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Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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Will new standards hinder development?

During a recent Planning Commission meeting to approve the Comprehensive Plan, Colonial Beach Vice Mayor Trish King expressed a desire to see the Comprehensive Plan remain in the forefront of everyone’s mind.
At last week’s Planning Commission Meeting on Jan. 7, before the new Comprehensive Plan has even been approved at the council level, Planning Director Gary Mitchell and the commission have already begun revamping subdivision zoning ordinances to conform to new standards set in the new Comprehensive Plan.

Planning Commission Chairman David Coombes expressed concern at last week’s continued public hearing on subdivision zoning ordinances contained in Article 30, Development Standards because the new ordinances do not address subdivisions that have already been developed.
Mitchell has conveyed to the Planning Commission that the zoning for subdivisions was done incorrectly in the past according to Coombes. Old zoning left the town no options to enforce proper drainage and road paving before homeowners were allowed to move in.
Several subdivisions have been developed partially then abandoned by developers leaving poor drainage and road construction issues for the town to clean up.  
The new and revised zoning ordinances, Article 30, address issues for new and undeveloped subdivisions such as drainage, road paving and quality of buildings and structures.
Article 30 combines several old ordinances with some new and revised ordinances. Since the new ordinances cannot be made retroactive they can only apply to new subdivisions.
Two of the ordinances address issues such as screening from view heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units (HVAC) and the number of dwellings allowed on a cul-de-sac.
Ordinances 12–14 ensure that drainage plans must be submitted to and approved by the Director of Planning before any permit shall be released.
Ordinance 15 and 16 address the issue of proper paving of roads, which would force a builder to comply prior to final release of any road surety.
Ordinance 17 makes several restrictive architectural demands, which were all items that have been addressed in the Comprehensive Plan. Some of these demands raise the question — will the demands placed on new construction actually halt or hinder the growth of the town?
If Ordinance 17 a–f is passed, in all new subdivisions all utilities will be underground including electric, streets will be paved to VDOT standards and gutters and sidewalks 5 feet wide will adorn each street as well as black colonial street lamps placed behind sidewalks and at intersections provided their light is shielded to reflect downward and to the ground.
All this seems quite nice and picturesque; but who will be responsible for ensuring the utilities, including cable TV, telephone and electric are placed underground and maintained underground? Will this place undue burden on the homeowners concerning repair costs or will it limit the services willing to supply these utilities?
Ordinance 18 prohibits occupancy permits from being issued if the above guidelines are not met.
Ordinance 19 provides some relief by allowing a surety to be posted to the town attorney to cover the cost of installing the improvements, provided a phasing plan is submitted to the director of planning for review and approval of such improvements.
This allows the town revenue in case a builder skips out before finishing the subdivisions.
Ordinance 19 also states that under this relief, “When occupancy reaches 50 percent of the dwelling units and/or have been substantially completed that the improvements must be installed.”
What if these conditions are met long after the surety is posted? Nothing in the ordinance covers the issue of inflation.
Mitchell gave the commission several examples of localities such as Chesterfield County, Spotsylvania County and the Town of Ashland that have much more stringent guidelines than what he is proposing.
Mitchell even brought up the smaller town of Bowling Green which has included in its town code requirements for VDOT streets, curb/gutter/sidewalks as well as street lamps.
Mitchell assured the commission that businesses will be more attracted to areas with standards for development.
The biggest focus of last week’s meeting was on the issue of how to solve the drainage and road issues on already established subdivisions such as Riverside Meadows.
According to Town Attorney Andrea Erard, the town has its best chance of handling these problems for any subdivision at the zoning level.
“The locality is in the strongest position to shape the way that property is going to be developed at zoning, because of the ability to get proffers,” Erard said.
Coombes asked, “How do we get to the problem where we tackle the drainage down there?” referring to Riverside Meadows.
Erard responded, “I think we have the ability to regulate in terms of the general health, safety and welfare of the citizens as far as maybe some general drainage requirements.”
Erard did say, however, that in already subdivided plats the town has no mechanism by which the town can force a homeowner to pave a road.
During the discussion Coombes concluded that the present road situation in Riverside Meadows could only be handled by a “Special Tax District.”
A Special Tax District is created when at least 51 percent of residents within an area come together and request extra services such as paving of their roads from the municipality and agree to pay a special tax to cover the cost of such services.
The commission decided to continue the public hearing to add small changes before voting on the new zoning ordinances.
In other news Coombes reminded the commission that the Town Council will hold its public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan at the Jan. 14 meeting.
At its Dec. 3 meeting the Planning Commission voted to recommend the Comp Plan to the Town Council. At that meeting Kyle and Relda Schick sent a letter listing their concerns since they would not be able to attend. Coombes recommended that the commission proceed with the vote to recommend the Comp Plan and review the Schicks’ letter for any significant issues that could be passed on to the council.
At last week’s Planning Commission meeting Commissioner Kent Rodeheaver stated, “I think we have considered and covered everything that he had mentioned; I really saw no increased benefit as a result of this letter.”
Coombes affirmed that everyone was in agreement with that statement and promised to convey that as the Commissions position.

Linda Farneth

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