Friday, December 5, 2014

Davidson Planning Ordinance Rewrite - Round 2

Davidson’s November monthly Town Board meeting saw one of the more spirited public hearings in recent memory.  Like a stunned boxer taking a flurry of punches in the opening round, the Town Board and Town Staff did not respond in real-time to citizen complaints about proposed changes to the town’s planning ordinance.  Per the town's own notes on the meeting fully 16 of 19 commenters opposed some aspect of what the town planners propose changing.

The public hearing is scheduled to continue at next week’s monthly meeting on December 9th, and it will be interesting to see if the Town comes out with a different strategy for Round 2.

The planning ordinance rewrite effort has gone on for two years already, and it’s costs have been adding up.

Initially, the Town brought in the Lawrence Group – a national planning and design firm whose local office was founded with the help of Davidson’s Assistant Town Manager, Dawn Blobaum, back in the 1990’s before she jumped from the private sector over to town hall.  The firm helped with an assessment and some of the initial work to the tune of roughly $75,000 for its efforts.

However, that represents just a small percentage of the overall cost.  As the project drug on, Town staff has taken direct control of the effort – spending an untold number of hours on the project.  A cost for all of that work was not available from the Town.

Finally, in this year’s budget there is an additional $25,000 for the Town Attorney, Rick Kline, to review the changes.  This covers his time spent in this fiscal year as well as back billing for work done last fiscal year.  It is a cost over and above the $50,000 budgeted annually for Mr Kline’s part-time work as Town Attorney

It is fair to say that a lot of time and expense has gone into the project, and to the town’s credit they have tried to get public input.  Part of the reason the first hearing was so well attended is that the Town spent $1300 sending 1400 letters to every household in the community impacted by the plan’s various rezonings.  It is unfortunate that after all that time and effort, the proposals produced seem to be taking the town in the wrong direction according to many.  It is a direction most residents and visitors to Davidson will be very surprised to see.

Some of the changes to the current ordinance will allow by-right development that might shock those who cherish Davidson’s small-town charm.  Normally, under the current rules these types of changes would have to go through a rezoning or some other action that would require specific approval – often from the Town Board – for changes of use for a given property.  If the proposed changes pass, that may not always occur.  Here are just a few examples that might surprise people:

1. The new Village Edge zoning designation allows 4-story buildings in town on certain specifically designated properties.  Several of these these are on or just off Main Street.  Does this sound like what you think if when you think of “Davidson”?

2. Retail would be allowed in the Village Infill area on any corner lot.  This will mix commercial uses into neighborhoods that have always been purely residential.  How would you like a bar or restaurant next door, or any other storefront for that matter replacing your neighbor’s front porch?

3. Developers will have more “offsite” options for meeting their affordable housing requirement.  In practice, this will allow high-end developments to potentially push their affordable housing requirement into other neighborhoods.  Does that sound like it's what middle-class residents want who already live in the town’s more moderately priced communities?

As was mentioned by Commissioner Graham after the hearing paused November 11th, the proposed changes impact more than just the 1400 property owners directly impacted by the rezonings.  Everyone who lives in Davidson will be impacted by these changes in some way.

Davidson officials were given a lot to think about at the November meeting.  Hopefully, they will come back with better answers than they did in Round 1, and hopefully they will once again  have a full house to hear them.

The bell rings for Round 2 at 6 PM on Tuesday December 9th at Davidson Town Hall.

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