Committee rebels against recommendations

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Farmland preservation and impact fees for residential development are back in the proposed land-use plan for west Rowan.
The Land Use Steering Committee appointed by Rowan County commissioners staged a rebellion of sorts Thursday night.
The group went against the urging and recommendations of county planners and Benchmark, the Kannapolis-based firm hired to develop the plan for all areas west of I-85.
County planners and Benchmark had divided the plan into two sections. One, the general study report, contained basic land-use recommendations. The other, an appendix, included other recommendations, some involving tax policies.
Ed Muire, county planning director, said earlier this month that the appendix items would not be put out for public comment because they would detract from the basic land-use plan.
But at the outset of Thursday’s committee meeting, co-chairman Chris Cohen called for a vote on merging the appendix back into the general study. Cohen said he had talked with members who supported his position.
Several members questioned why the the plan was divided.
Muire said the general development issues that the planning department deals with on a regular basis were put in the the study report.
But issues like farmland preservation aren’t part of what planning does, he said. “It doesn’t fit.”
The majority of the committee supported Cohen and James Rollans, who contended that the issues in the appendix are land-use issues.
Cohen and Rollans said the committee should put what it wants in the plan and leave it to somebody else to take the ax to it. “We can take it all to the planning board, let them do the dirty work,” said Cohen.
Committee members Jeff Morris and Steve Poteat voted against recombining the sections but lost on a 7-2 vote. But they favored putting the appendix before the public at upcoming workshops.
The committee then spent more than an hour going through the five pages of the appendix, voting on each recommendation, deciding whether to put in back in the general report or eliminate it.
At one point, Morris and Poteat, the strongest supporters of property rights, made a strategic maneuver. Although opposed to adequate public facilities fees, they voted to keep that proposal in the study report and take it to the public.
Morris, who had originally suggested the per lot development fees, cited legal challenges in Cabarrus and Union counties, as well as Durham County’s defeat in court that required payback of $11 million.
Morris said after the meeting that the proposed fee is sure to bring out developers and builders at hearings.
While the committee voted to move almost two pages of farmland preservation recommendations in to the general study, two recommendations were axed.
At the urging of member Ben Knox, a farmer, the committee struck a proposal to consider using tax dollars to lease development rights on farms.
Knox also convinced the committee to take out a recommendation urging the county to review the present-use value schedule for cropland, forestland and other agricultural land.
Several committee members or their families have farm property that is currently in the tax deferment program.
The committee eliminated recommendations dealing with transportation, schools and economic development but retained those dealing with updating a master plan for recreation and creating a heritage tourism plan for western Rowan, including identifying heritage corridors that can become tourist attractions.
Planning staff and Benchmark will consolidate and revise the plan for the committee to review. Two public workshops will also be set.
County Manager Gary Page attended the session, saying he wanted to see the committee in action.