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Article Archive >> Community

County Comment: Rural Zoning Changes Passed

County Comment
Rural Zoning Changes Passed
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

In its regular meeting on July 12, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners approved adoption of the final version of the rural zoning proposal, which included changes to the Zoning Ordinance text, zoning map amendments, and Comprehensive Plan map amendments. Final adoption of ordinances and text amendments took place on July 26.
The three-year process involved citizen meetings, public hearings and input from a task force on rural zoning. Recommended maximum development densities of 1 residential unit to 5 acres in the agricultural areas, 1 to 20 acres in the Environmental Conservation area and 1 to 30 acres in the Preservation area were developed by that citizen task force.
The documents presented were the culmination of efforts by citizens, the Planning Commission, the Rural Area Zoning Task Force, the Commissioners and County staff to develop changes to the Zoning Ordinance, in order to implement the Comprehensive Plan that was adopted by the Board in 2002. The Agricultural Land Preservation Board (ALPB) continues to work on compensation matters related to the zoning changes and is developing acceptable plans for Transfer of Development Rights or other programs to preserve equity.
The provision passed on July 12th stipulates that the ALPB develop an equity compensation plan featuring Transfer of Development rights or bonus densities by August 1, 2006. Staff would be required to submit monthly updates as to the amount of subdivisions in each zoning category, with limits imposed. Current parcels in the rural areas would be limited to no more than 25 new subdivisions per year until the compensation program is developed. Staff would monitor the impact and report to the Board at 6-month intervals. Tracking of subdivisions would begin on the date of approval.
Effective date of the rezoning was July 12 and the moratorium on development of subdivisions of greater than 5 lots in the rural areas of the County was lifted.
The plan effectively limits the number of homes that can be developed on rural lands in three categories: Agricultural (A) at 1 per 5 acres, Environmental Conservation (EC) at 1 to 20 acres, and Preservation (P) at 1 to 30 acres.
The measures were put into place to curb urban sprawl, which has begun to affect County schools, roads and infrastructure, and to preserve farmland, wetlands, lands of historic significance, and to maintain agribusinesses. The changes, designed to move growth toward Urban and Town Growth areas that provide water and sewer services, were also needed to comply with new federal regulations on water quality.
These are the first major changes to the County's Zoning Ordinance in 30 years.
Director of Planning and Community Development Mike Thompson explained the latest rules for County Comment.
Houses could still be built on one-acre lots, and could be clustered into traditional subdivisions, Thompson said.
A property owner of land zoned (A) with 200 acres of land could subdivide the first 5 lots, leaving 195 acres. The landowner could then divide that number by 5 (using 1 unit per five acres), which would equal 39 lots. The resulting number of lots allowed on a 200-acre parcel would be 44. If the lots were clustered, there would still be 156 acres left for farming purposes.
Using the same formula, the owner of 200 acres in the Environmental Conservation (EC) area at 1 unit per 20 acres could get a maximum of 10 lots on the acreage. Applying the formula to Preservation (P) at 1 unit to 30 acres would yield a maximum of 6 lots.
In addition, exemptions would be allowed for additional lots on a parcel that contained historic properties. A lot could be created around an existing historic site or structure and an additional two lots be created on the original parcel with addition of a Historic Preservation (HP) overlay approved by the County Commissioners.
Owners of existing lots of record dated prior to the effective date of the zoning changes, July 12, would still be able to subdivide at the rate of one unit per acre.

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