The planning board has begun its bi-annual review of the Macon County Subdivision Ordinance. The review process, mandated by county law to take place every two years, was written into the code in order to allow for any updates and/or corrections that that the board determines necessary to increase the effectiveness of the ordinance.
At the Jan. 20 meeting of the planning board, County Planner Derek Roland presented a report outlining the effectiveness of the ordinance and recurrent issues that have come up in the course of enforcing the ordinance.
In the report, Roland noted that the list of recurrent situations did not necessarily refer to flaws in the ordinance. “It simply means the situation needs to be further reviewed by the planning board,” he said.
Besides some recommended technical revisions, Roland listed a number of issues that developers, surveyors and county personnel had noted over the past two years as needing some clarification or adjustment by the planning board. Those issues included the following:
• Possible conflicts with the ordinance and North Carolina fire code regarding minimum road requirements.
• Possible problems with the requirement of incidental subdivisions to refrain from further divisions for a period of one year.
• A need for a better definition for existing subdivisions beyond merely the existence of a recorded plat.
• A need to record family subdivisions with the Planning Department as well as the Land Registry.
• Possible problems with requirements that surveyors seal preliminary plats.
All of these issues will be discussed by board members at subsequent meetings and public hearings will be scheduled to gather input from stakeholders and residents in the community.
Defining existing subdivisions
The definition of existing subdivisions in the ordinance is an issue that has come up at past planning board meetings. As the ordinance currently reads, no subdivision can be labeled as “existing” unless a plat for that subdivision has been approved and recorded.
This provision has put some developers in the unusual situation of being compliant with almost all regulations of the ordinance, but still not being approved as a subdivision due to the fact that they did not file a plat prior to the date the county’s law went into effect. The result for some developers has been that they have faced additional hurdles when trying to sell their lots.
“We did everything right, but because I did not record a plat, I cannot sell my land,” said Terry Dalton, developer of the Windsong subdivision which was established in 2006. Dalton explained to the board that even though there were no regulations regarding subdivisions when Windsong was established, the subdivision has met or exceeded every provision of the ordinance with the exception of the plat requirement.
Dalton is among those who would like to see the board revise the ordinance so that the existing subdivisions are defined differently. Such things as the previously sold lots, the existence of roads and other infrastructure and previously established homeowners associations, as well as preliminary plats, should all be taken into consideration when making a judgement on whether or not a subdivision existed before the enactment of the subdivision ordinance.
Many members of the board, including Chairman Lewis Penland, have expressed a desire to see the definition changed. One suggestion has been to create a checklist of requirements that could be met that would then make a recorded plat unnecessary. Penland and others asked Roland to provide them with examples of how other counties and communities have defined existing subdivisions in order to provide them with some guidance.
Regarding Dalton’s particular situation, Roland confirmed that the Windsong subdivision has met all requirements of the ordinance aside from having a recorded plat. He also suggested that registering for phased development would be the best way to expedite the sale of his lots.
‘An excellent tool’
The subdivision ordinance was originally adopted on June 2, 2008, and became effective in September of that year. Since adoption, the law has been amended twice, including in 2009 when requirements for lot sizes were decreased and “family subdivisions” became exempted.
The purpose of the subdivision ordinance is “to establish procedures and standards for the development and subdivision of land within Macon County.” The provisions of the code are administered by the Planning Department, which also gathers data to provide local government agencies and officials with information regarding land development taking place in the county.
“It provides an excellent tool for judging how the county is growing and developing,” said Roland, who was hired as the county planner in 2009. “It also assures homebuyers that developers are now building to at least a minimum standard in the county.”
Among other things, the ordinance provides for minimum road standards, the establishment of homeowners associations and road maintenance agreements and recording of plats for all developments required to comply with the ordinance. Subdivisions established before the ordinance went into effect are exempt from these requirements.
“You would be surprised how many calls I get from homeowners who bought land before the subdivision ordinance went into effect,” Roland said, adding that the lack of homeowners associations and failing roads in developments that lack road maintenance agreements are the most common complaints for residents living in such subdivisions. “Unfortunately, the planning department can offer these individuals no means of recourse.”
The current subdivision ordinance requirements preempt most of the common problems reported in unregulated subdivisions in the county, Roland said.
Roland also reported that the ordinance has proven to be extremely effective in providing the planning department with valuable information. This data includes the location, type and date of approval for all new subdivisions in the county. By collecting this information, the department is able to map development in terms of location and density throughout the county.
“As this database continues to grow,” Roland noted, “it will serve as an excellent tool for planning infrastructure throughout the county.”
Macon County subdivision development in 2010
The subdivision report provides a summary of enforcement activities from the past year. In 2010, 51 of the 110 plats submitted to the department were regulated subdivisions as defined by the ordinance.
Of the 51 regulated subdivisions, 41 were incidental, meaning subdivisions of a primary lot into two separate lots not involving the dedication of a public road. Such subdivisions are not subject to the regulations of the ordinance except for two provisions: final plants must be submitted to the planning department and the incidental division cannot be further subdivided for one year following the principle division without being subject to further regulations of the ordinance. Incidentals are not subject to any fees.
Of the remaining regulated subdivisions, eight were classified as minor and two as major. Minor subdivisions are defined as those containing no more than eight lots which have not been subdivided within the previous year and which do not require a new road exceeding 1,320 linear feet. Major subdivisions are defined as those not meeting the definition of a minor subdivision or otherwise being exempt. Final plats for minor subdivisions require a $50 review fee and for major subdivisions a $10 per lot or $100 minimum review fee. A grand total of $1,340 in revenue was generated by subdivision plat fees in 2010.
Of the 59 subdivisions exempt from regulations under the ordinance, 32 were recombination's of previously subdivided lots, 22 were family subdivisions, three were exempt for being parcels less than two acres, two were exempt for being parcels larger than 10 acres.