The zoning map, which is a legal document that illustrates the zoning districts where different development rules apply, will also be updated as part of this project.

In addition to reflecting the goals and actions of the comprehensive plans, the UDO needs to maintain compliance with state, federal and case law, which are constantly evolving. Finally, the update will exam best practices and trending topics.

The update process will involve multiple steps and take approximately two years. The updated UDO and MSSD will set the development rules for Wake Forest.


Project Timeline


Who is involved with creating the updated UDO and MSSD?

The Town hired Houseal Lavigne in the spring of 2022 to update the UDO and MSSD. Planning staff will manage the project.

It is critical that all of Wake Forest’s stakeholders are involved in the development of the updated UDO and MSSD. The stakeholders vary and include, but are not limited to residents, businesses, municipal partners, community organizations, staff, and elected officials.

In addition, a technical review group will be formed to provide a thorough evaluation and analysis of ordinance elements as they are prepared.

Ultimately, the Wake Forest UDO and MSSD will be presented to the Planning Board for a recommendation and presented for adoption by the Board of Commissioners.

How can I get involved in the process?

The Community Engagement section of this page describes all the opportunities available to provide your input, including public meetings. Any meeting dates and times throughout the process will be listed to the project web page as they are scheduled.

Additionally, online surveys will be posted on this page and Engage Wake Forest.

Finally, materials from meetings and more information detailing the Wake Forest UDO and MSSD comprehensive update process can be found on this page.

Why is it important to be involved with the UDO comprehensive update?

The UDO governs how development occurs, ranging from getting a permit for a shed in your yard to development of residential subdivisions and commercial buildings. It codifies which uses are allowed where and associated requirements. Ever wonder why there are street trees along the streets or why industrial uses are located in limited areas?

The UDO sets these requirements and helps us implement the goals for the town established in the comprehensive plan.

What about the current UDO and MSSD?

The current UDO and MSSD will continue to be used until the updated UDO and MSSD are adopted.

During the two-year update process, there may be smaller text amendments to these documents that will follow the required public hearing processes.

What type of regulations does the UDO contain?

The UDO regulates a range of development activity, including establishing zoning districts, dimensional standards (ex. height, building setbacks, lot sizes), allowable uses, subdivision standards, infrastructure requirements, parking, landscaping, tree preservation, stormwater, lighting, signage, building design and processes.

There are some topics that local governments do not have the statutory authority to regulate or have very limited power to regulate, such as tree preservation, single family design standards, certain types of uses, certain off-site impacts, and the extent of riparian buffer restrictions.

What’s the difference between the UDO and the comprehensive plan?

The comprehensive plan are policy documents that set out the vision and goals for the community on topics such as land use, housing, transportation, historic preservation, and special areas of town. The plans guide important decisions but are not the law.

The UDO is a regulatory document that pertains to a wide range of development activity and land use decisions.

What do zoning districts regulate?

Zoning districts regulate which uses are allowed in which districts and may include supplemental use standards. For example, a supplemental use standard may require that a certain use only be allowed in a certain district if it is located on a higher classified street rather than a local street. Zoning districts also regulate dimensional and bulk standards, which include required lot size and width; building setbacks; building height; and building frontage. Other development standards related to form and development layout, such as parking configuration and building design, may utilize different requirements for different zoning districts.

Why are new zoning districts being created and why are some existing zoning districts being replaced?

The current zoning districts have been analyzed for alignment with the Land Use Plan and Map within the Community Plan and Northeast Community plan. In order to meet the goals and vision of these plans, some existing zoning districts are proposed to be changed while new zoning districts are also proposed to address gaps. Additionally, some existing zoning districts that are similar to one another are proposed to be consolidated.

If my zoning allows for more uses than what’s listed in the covenants of my neighborhood, which uses are allowed?

Local government regulations and HOA regulations are separate. HOA regulations often provide an additional layer of requirements and can be enforced by the HOA. The Town does not enforce HOA regulations. If the HOA covenants restrict uses beyond what is permitted by the zoning district, the covenant rules supersede the zoning use regulations because they are more restrictive.

What’s an overlay district?

Overlay districts set standards for certain areas that are in addition to the base zoning district. Overlay districts often pertain to protecting or promoting something unique to a certain area.

Why does the Town not enact a moratorium on development?

North Carolina General Statutes limit the authority of municipalities to establish a temporary moratorium on development. The Town is prohibited from establishing development moratoria for the purpose of developing and adopting new or amended plans or development regulations governing residential uses.

What can the Town do to promote tree preservation?

The Town of Wake Forest does not have legal authority to prohibit clear-cutting of land under North Carolina law. For proposed development, the Town can require minimum landscape standards, such as the types, location, and size of new vegetation.

Can the Town require homes to look a certain way?

North Carolina local governments cannot require certain design standards for single family detached, duplex, and townhome developments, including type or style of materials, windows, doors, roof style, and color. The Town can require design standards in historic districts.

What can the Town do to promote water quality and habitat preservation?

Local governments cannot under state law enforce riparian stream buffer regulations that are stricter than what the State allows. The Town can regulate the amount of impervious surface area permitted in different parts of the town and the provision of stormwater control measures for water quality and quantity. In some areas, the Town can regulate additional water contaminants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

What types of infrastructure improvements can the Town require of new development?

Case law requires that improvements required of a development be both reasonably proportional and related to their impacts. This means that developments make improvements to the subject site and the street frontage for the subject site. Development cannot be required to resolve existing issues.

The Town requires development to make transportation improvements for their portion of sites in accordance with the adopted Comprehensive Transportation Plan. This can include right-of-way dedication, installation of sidewalk or multi-use paths, curb and gutter, street widening, greenways, and contributions towards medians. Through impact analyses, the Town and NCDOT may in some cases be able to require turn lanes, signal timing adjustments, and contributions towards new traffic signals. Development is responsible for the installation of new streets (and associated elements such as street trees and street lighting) and water and sewer infrastructure. Public infrastructure is eventually taken over for maintenance by the Town or other public agency after completion.

Unified Development Ordinance
Senior Planner - Development Services