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Mike Trew, an engineer from Municipal Engineering, speaks at the public hearing on the town of Boone’s revised Unified Development Ordinance on Wednesday.

Anna Oakes | Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2013-12-12 18:13:04
Last modified: 2013-12-12 18:57:48

Planning board OKs UDO revision

by Anna Oakes

The Boone Planning Commission voted Wednesday to recommend approval of a revised Unified Development Ordinance following a public hearing in which six people spoke.

The Boone Town Council will consider adoption of the revamped, 468-page development code at 8 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 16. 

The council, planning commission and town planning staff have worked to reorganize the Unified Development Ordinance, including its table of permissible uses, through multiple meetings and workshops during a three-year period.

The revisions include clarifications of definitions, elimination of inconsistencies and redundancies and restructuring of articles by topics.

In addition, the table of permissible uses lists many new types of land uses and outlines specific limitations for various uses -- an attempt to permit more uses by right instead of requiring a special use permit, which entails a public hearing and board of adjustment approval.

Other changes include amended permit application procedures, new levels of triggers for bringing nonconforming properties into compliance with UDO requirements and a new option allowing developers to use a building footprint in lieu of the floor area ratio in calculating density.

Council and commission members raised concerns about a change to the definition of "substantial improvement" with regard to developments in special flood hazard areas. Under the current ordinance, developments making substantial improvements -- defined as renovations or additions costing at least 50 percent of the original structure's market value -- within a one-year period must come into compliance with current flood-proofing requirements.

 The revised UDO extends the one-year period to 10 years, which staff said is standard across the nation and preferred by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which seeks to reduce the costs of flood insurance claims.

But Councilwoman Jamie Leigh said the change, which would force more developments to come into compliance, "might be too extreme in favor of FEMA and against a property owner." Planning & Inspections Department Director Bill Bailey said the requirement could result in lower insurance rates for property owners, however.

Michael Trew of Municipal Engineering suggested that the town allow greater density than is recommended in the new UDO and that commercial builders be consulted with respect to building height restrictions.

Jeff Templeton, a member of the planning commission, spoke during the hearing, stating the revised UDO is more easily read and interpreted but that it contains the "same over-reaching regulations" that cause stagnation in local development, including rules for retaining walls, mixed-use building requirements, multi-family housing standards, height restrictions and the limitations on steep slope and viewshed construction.

"The UDO is no panacea for the ills of Boone," Templeton said.

Templeton's father, developer Phil Templeton, also spoke, criticizing what he characterized as a lack of business knowledge among the town's policymakers, including members of the board of adjustment. He also expressed discontent with the town's tree regulations and inconsistent interpretations of the UDO by various staff members during the years.

Boone resident Cathy Lamarre said she believes the new UDO will be easier to read, but said she continues to be concerned with overdevelopment and traffic in the town. She also requested that the new UDO include cross-references to the old version.

Bailey acknowledged that the revisions to the UDO have largely been organizational and that a more intensive review of the policies and regulations of each UDO article will begin next year.

"By my estimation, we can tackle probably two articles at most a year," Bailey said.