About the Proposed RM-1 Amendment

Update November 21, 2017

The RM-1 amendment is no longer being proposed.

Updated December 13, 2016

The Department of Planning, Building, & Development is proposing a change to the RM-1 zoning district that would make more lots eligible to request a special exception for a two-family dwelling. RM-1 (Residential Mixed-Density) is a zoning district intended to encourage a range of housing choices by permitting single family, two family, and townhouse dwellings.  Prior to 2000, RM-1 permitted two-family dwellings (duplexes) by right on lots with 5,000 square feet or more.  An amendment in 2000 did two things: (1) Increased the required lot area to 7,000 square feet, and (2) Implemented a requirement for a special exception.

The proposal is to return the minimum lot size to 5,000 square feet and

keep the requirement for a special exception in place

.  This recommendation is based on 15 years of experience with the special exception process.  This change would be an amendment to the zoning ordinance text only.  No rezoning of any property is proposed.

New information

Since information about the amendment was presented in September, planning staff completed more research on case history over the past 15 years.  Here are the highlights of recent findings:
  • 32 two-family dwellings were established in the RM-1 district (just over 2 per year).
  • Two-thirds of cases were new construction.  
  • Eleven cases involved existing structures and ten of those were either occupied previously as a two-family dwelling, multifamily dwelling, or commercial structure.  Only one was a true conversion from a single family to a two-family dwelling.

View new data:
Google map with approved two-family dwellings and access to images
Maps showing lots in the RM-1 district (eligible and proposed eligible lots)
15-year case history (requested, approved, and completed)
Benchmarking list of other localities

What is the intent of this proposal?

The intent of the proposed change is to enable significant investments that lead to improvements to problem properties in neighborhoods. Experience tells us that permitting a two-family dwelling can make it more feasible to rehabilitate an older, larger house or develop a vacant lot.  The amendment was originally proposed by planning staff in October 2014.  At that time, City Council asked for more research on the likely effect of the change.

What is the special exception process?

Certain land uses are permitted either by right or by special exception.  Special exceptions must be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals. The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) is a 7-member board of Roanoke citizens appointed by City Council. Special exceptions require a public hearing before a decision.  Notice of the public hearing is given in several ways: (1) with letters to abutting property owners, (2) by a notice in the Roanoke Times, (3) by a sign placed in the yard of the property, and (4) by email notification to MyRoanoke (CivicSend) subscribers and the email list of the Office of Neighborhood Services.

How is density controlled?

Special exception process looks at density in the surrounding neighborhood.  Also, consistency with the neighborhood plan is considered.  The Board of Zoning Appeals considers existing density when making a decision to approve a two-family dwelling.

How is design controlled?

The special exception process evaluates compatibility with neighborhood.  That means the BZA can impose conditions on design and site layout.   A Certificate of Occupancy can be withheld if conditions are not adhered to and a special exception can be revoked if conditions are not adhered to.   In addition to the special exception process, design is controlled through the Neighborhood Design District or Historic District regulations, which apply to much of the area of the RM-1 districts. If the project uses historic tax credits, there is yet another layer of standards. 

How is maintenance enforced?

Many have expressed concern about maintenance of rental units.  Roanoke's Rental Inspection Program inspects each unit every 4 years for compliance with the Virginia Maintenance Code and issues rental inspection certificates for approved units. Units cannot be occupied without a valid rental certificate.

How many lots are involved?

There are 13,410 lots in Roanoke that are zoned RM-1.   43% are already eligible to request a special exception.  With the proposed change, an additional 35% would become eligible to request a special exception.

 Lot size range (in square feet)  Number of lots % of lots   
Less than 5,000 (not affected by proposal) 2,936  22%   Lots smaller than 5,000 square feet would not be affected by the proposed change
5,000-6,999  4,718 35%   
7,000 or more     5,756 43%

Lots 7,000 square feet or more have been eligible since 2000

What neighborhoods are affected?
Get detailed maps here.  

These maps show lots zoned RM-1 color-coded by their lot size.   You can zoom in to each neighborhood to see the details.

This seems to be moving fast.  Can it be delayed? 

Yes.  To allow more time for community outreach and discussion, the RM-1 amendment has been removed from the package of amendments for November 2016 and will be revisited in spring 2017. 

How much more two-family development can we expect?   

Now that we’ve looked closer at our data over the past 15 years, it's less than we thought a few months ago.  Earlier, we projected 2-3 more per year, but we didn’t account for how many projects were denied and projects that were never carried out.   

We now are projecting less than two per year

, with only about third of those being in existing houses.  

All but one of the eleven approvals involving existing structures were once duplexes, multifamily, or commercial before, but were unauthorized or the property right lapsed due to vacancy or condemnation.  

Only one case in 15 years involved the conversion of a single-family dwelling to a two-family dwelling.

 During that time period, 5,756 lots were eligible.  With the proposed amendment, 4,718 additional lots would become eligible to request a special exception.


The chart below illustrates Roanoke's experience with requests.
RM-1 graphics

What do other communities do?   

Our research of other communities shows that most require larger lot sizes, but permit two-family dwellings by right.  That is, they don’t require a special exception process.

 Click here for a listing of what other localities do.

If you’re saying there won’t be many, then why are you doing it?

Because renovating one derelict structure in a block can benefit a whole block and an entire neighborhood.  Likewise, building on an unkempt, vacant lot can have the same effect.  The intent of the change is to encourage significant and strategic investments in neighborhoods when a property may not feasible for development or renovation as a single-family dwelling.

What if you start getting unintended outcomes from this change? 


The City of Roanoke amends its zoning ordinance every 12-18 months, so we could either reverse or modify the change to make a correction. 

I'd like to take a look myself; can you provide a list of the requests? 

Below is a link to a complete listing of all requests over the past 15 years.  Note that the lot size was increased in 2000, so 15 years is the complete history.

Click here for a full list of cases involving two-family dwelling requests in the Residential Mixed Density District (RM-1)

Click here for a Google map showing the completed projects.

Who can I talk to if I have questions or concerns?

Chris Chittum, AICP, Director of Planning, Building, & Development
(540) 853-2356