08/28/09 — Public can address planning ordinance

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Public can address planning ordinance

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 28, 2009 1:46 PM

The public will have a chance Tuesday night to express its opinion on proposed changes to the county's subdivision ordinance that would give county commissioners the final say in the plat approval process.

The public meeting, sponsored by the county Planning Board, will begin at 7 p.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

A copy of the ordinance, with changes highlighted, is available on the county's Web site, www.waynegov.com.

The Planning Board decided to hold Tuesday's meeting after unsuccessfully asking county commissioners to change the time of their public hearing on the same issue. That hearing will be held Tuesday, Sept. 15, at 9:15 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room.

Planning Director Connie Price and county attorney Borden Parker were asked two months ago by commissioners to draft language that would give them final approval of subdivision plats. The decision further strained relations between the two boards.

Currently, preliminary and final plats are submitted to the county's Planning Department staff, with approval up to the Planning Board.

Under the proposed change, the Planning Board would make recommendations and final approval would rest with commissioners.

A preliminary plat is required for any subdivision that involves a new street or more than 10 lots on a secondary road. As planning director, Price currently may approve minor plats consisting of five lots or less on a secondary road or three or less lots on a private easement.

The change would remove that power and require that all plats go to the Planning Board.

The change would mirror the procedure employed by the City of Goldsboro, which gives the City Council final say in plat approval.

Commissioners also plan to revisit the rules included in the county's mobile home subdivision ordinance.

A public hearing on that ordinance will be held Oct. 20 at 9:15 a.m. The Planning Board and Health Board must review the proposal.

Tuesday night's meeting will be recorded so that commissioners may review it.

"The Planning Board was concerned that on something this important that people who couldn't make it to an early meeting on a weekday, people like tobacco farmers who are right in the middle of getting their tobacco out of the field that time of the morning, school teachers are at school," Planning Board chairman Chris Cox said. "It's a recession, and people can't really afford to take off time from work even if they might want to.

"It was the (planning) board's thought that if we could have it in the evening where people who wanted to attend who did have concerns about what was going that a later time would be acceptable for them to come."

Cox said commissioners have been asked to play the recording of the meeting just "like (they) were there on Tuesday morning (Sept. 15) and that they be heard in the same manner."

Commissioners do not have to do so, Cox added. However, he said "it would be only fair" to those people who are concerned and take the time to attend the Tuesday night session.

County Manager Lee Smith called the two meeting on the issue a "nice balance."

Smith said he is uncertain if any commissioners plan to attend the evening session. Commissioners' first-of-the-month session will be held that morning.

"I have been talking to planning officials from other municipalities here in Wayne County, from other counties, Planning Board members from here in Wayne County and we have talked to people in the community who said 'tell me about this process,'" Smith said. "First they said 'what is the controversy' and I said, 'well, I don't really know.'

"The controversy confuses me slightly because the commissioners are the ones responsible for putting together the comprehensive plan and growth management plans for Wayne County. One commissioner said 'what is the big deal, what is the controversy?' I said, 'Let's back up. In the last six months to a year of the developments that have been approved what do you know of those' and they said, "I don't.' I went, 'Shouldn't you, you did the land use plan?'"

There is a most definitely a place for the Planning Board, Smith said.

"They are in an advisory capacity and you need expertise there and in the planning department," Smith said.

Commissioners may not need to know in detail, but generally they do need to be well versed as to where development is occurring, he said.

"That is where I don't understand the controversy for somebody to say that the commissioners should not be involved," Smith said. "They are the ones to decide. What I am saying is that as an administrator I want my board well-informed. We (county staff) want commissioners to ask questions. They should ask questions. We are responsible to give them data and they make the decisions, not us."