The issue: Watershed rules in land-use guidelines remain a boiling topic

Issues surrounding watershed regulations are evolving into a standard part of Davidson Town Board discussions, and the board's work session on June 5 featured another episode of what ifs, whens and whys concerning proposed changes in the local watershed ordinance. The watershed rules are a collection of land-use guidelines and restrictions created to limit and control water runoff from developed property. State-mandated watershed regulations, implemented in 1993, are designed as a mechanism to enhance water quality and protect water resources. Areas targeted by watershed rules are geographical locations in close proximity to bodies of water used for drinking water sources or that feed directly into water supply reservoirs. The rules limit the amount of impervious surface – things like driveways and roofs – as a way to reduce levels of pollutants that flow into waterways.

 

What happened: Efforts were made to update watershed policy

Davidson has had a watershed ordinance since 1993, when the state rules were adopted. In town, watershed restrictions apply in an area within an half-mile of Lake Norman, which is basically all parts of town west of N.C. 115. The town's ordinance, which includes some exemptions for lots and structures that were in place when rules were implemented, has remained basically the same since it was adopted, but last year Mecklenburg County officials encouraged the town to update and clarify its ordinance – with specific references made to inconsistencies within the ordinance like the “grandfathered” lot exemption. Members of the town's planning department, working with Davidson Planning Board members Shawn Copeland and Ellen Donaldson on a panel called the Planning Board Ordinance Committee (PBOC), began the process of identifying potential amendments to the ordinance.

 

What it means? Debates about changes have occurred

At multiple public workshops and town board meetings held since the review started, local residents have aired questions and concerns about proposed changes in the watershed ordinance. Limitations on how much of a lot can be covered with impervious surface – the built-upon area (BUA) – are set by the state (24 percent for single-family lots, and 50 percent for commercial or multi-family projects that include an on-site engineered stormwater management system). But how Davidson's amended rules will deal with plans for new development, renovations or additions on lots previously exempted from the rules has been a continuing point of discussion. At previous meetings, the PBOC group has explained grandfathered provisions of the current local policy are no longer acceptable and emphasized that the goal of the ordinance review is to address those types of inconsistencies.

 

What's next: Compromise proposed, questions remain

At the board's June 5 meeting, PBOC members proposed ordinance language to phase out the watershed rule exemptions on older properties but also provide owners of those properties with a transition period before more-restrictive regulations are imposed. The proposed changes would allow BUA of up to 34 percent on single-family lots currently exempt from the rules. The added BUA allowance for those specific locations would remain in place until 2025. After 2025, the 24/50 percent limits would apply to all properties in the watershed area. Planning Director Jason Burdette said the suggested change was based on awareness that going from basically no restrictions to the 24-percent limit would be a “tough pill to swallow” for property owners. But Commissioner Matthew Fort said he was still “not comfortable” with the proposal. More PBOC efforts related to watershed rules are planned.

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