Rezoning Overview Provides Details Of Future Rules

SNOW HILL – An overview of how the draft rezoning implements provisions of the 2006 Worcester County Comprehensive Plan has essentially provided a preview of the provisions of the anxiously awaited rezoning ordinance.

The rewritten zoning and subdivision codes, which are necessary to implement the 31-month old plan, have not yet been released to the public. They are due before the end of the year.

However, county staff updated the county commissioners this week on various pieces of the changes over the last few months, with a long list of recommendations from the 2006 Comprehensive Plan, and how those 76 recommendations are being handled through the draft rezoning.

“Just wanted to keep you all in the loop and let you know how things were going,” said Ed Tudor, director of development review and permitting, said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Some items will be implemented through other, more appropriate mechanisms, some will be put into action partially, while others have been fully included in the rewritten zoning and subdivision codes.

The changes made through the rewritten subdivision regulation will be offered to the commissioners later this month.

The draft rezoning code does follow Comprehensive Plan recommendations on requiring development in growth areas to have a minimum built density of 3.5 dwellings per acre.

The draft zoning code will provide for residential planned communities (RPC), a new overlay district, which will require increased density and impose maximum lot sizes. The code will also require a variety of dwelling types and different densities in different areas.

RPCs in growth areas would be encouraged by zoning regulations to build mixed-use projects with community centers in the interior.

Some zoning districts were streamlined and updated, with the mobile home district folded into the general residential district in the new code.

Commercial site and architectural design standards will govern business buildings, but no such standards have been written in for residences.

Landscaping standards have been tightened, with 75 percent of plantings required to be native species, and larger trees required as well. Better landscaping in parking lots and commercial projects will also be a must, under the draft rezoning. Developments would be required to have screening or buffering between residents and roads.

Business zoning under the draft zoning code would be refined to reflect the typical commercial district needed in local neighborhoods. The general business district would become the general commercial district, which would be more limited in scope and more contemporary.

The new zoning code also includes a new business designation, the highway commercial district, for regional commercial centers.

Rezoning requests would only be accepted three times a year, under the draft code.

Preliminary plats would be good for only two years, and approval of the final plat for all phases of a development must take place with three years of the final approval of the first phase. The final plat is then valid for two years. Construction plans would be valid for one year.

Utility lines in new developments, under the rewritten regulations, must be placed underground.

Environmentally sensitive site design and conservation subdivision techniques have been drafted into both the rewritten zoning and subdivision codes.

Efforts must be made under the rewritten regulations to protect sensitive areas, preserve existing forest, and protect greenways, linking natural areas between adjacent sites. Natural features such as streams, mature trees, and special habitats must only be disrupted when there is no alternative.

Bike trails and bike racks would be required under the proposed new regulations. General design standards under the RPC overlay district require pedestrian-scale development and connected walkways.

Parking has been reduced under the proposed new codes, with both minimum and maximum amounts of parking identified.

The subdivision code would require open space and recreation areas in every residential development, which must be usable.

The zoning and subdivision codes cannot implement all the recommendations of the 2006 Comprehensive Plan. The rewritten codes do not include transfer development rights, for example, chiefly because there county has limited wastewater capacity. The zoning code also does not govern green energy approaches.