Polk considers lowering minimum lot sizes

Published 1:39 pm Thursday, November 17, 2011

Public hearing Monday

Polk County is considering some major changes to its subdivision ordinance, including lowering minimum lot sizes for major subdivisions.

The county’s unified development ordinance (UDO) committee is recommending lowering the minimum lot sizes for major subdivision to 2, 3 and 5 acres from the current 5- and 7-acre minimums. Other major changes include implementing a point system for major subdivisions to determine whether an environmental impact study will be required and allowing minor subdivisions to take advantage of the county’s cluster development opportunities.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Polk County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes on Monday, Nov. 21 at 5 p.m. in the commissioner’s meeting room of the Womack Building in Columbus. The regular meeting begins at 3 p.m. but commissioners will break from the meeting to hold the public hearing.

Polk County Planner Cathy Ruth reviewed the changes during the commissioners’ Nov. 7 meeting. Ruth said the UDO committee is working on combining the county’s ordinances but decided to take out the subdivision ordinance and address it separately.

Ruth said the committee has included a separate property owners’ association section to protect property owners; this section was added because of recent incidents of subdivision owners going into bankruptcy.

The new subdivision ordinance draft also includes two processes for approval depending on whether an environmental impact study is required. If a major subdivision scores 100 points or more in the new proposed point system, the approval process will be quasi-judicial. If the subdivision scores less than 100 points, the approval process will be administrative through the planning board.

A major subdivision will be scored on a point system depending on many factors, including the acreage; open space; whether the property is in the mountain and ridgeline protection range; whether the subdivision has public water and/or sewer; whether it’s located near trout waters, land trust/conservation properties or historic properties and whether the property contains slopes, among several other factors.

Using clustering development gives a subdivision credit in the point system. A property receives high points for being in the mountain ridgeline protection area, being in a flood area and not being connected to a public water system, for example.

Ruth said the committee is attempting to address environmental concerns with the changes. With the point system, the committee is trying to give incentives for developers to avoid developing on slopes and to include open space to minimize the impact on the environment.

An environmental impact study is a document that describes the positive and negative environmental effects of a proposed subdivision. If necessary, the environmental impact study will be required at the preliminary plat stage of the approval process for major subdivisions, according to the draft ordinance. Traffic impact studies may also be required for major subdivisions.

Perhaps the greatest proposed change is the lot size minimum requirements. Polk County has had a 7-acre lot minimum since 2008 for major subdivisions without public water and sewer.

Currently, the smallest lot allowed is 5 acres with public water and sewer.

The draft subdivision ordinance includes options for minimum lot sizes of 2, 3 and 5 acres, depending on the source of water and sewer (see chart on page 4). These standards are for major subdivisions in areas that don’t have more restrictive lot size requirements, such as in Hunting Country, where the minimum lot size is 5 acres.

Polk County can adopt the changes to the subdivision ordinance following the public hearing next week. The full document can be viewed online by visiting Polk County’s website at www.polknc.org or directly to the draft ordinance at www.polknc.org/departments/development/documents/DraftSubdivisionOrdinancePBtoBOCNovember2011.pdf.