07/15/09 — Planning Board authority debated

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Planning Board authority debated

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 15, 2009 1:46 PM

Planning Board Chairman Chris Cox Tuesday night did not appear convinced that a vote last month by county commissioners was not aimed at diminishing the board's authority.

Cox raised the question about commissioners' 5-2 vote at the Planning Board's monthly session and asked Planning Director Connie Price or County Attorney Borden Parker for an explanation.

"There was a request by commissioners for Mr. Parker and Mr. Price to come up with policy changes to the Planning Board," Cox said.

"The motion, as I understood, was for Connie and me to come up with a plan that would allow county commissioners to approve site plans," Parker said.

In looking at the issue, there are not a "whole lot" of site plans that get approved now, Parker said.

That will change as the county adds requirements such as the recently adopted sign ordinance and the parking lot regulations now under consideration, he said.

"Then there would be site plans that would be required," Parker said. "I do not see (the commissioners' action) diminishing the powers of the Planning Board."

"That is not the way I interpreted it," Cox responded.

Commissioners, Cox said, had commented that the Planning Board's bylaws date back to the 1960s and that perhaps changes should be made.

"That is what I thought they were referring to," Cox said.

"That was not the motion," Parker said. "You were absolutely right about the comments."

"The motion just dealt with site plans," Price added.

"I was just expecting (changes) and just wanted to make sure that I didn't miss it," Cox said.

Commissioners Steve Keen, who also serves on the Planning Board, and Andy Anderson voted last month against Commissioner John Bell's motion, saying they believed it would open the door to commissioners taking over the planning process.

Bell responded that his intent was to give commissioners more say-so in approving site plans for development, the same as the Goldsboro City Council, not to do away with the Planning Board.

Currently, the Planning Board makes recommendations to the commissioners on zoning issues, but only the commissioners can rezone property. There is no requirement that site plans be approved by the Planning Board. That is Price's responsibility.

Parker said he had looked at how Goldsboro handles approval of site plans.

The City Council, he said, approves the site plans based on its planning board's recommendations. Parker said that as he remembers it, the city planner can approve small projects, anything else gets approved by the City Council, but has to come through the city planning board to get a recommendation.

"I would recommend something very similar to that (for the county)," Parker said.

In response to questioning by Planning Board member David Quick, Parker said he would not recommend that commissioners be required to be unanimous in approving a site plan that had not received unanimous approval by the Planning Board.

Price said commissioners would have 90 days to consider a site plan and if no action was taken within that time, it would be considered approved.

"Describe site," Keen said.

"When the ordinances require the developer to get the plans for the actual site he is developing approved," Parker said.

"So we will have to amend the ordinance to allow for that," Cox said.

Parker said that was correct.

Member Mike Aycock asked if that would apply to a man who had wanted to build a saw mill on U.S. 117 Alternative.

Price that it would.

"Anything in our current zoning, any use in heavy industry would require a site plan," Price said. "But it doesn't require that it come to the Planning Board now. I just approve those. They (site plans) don't have a lot of detail on what has to be in it. As you add more requirements you have more things to look at on a site plan.

"I would be glad to have it (change) because it would take a load off of me having to worry about does this site plan meet the requirements of the ordinance. I can make a recommendation."

During the commissioners' meeting last month, Anderson agreed that a review is needed, but said Bell's motion seemed to set commissioners up to take control of the Planning Board.

Bell's motion called for Parker and Price to "get together and present the plan to us getting county commissioners more actively involved in approving plot plans."

He then added that, "They (the Planning Board), in my opinion, they would still have to vote on a recommendation to bring back to us. The (planning) board would make recommendations back to the county commissioners for the county commissioners' approval."