DAVIDSON – A town ordinance proposal designed to blend water quality protection with identified town board priorities will undergo planning board review later this month before returning for town board consideration.
At the town board session on May 8, proposed text amendments to the town’s watershed ordinance were the subject of a public hearing. The hearing included a summary of proposed amendments by planning staff members Trey Akers and Lindsay Laird followed by comments from town residents questioning specifics of the changes and the timeframe for adopting new guidelines.
The proposals will be discussed at the planning board’s May 21 meeting, and recommendations will be forwarded to town commissioners. A vote on the amendments could be held at the town board’s June 12 meeting.
The rules, as proposed, would unify watershed protection standards for in-town areas within a half-mile of Lake Norman (basically all of Davidson west of Main Street/N.C. 115). The amended rules provide flexibility in the block framed by Main, Jackson and Depot streets and also eliminate some exemptions to watershed regulations in the town’s current ordinance.
“The changes are designed to give our ordinance a more equitable framework,” Planning Director Jason Burdette said, “while also recognizing aspects of the town’s strategic and comprehensive plans.”
Burdette said the amendments were crafted to align with the town’s land use, historic preservation and economic development strategies. And he added the ordinance is also a tool for “growth management ... another highlighted part of the town’s strategic plan.”
Proposed rules would limit the amount of built-upon area (non-permeable surfaces) on all individual single-family lots in the watershed protection zone to 24 percent of the lot. Higher-density uses like commercial or retail buildings or apartments could be allowed to cover up to 50 percent of a lot with non-permeable surfaces if engineered and approved stormwater control systems are included in the project.
The 24 percent and 50 percent thresholds are state standards, but Davidson’s current ordinance treats some older lots differently than new ones. Currently, a town lot dating back to before 1993 – when state watershed rules were implemented – is exempt from the built-upon area limitations.
“We’ve had some people ask how a developer has been able to tear down a smaller old house and build a new structure that covers almost half a lot,” Burdette said. “That’s how.”
Burdette and Akers emphasized the changes are being proposed to comply with a request from Mecklenburg County. Last year, county officials urged the town to update and clarify its ordinance and address inconsistencies like the older-lot exemption.
They also said while the Planning Board Ordinance Committee, a group made up of town staff and planning board members Shawn Copeland and Ellen Donaldson, worked on the amendments, they recognized the hardship longtime property owners could face because of the proposed changes. But they could find no legal path to create “grandfathering” exemptions based solely on ownership status.
The proposed rules, however, do maintain a variance procedure providing a property owner the opportunity to seek exemptions to the maximum built-upon area restrictions. The process would allow the town’s board of adjustment to review individual cases and consider a wide range of circumstances when deciding if built-upon area restrictions could be eased.
Watershed protection rules are not new, but Burdette and Akers both said they realize the particulars of the proposals can be confusing.
“I think it’s very important to say we understand some of the confusion,” Akers said, “and know there are parts of this that are complex. But we want to work with the people who have questions and try to find a way to help figure out their issues.”
Burdette and Akers also said the more flexible guidelines for the downtown area have been an issue some residents have questioned, but the proposed rules were designed using input identifying that block as vital for the town’s economy and historic character.
And they added having varying guidelines and development expectations for properties, even if sometimes those properties are close together, is not a new concept.
“That’s zoning,” Burdette said. “There are different rules for different areas.”
In other business
Also at the May 8 meeting, commissioners agreed to tap into the town’s fund balance to spend $35,000 to renovate the Mary Beaty Tot Lot child playground area behind Summit Coffee and $5,000 to fund engineering work on renovations of a park in the Bradford neighborhood.