02/13/13 — County Planning Board seeks to take back authority

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County Planning Board seeks to take back authority

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 13, 2013 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Planning Board approved a draft proposal Tuesday night to reclaim most of its power to adopt subdivision plats, rather than sending them all to the county commissioners.

However, board members said commissioners should continue approving large development projects that could affect schools, fire protection and other county services.

The board looked at six options to rewrite the county's subdivision ordinance before settling on a combination of two that could reduce by approximately 90 percent the number of subdivision plats that commissioners now see.

The option agreed on by the Planning Board would allow County Planning Director Connie Price to sign off on minor plats that do not include streets. He would report those approvals at the following Planning Board meeting.

Minor plats with easements would be approved by the Planning Board. It also would review major plats and make recommendations before sending them on to commissioners for final approval.

Probably 90 percent of the plats that have gone before county commissioners over the past three years have been minor ones that under the old, and these new, rules would have stopped at the Planning Board, Price said.

"The small ones would stop here and the big ones would keep moving," he said.

Allowing the Planning Board to approve a minor plat would mean a person could then get the subdivision map approved and have it recorded the next day, Price said.

"I think that is what we really had in mind," said Commissioner Joe Daughtery, who had championed the change. "I think that one of the things that some of the commissioners, including myself, are concerned with is that we are trying to streamline the process.

"Most of these minor subdivisions are family members that are dividing up the parcels. If we are talking minor subdivision of three lots or less we feel we ought to err on the side of the landowner."

Daughtery said he had no problem with returning the authority to approve minor plats to the planning staff and in doing so simplify the approval process for county residents.

The current process that eventually works its way to commissioners is too time consuming and burdensome, he said.

Commissioner and Planning Board member Ed Cromartie said he, too, was concerned about letting property owners "stand out there too long to get where they wanted to get" on a project.

"I have confidence in this staff putting before us the ones that we (Planning Board) need to see, and then the rest of them going on to the county commission board" he said.

Price said that he and County Attorney Borden Parker would need to review the county's subdivision ordinance and make the suggested changes.

The reworded ordinance would be brought back to the Planning Board, which would then make a recommendation to commissioners.

Any changes to the ordinance would require a public hearing and approval by commissioners, who had asked that the Planning Board look at the change.

Commissioners at their Jan. 22 meeting had suggested the review of the new and old rules governing the Planning Board's role and duties.

The issue resurfaced as commissioners were being briefed on four minor subdivisions plats that were on their agenda -- none of which would have gone before the board under the old, and these new, rules. Two of the four, that did not create new easement or streets, could have been approved by Price.

At the meeting Daughtery suggested that Price work with Parker to revisit the approval process. Commissioner Wayne Aycock, a former Planning Board member, said that the Planning Board should be involved as well.

In the summer of 2009 the relationship between commissioners and some Planning Board members was showing signs of strain. At one point then Planning Board Chairman Chris Cox scolded commissioners that they needed to explain their actions on planning decisions in the county.

Commissioner John Bell, a Democrat, rebuked Cox and reminded him that Planning Board members, who at that time included Commissioner Steve Keen, are appointed by commissioners and serve in an advisory capacity.

Then Commissioner Jack Best pushed to look at the Planning Board's responsibilities, "so we can understand who is in charge and who is not in charge and whose duties are what."

In a party-line 5-2 vote in October 2009 commissioners gave themselves the final say-so on all subdivision plats. Keen and former Commissioner Andy Anderson, both Republicans, voted against the measure.