Polk to draft development extension ordinance

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, September 19, 2013

The economy may look better for some, but many proposed developments have not sold enough lots to make it to the next stage of construction.

With the clock running out from a state permit extension act, the Polk County Board of Commissioners directed its planning board to draft a local ordinance that will further extend the clock for major subdivisions in order to give them more time to comply with requirements.

The N.C. General Assembly approved the Permit Extension Act of 2009 that suspended the termination of any development approval permit that was valid between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2010. The act included permits for wastewater, erosion control, subdivision plat approval and conditional use permits, among others. State officials at the time said North Carolina and the nation were in a state of economic emergency and the land development industry was suffering special hardships.

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While some local developments’ extension times have already expired, Polk County Planner Cathy Ruth told county commissioners on Sept. 9 that the majority are expiring at the end of this year. She said some developers have already contacted her saying they cannot afford to go to the next stage of development.

Some of the changes for major subdivisions, defined in Polk County as nine lots or more, include that conditional use permits may be required as well as larger lot sizes, depending on what type of water and sewer services are provided.

Depending on the development’s stage, roads could be required to be constructed at the end of the year and some developers are telling the county they don’t have the money to proceed.

Commissioners directed the planning board to work on a local extension for major subdivisions to be given if requested by the developer. The proposed local extension ordinance will only be allowed for major subdivisions.

Some developments may opt to not apply for another extension and either move forward, stop the plans for a subdivision or sell the land. Ruth told commissioners there are currently about 600 lots on the books at either the master plan stage or preliminary stage that may not be able to afford to go to next stage.

Commissioners also directed the planning board to go through the county’s subdivision ordinance and propose amendments as necessary.

One of the items commissioners said they want the planning board to look at is the environmental checklist within the subdivision ordinance. Ruth said the environmental checklist currently refers to the mountain and ridgeline protection ordinance, which was rescinded after the new subdivision ordinance was adopted.

Commissioner Ted Owens said in general, he would like to see the checklist reviewed to ensure the county is not putting an undue burden on anyone.

Commissioner Keith Holbert pointed out that one section of the subdivision ordinance requires persons to check with the unified development ordinance (UDO) administrator, a position that does not exist as Polk never moved forward with a UDO following the subdivision ordinance approval.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson voted against sending amendments to the subdivision ordinance to the planning board, saying he agreed some cleanup is needed but couldn’t support the move the way other commissioners phrased changes.

Gasperson said the subdivision ordinance was a reflection of the county’s Vision 20/20 plan’s statement, which took a long time to get to with lots of compromise.

“I think we have an excellent document,” Gasperson said, “that suits our county remarkably well.”

The planning board met Thursday, Sept. 12 and reviewed what commissioners directed members to work on concerning a local development extension ordinance and subdivision ordinance changes.

The planning board is scheduled to draft a development extension ordinance during a special called meeting Thursday, Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. in the Womack building in Columbus.