10/21/09 — County OKs new rules for planning

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County OKs new rules for planning

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 21, 2009 1:46 PM

By a 5-2 vote, Wayne County commissioners Tuesday gave themselves the final say-so on all preliminary and final subdivision plats effective Nov. 1.

It was the second vote on the proposal. The first was taken at the board's Oct. 6 session. The second vote was necessitated because Commissioner Sandra McCullen was absent from the first meeting, so the full board could not vote.

Tuesday's vote brings to a close a process that started in June when commissioners told county planner Connie Price and county attorney Borden Parker to rewrite the ordinance to give the final say to commissioners.

Both the commissioners and Planning Board held hearings on the changes. No one spoke in favor of the proposal. Most said it did not make sense to change a system that has worked so well for so many years.

It also has strained an already at-times-tense relationship between the two boards.

While most of the commissioners praised the change for providing an appellate process, Commissioner Steve Keen remained adamant that that there is still no appeal process past commissioners -- something that the Planning Board had sought.

The board, for the second time this month, voted down by a 5-2 margin an attempt by Keen to tack on a requirement that each subdivision have an economic impact survey.

Keen, who also is on the Planning Board, argued that commissioners need to know the potential economic impact their decision to approve or deny a plat will have on the county.

Keen also was unsuccessful in his efforts to require commissioners to state in writing their reasons when they deny a plat. Such a statement would let developers know what they need to do to gain approval, he said.

The two proposals were originally recommended by the Planning Board after it had reviewed the proposed changes to the ordinance.

Keen and Commissioner Andy Anderson voted for Keen's motion.

The board did agree to some changes to the proposal, including one suggested by the Planning Board. The Planning Board had suggested that a note be placed on the plat if the proposed subdivision was within the right of way of a highway corridor that has been proposed by a transportation planning organization.

Also added would be notes indicating if the subdivision is within a quarter of a mile of a voluntary agricultural district and if the tract to be subdivided is within the air installation compatible use zone (near airports).

During the discussion, Parker said that few people probably ever look at a plat, or even their deed.

"It appears to me that it should be in," Commissioner J.D. Evans said of the additions.

Price said such information normally would be picked up by the developer.

"I would still like to know what is coming my way," Evans said.

Keen said developers need to be aware of that kind of information as well, before buying large tracts of land.

Commissioner Jack Best asked Keen if he was talking about putting the information on deeds as well.

"No sir, just subdivision plats," Keen said.

"Can you put it on a deed?" Best said. "I don't know that if you do that the homeowner would ever look at it."

"If it is on the plat the Realtors have to advise (potential buyers), they have the ethical duty to do so," Parker said.

Commissioner Sandy McCullen pointed out that not everyone buys from a developer. She also voiced concerns about the change delaying developers and the appeals process.

"There is no appeal once the county commissioners disapprove a plat," Keen reiterated. "It is final."

Keen said that was why the board should be required to state its reasoning in writing so the developer would know what to do next.

"That is the way it is with the Planning Board now," County Manager Lee Smith said.

If the Planning Board rejects a plat there is no procedure for it to come to commissioners, Smith said. Under the proposd changes, if the Planning Board grants conditional approval, the developer can go directly to commisioners if he disagrees with the conditions.

The subdivision ordinance gives developers the ability to work with the county planning staff, Smith said.

"The work happens with the planning staff not the Planning Board or the county commissioners," Smith said. "If you have an unfavorable recommendation by the Planning Board you still have a chance, as a developer, to come before the commissioners."

Keen pressed his point that there is no appeal past commissioners.

Smith reassured Mrs. McCullen that the process provided reasonable time, about 60 to 90 days, and did not slow the process.

"We do not want to hold up development," Smith said.

Best added that processes outside the commissioners' scope, which as engineering studies, were more time intensive than what the commissioners would be doing.

Commissioner John Bell made the motion to adopt the ordinance, but Anderson spoke up before a vote could be taken.

"I am going to vote against this, and I am going to explain that I am not trying to be an obstructionist," Anderson said. "We have made a few last-minute changes we thought off we just kind of threw in there. My concern is that the board does not have the time to do this. I know that I don't."

The county has an "excellent" Planning Board and staff, he said.

"I think one subject that we have kind of failed on is that we are kind of looking at what it is going on right at this moment," Anderson said.

The county needs to be looking at roads, traffic congestion flooding and drainage problems, he said.

"We are going to have major problems is we do not look at these things," he said. "We should give the Planning Board some direction on how we want them to look at it. I think we need the Planning Board to go back and look at these things."

That review would help the county handle the problems.

"If you find out how to do that, let me know," Chairman Bud Gray said.