Impact Fees Dismissed By Commissioners

SNOW HILL – A draft of the still
unfinished Worcester County comprehensive rezoning, an integral part of the new
Comprehensive Plan approved nearly two and a half years ago, will undergo
accelerated review to ensure end of the year deadlines are met.

Staff went before the Worcester
County Commissioners Tuesday to present elected officials with several options
for the rezoning and rewritten subdivision code and new maps.

“We need some definitive
guidance on these things before we finish up the zoning,” said Ed Tudor,
director of Development Review and Permitting.

All but one section of the
rezoning draft is complete, Tudor said, and that should be finished up in the
next week.

Instead of getting all the
updated code and maps together and presenting them for Worcester County
Planning Commission review at once at the end of the year, Tudor suggested
sending sections of the work to the Planning Commission piecemeal, which could
accelerate the schedule by three months.

The Planning Commission has
already reviewed the Commercial Design Guidelines, which the County Commissioners
will review in mid-October.

The commissioners will receive
the next sections of the rezoning and other changes as the Planning Commission
and staff complete their reviews and revisions. The county will then hold at
least one public hearing on the rezoning draft before final approval.

Impact fees, the most
controversial subject on the rezoning report agenda, were strongly discouraged
by county staff, although they are called for in the Comprehensive Plan.

“I don’t want to belabor the
work you’re doing, but I would like to see at some point in time a work session
on the issue,” said Commissioner Linda Busick. “I am a proponent of growth
paying for itself. I am a proponent of impact fees…state funding will be less
and less. I truly believe we need impact fees to support the impact that new
development will have on our schools and other needed public facilities.”

Commissioner Judy Boggs said
that she is personally in favor of impact fees but that the County Commissioners
have been down this road before. “I see no support on the Board of County
Commissioners,” Boggs said.

“I agree. I’m definitely against
impact fees and will continue to vote that way at this particular moment,” said
Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

Impact fees would drive up the
cost of development, Commissioner Bobby Cowger said, including workforce

Property under a certain cost is
exempt from impact fees, Busick explained later, and local governments can
create their own exemptions for lower cost housing.

The County Commissioners
voted to pass on impact fees despite their inclusion in the Comprehensive Plan,
approved by most of the sitting commissioners, voting 5 to 1 against including
impact fees in the comprehensive rezoning. Busick was the lone nay vote.
Commissioner Bud Church was absent.

An adequate public facilities
policy was also not popular with the commissioners.

Tudor said he sees the adequate
public facilities policy as a separate issue from the comprehensive plan.

“I am in favor of the adequate
public facilities ordinance, but I don’t think this is the time to pursue any
of it,” Gulyas said.

Worcester elected officials also agreed
with Tudor’s suggestion to create a third commercial zone to deal with the
“perceived oversupply of commercial zoning,” as Tudor characterized it.

According to the approved 2006
Comprehensive Plan, Worcester
County has four times as
much commercial zoning as it needs.

“That redistribution may bring
things into better balance,” Tudor said.

Other options would not be
popular, according to a memo from Tudor, including down zoning property or
creating a commercial development rights transfer system.

This change would create a small
neighborhood business district zoning classification, in addition to the
current neighborhood business, and the general commercial zone, which could
allow for a general store in a mixed-use development.

The commissioners also agreed to
set aside nutrient budgets and trading, and the new zoning code will not
include even suggestions on environmentally sensitive design.

Estate zoning will be phased
out, the commissioners agreed. No new land has been created as estate zoning
for years. None of the existing estate-zoned land will be down zoned, despite
discussions to that effect earlier in the process.

“We don’t want them charging
through the door screaming,” Gulyas said.