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Originally published: 2014-02-05 11:57:49
Last modified: 2014-02-05 11:58:35

Overlay districts, sign ordinance top Boone planning priorities

by Anna Oakes

The Boone Town Council on Tuesday held a daylong retreat to establish planning priorities and give direction to Planning & Inspections Department staff on tasks to pursue in the coming year.

Many of the priorities discussed were existing projects that were put on hold last year as the department worked to complete the revision of the Unified Development Ordinance, the code regulating all development in the town. The council adopted the revised UDO in December.

Although the revision took three years to complete, its changes were primarily structural in nature. Department staff and town leaders will now begin more substantive reviews and updates to the policies of each UDO article.

Planning & Inspections Director Bill Bailey said he believed his department could complete two UDO article revisions per year.

Council members directed staff to begin with Articles 14 and 15, Zoning Districts and District Use Requirements, along with the population of new zoning districts E1 and E2 in the Table of Permissible Uses. While the existing U1 district provides for the planning and expansion of Appalachian State University's main campus, the E1 district was created for higher education uses away from the ASU main campus, and the E2 district was created for public or private elementary and secondary educational uses.

Next on the list is the completion of a revised sign ordinance -- Article 26 in the UDO. Staff said much of the work to revise this ordinance is already done. Other articles ranking high on the list included Article 25: Community Appearance Standards, Article 31: Landscape Standards and Article 24: Parking.

The council agreed to defer changes to grading, soil erosion and stormwater codes while the town studies stormwater issues.

Staff and council members also discussed the creation of new overlay zoning districts, which are part of an effort to gradually implement land use codes requiring increased density in development within the town. Once completed, developers could opt to build to the overlay district standards or to the existing zoning district standards.

Council members directed staff to first complete a proposal for the Medical District, in the area of Watauga Medical Center. In addition, staff will work with the town's Historic Preservation Commission and Community Appearance Commission this year to finalize design guidelines for the B1 zoning district, or downtown.

The final overlay district to be developed will be the Mid-Town District, which is in the area of U.S. 321 near Oak and Faculty streets.

Bailey said he would present recommendations on the department's application fees to the council later this month. Bailey said council members should decide whether they wish to continue subsidizing a major portion of the application process costs or whether they want to capture more of the cost in the fee schedule.

As an example, Bailey said that the staff time required to process a $40 permit application actually exceeds $200 in costs. He noted that Greensboro captures approximately 80 percent of the actual costs in its permit fees, while Raleigh captures about 75 percent of the costs.

Councilman Quint David suggested that the town subsidize more of the cost for types of development the town would like to promote.

The council also agreed that the Planning Commission would take a lead role with staff to begin the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted in 2006.