Rural and town citizens speak out on draft OC land use ordinance

The proposed Orange County Unified Development Ordinance affects all of the County outside municipal control.  The County’s Planning Board has led the way on the plan to consolidate ordinances rather than the Commission. Alice Gordon has been the commissioner who is the most knowledgeable about the ordinance and its most perceptive critic.

Orange County Voice sent statements to the Commission.  Both the Town of Chapel Hill and Carrboro Resolution were sent to the  Orange County Commission stating their concerns with the proposal, as well as NRG.

In the County’s zeal to move from “planned development” to conditional zoning, they took all forms of planned development – including heavy industrial – and lumped it into one conditional district (MPD-CZ) without condtions. In contrast, a separate district, with 10 pages of conditions has been created for mobile home parks.

Neighbors for Responsible Growth, Orange County Voice and others are seeking more specificity. See comment from Bonnie Hauser.

NRG presented this statement to the Commissioners on February 28th.

Dear Orange County Commissioners:

Neighbors for Responsible Growth appreciates the County staff making themselves available for a presentation on the proposed Unified Development Ordinance a few weeks ago.  It was a useful session and enabled us to understand the proposal better.  This UDO proposal is complicated and challenging to understand and the staff did their best to answer our questions.

The staff reassured us that this new proposal merely repackages the existing ordinance with new terminology.  However in studying the proposal further, we find there are many areas where the replacement of general use districts with conditional districts would bring about a new process and potentially different results from the current ordinance.  Conditional Use can be a valuable tool because case specific conditions can be set by the elected board.  However, it is not a tool to be placed everywhere, such as in the rural buffer or watershed critical areas, or in many areas where zoning changes are not appropriate.  It would be most desirable in areas where large scale economic development is determined to be desirable by the community.

In addition, the conditional use zoning proposed here to apply to the entire County outside the municipalities, would undercut the Comprehensive Plan and zoning map which serve as a structure for the collective aspirations of the County. The County Commission would be compelled to exercise far more discretion on the appropriateness of uses and the application of overlay zones, such as the Critical Watershed Overlay Districts in any given area.  We believe the public would be frustrated in this unpredictable environment and find the process much less transparent.

We will share an experience relevant to your deliberations. In November of 2008 the Chapel Hill Council, considered a Land Use Management Ordinance Text amendment that would create additions to a special residential conditional district zoning in order to have a new tool to increase densities and economic development in certain areas in Town.  This Conditional Use District zoning was to have applied within 5 zones, including the Downtown.  The applicant would request this zone, and the Council would decide if an applicant’s request met certain goals, such as affordable housing, transportation, protection of the natural environment, protection of neighborhoods and the promotion of economic vitality. In addition, a special use permit was required to accompany the application.

Chapel Hill citizens expressed considerable concern about the areas chosen for these conditional use districts and the possibility that a conditional use district could be approved near them. Further, citizens said that the Chapel Hill community had not yet decided within a comprehensive planning process where such 175% density increases belonged, or if the infrastructure needed to support such densities was available in the selected zones.

The Council agreed with citizen concerns. On November 24, 2008, the Council voted to amend the Conditional Use District to permit added flexibility and densities, but voted to apply it only to the Downtown District.  Mayor Foy made the point that was the one area where the community agreed densities belonged. The videotape is available here:

We believe three lessons can be learned from Chapel Hill’s experience:

  • Communities need to agree on where density belongs before new zones and districts are approved.

  • Residential and Commercial uses don’t have to be combined in one zone.

  • Citizens and developers want predictability in how their community grows.

Thank you for your consideration of these points.

Julie McClintock for
Neighbors for Responsible Growth

One Response to Rural and town citizens speak out on draft OC land use ordinance

  1. Orange County’s UDO is an important effort to consolidate and simplify the county’s ordinances. Plus the county is aggressively working to develop its Economic Development Districts. It’s all good.

    The county elected to move from “planned development” to conditional zoning. In its zeal, they took all forms of planned development – including heavy industrial – and lumped it into one conditional district (MPD-CZ) without condtions. In contrast, a separate district, with 10 pages of conditions has been created for mobile home parks.

    MPD-CZ is fine for the EDDs but as currently defined, it can “float” anywhere in the county. Orange County Voice and others are seeking more granularity.
    With the help of leaders from Neighbors for Responsible Growth, we are asking for:

    1. MPD-CZ to be limited to the EDDs and transiton areas along major transportation corridors where there is interstate, water and sewer infrastructure
    2. A new conditional district be established for the rural areas which limits possible uses to ones that are compatible with rural areas. The minimum size should be larger – maybe 100 acres (vs 5 acres in MPD-CZ – which allows sprawl in the rural areas) .
    3. Other conditional districts for protected watersheds (allowing low impact development) and rural economic nodes (possibly Phase 2).
    In addition, we are asking that the county hold action on new wastetreatment systems to Phase 2. Expert Mike Hughes has told us that the systems the county is considering have problems that should be discussed more fully. He reminds us that the proposed systems which spray affluent are “icky”
    We believe that the county and the Planning Board will seriously consider these changes for Phase 1.

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