Columbus to consider 3-acre minimum lot requirement for new subdivisions

Published 5:23 pm Thursday, October 2, 2008

The planning board met last Thursday and unanimously approved the recommendations,&bsp; which are aimed at minimizing the impact of development and protecting groundwater supplies. The recommendations now go to Columbus Town Council for consideration.

&dquo;This proposed amendment to the town&squo;s subdivision ordinance seeks to prevent overdevelopment that will exhaust the aquifers upon which the town depends for its water supply,&dquo; states the planning board&squo;s recommendation. &dquo;This limit (three- and ten-acre minimums)&bsp; is derived from the best information currently available from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the U.S. Geological Survey.&dquo;

The planning board&squo;s recommendation would trump the town&squo;s current steep slope provisions, which are currently in the subdivision ordinance.

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Currently, the steep slope provisions say that if a lot contains any land with a slope of greater than 20 percent, only half the area of the steep land is counted in the lot size. For instance, if one acre of a two-acre lot sits on a slope greater than 20 percent, the lot would only count as one and a half acres.

The town&squo;s minimum lot size in its current zoning ordinance varies, with a two-acre minimum in the residential/estate district and 10,000 square feet, or approximately 1/4 of an acre, in the town&squo;s R2 district, which is the town&squo;s most common residential district.

The recommendation does allow adjustments to the baseline density where &dquo;based on competent testimony by qualified independent experts concerning local conditions, the planning board finds that a greater density will still allow replenishment of the groundwater consumed by a subdivision.&dquo;

The planning board can also make an adjustment to the density &dquo;where it finds that some or all of the water to be consumed by a subdivision will reliably, continuously and permanently be provided from a proven source other than groundwater drawn from the town&squo;s aquifers,&dquo; such as when water is received from the county&squo;s Lake Adger water source, for instance.

Members of the planning board have said this move is designed solely to protect the town&squo;s water source in response to the increased amount of development lately in the town and in the county.

Columbus Town Council will consider the amendment to its subdivision ordinance during the next meeting on Oct. 16.

It is unclear how town council will vote on the amendment. Council has recently imposed an eight-month moratorium on subdivisions, which is scheduled to end in January. The town imposed the moratorium to give its planning board time to research and come up with more restrictive ordinances on development.

One proposed development that will be affected by the changes, if approved, is Foster Creek Preserve, a major subdivision proposed off Houston Road on land currently zoned R2. The town last October voluntarily annexed Foster Creek, which contains more than 1,000 acres with 776 lots planned as of the last proposal. Since May, 2006, the town has annexed more than 1,300 acres, which more than doubled the town&squo;s size. Many residents have expressed concerns about the growth.

Foster Creek developers agreed to hold off on submitting its master plan in order for the town to strengthen its ordinances, but they also said firmly in a letter to the town that they would hold off on submitting plans only as long as the town&squo;s density requirement was not changed.