Wednesday, April 13, 2016

More on West Branch rezoning weirdness....about those maps...

In addition to the hard to watch and confusing discussion about recusing Commissioner Brian Jenest from voting on a rezoning impacting his project, a second weird thing occurred on the West Branch rezoning request.

During the presentation about the request to reduce the size of the  project's commercial area, the Town tried to convince the audience that the request didn't even come from the project.  No, the town now wants residents to believe the request actually came from the town Planning Department.  On multiple occasions, Mayor John Woods and the town Planning Director made reference to such.

The problem?  That doesn't jive with recent facts or the history of how this project has unfolded on the Westmoreland Farm property.

Here's a the language from the zoning request public hearing on the town website when this came up in March.

"The Westmoreland family has requested a map amendment to the Planning Areas Map to reduce the size of the Neighborhood Services designation. The proposed amendment would designate +/-7.1 acres as Neighborhood General (previously designated as Neighborhood Services)."

As can be clearly seen, the Westmorelands requested this.  That was put on the town site just one month ago.  Now, the town wants the public to believe this originated with the town.

But that's not the most interesting thing that conflicts with this storyline.

Below are two maps.  The first is the West Branch plan submitted by Commissioner Jenest's firm.  The second is the map for the zoning change approved Tuesday night.

Notice that the size of the West Branch commercial area in the first map matches the smaller dark brown area on the second map.  The developer plan assumes this rezonig will go forward.  The larger light brown area on the second rezoning request map shows the commercial area prior to the request.

Now take a look at this map.  This is what's called a "bubble diagram".  It depicts what could be built on the Westmoreland Farm property.  It was sent to the town by ColeJenest&Stone way back in January 2015 - a full year before the West Branch project was submitted. This was before last year's planning ordinance rewrite passed in April.  Commissiner Jenest voted for the rewrite.

Notice the size of the Commercial area in this picture - 6.5 acres - much closer to the amount in the rezoning request than the 12 acres included in the April 2015 planning ordinance rewrite passed months after the bubble diagram was received.  In fact the entire West Branch project submitted in January 2016 looks similar to this "bubble diagram" - right down to the amount of open space.

If town staff wanted the commercial area to be smaller, if it was their idea, why did it not make it into the April 2015 rewrite?  Why did it not get recommended by staff for 9 months after the rewrite while other map amendments went through last fall?  Why did this not come up until the West Branch project - a project that involves a sitting Commissioner - submitted a rezoning request - a request that looks very much like the bubble diagram that Commissioner's firm put together a year earlier?

Incidentally, per a public records request made last year, just one week after the Planning Ordinance rewrite passed on April 15th, 2015 a representative of ColeJenest&Stone contacted the town with a number of questions about the property, saying...."We are working towards a schematic site plan for the Westmoreland property along Davidson-Concord Road and have a few questions/requests" .  The firm was already master planning the property - one week after the planning ordinance rewrite - a rewrite that impacted this property - passed.

It is unclear why the town felt the need to suddenly indicate this rezoning was all their idea.  What is clear is that having elected officials so heavily involved in the development business is messy.

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