06/17/10 — County will eye cluster builds

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County will eye cluster builds

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 17, 2010 1:46 PM

Cluster subdivisions that have been permitted in Wayne County for only four years are going to get another look even though there has been only one such development proposed during that time.

A cluster subdivision allows developers to build homes closer together than is normally allowed in exchange for leaving the rest of the subdivision acreage for "green space." That philosophy runs counter to the reason for limited the concentration of homes near airports, some county officials say.

The location of the 70-lot project, which was to be built just north of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, jolted the county Planning Board into asking county commissioners to amend the ordinance to prohibit cluster subdivisions zones around airports. Permission to build the 70-acre cluster subdivision sought by developer BAP was the first such request since the county's subdivision ordinance was amended to allow them. BAP has since pulled the project from consideration.

Planning Board members are uneasy about allowing dense development near the base since it could send the wrong signals to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. They worry that too much development near the base could put Seymour Johnson in a precarious position the next time the commission looks at military installations for reductions or closure. Encroachment around a base is a factor the Air Force considers when it looks at which bases to close or reduce.

However, the Planning Board's recommendation Tuesday did not reach far enough for commissioner Chairman Jack Best, who said the study should look at cluster subdivisions in all of the county zones.

Best said the closer look is needed to ensure that developers are not using the provision of cluster developments to turn "useless land" into the open spaces required by the ordinance simply to circumvent the lot size requirement.

The results of the study are to be brought back to commissioners at their Aug. 3 meeting.

Any changes to the ordinance would require a public hearing and approval by commissioners.

Currently, Airport Zone subdivision lots must be at least an acre in size. However, the ordinance that was amended in 2006 allows smaller cluster lots in all zones that allow residential use. Reduced lot sizes allow developers to reduce expenses by having shorter streets and water lines since the development is denser than in traditional subdivisions.

"In the Airport Zone minimum lost size is one acre, so if you have a 20-acre piece of property theoretically you could have up to 20 lots," County Planner Connie Price told commissioners on Tuesday. "In a cluster subdivision, you still can't have but 20 lots, but you can have them on a smaller piece of property.

"The Planning Board discussed it and felt that allowing cluster subdivisions in areas that are zoned airport defeats the purpose of having the Airport Zone. The reason we have the one-acre lot size is to spread out the houses. By having the cluster you have all of the houses in one small area, lots as small as 10,000 square feet or one-quarter of an acre."

Commissioner Andy Anderson said he had been trying to figure out how the oversight happened.

"I think that (2006 amendment) was one of those cases where we did not go back far and catch it. Now since we did it several years ago we can see how one thing affects others," Anderson said.

Price agreed and said that is why there are time when the county "needs to come back and tweak" decisions.

Anderson asked how a cluster subdivision and open spaces would work.

Price said the rules allow the Planning Board to look at what open spaces are used for.

Anderson said he could see how some areas would benefit from the open space, while some developers could see it as a way of "getting around" it by utilizing otherwise useless space.

"More and more children are in tight (subdivision) places with no place to go," Anderson said. "I think it is a good idea if done properly. I think it needs to be addressed -- how open land is used.

Best said he and developer and Commissioner Steve Keen are familiar with cluster subdivisions and that other zones should be considered as well.

He agreed with Anderson that some developers could try to use wetlands, which they cannot develop, as the open space. In those cases, the open space does not benefit anyone, he said.

"We ought to expand beyond the Airport Zone," he said.

Commissioner Sandra McCullen asked Best if he was suggesting not allowing cluster subdivisions at all.

Best said he was not.

"I am just saying it ought to be more than the Airport Zone," he said. "Good land ought to be part of the open areas. Cluster homes are not a bad idea."

Commissioner J.D. Evans said it appeared to be a consensus that things needed to be put on hold until the study is completed and that the county could then proceed.

Best agrees and said he thinks the Airport Zone should be part of an overall study.