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Commissioners receive analysis of county’s development application process

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday received a report giving an in-depth review of its development application process.

The presentation, delivered by project manager and lead analyst Aaron Baggarly of Matrix Consulting Group, was the culmination of several months of research and analysis conducted by the consulting firm. Commissioners requested the report from Matrix in order to learn what it’s like for an individual or business to attempt development in Rowan and to potentially consolidate departments.

“The commissioners decided months ago that they wanted to look at our development process from A to Z, so if someone is coming in to build a deck or a million square-foot manufacturing facility, we wanted to see how that process happens,” said Rowan County Board of Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds. “We wanted to look at every department that touches development and we know that we are in deep competition with the communities certainly in our region and across the country and the communities globally.”

During its research, Matrix spoke with county employees in various departments, interviewed businesses and individuals who have developed projects in Rowan County and compared the county’s metrics to others across the country.

The findings are promising, Baggarly said.

“We work across the country and a lot of complaints from developers is a timely review process and that does impact where a new business or expansion will locate in a county or not,” Baggarly said. “I think Rowan County, based on our review and understanding of the process, is poised very well to position themselves with a predictable and very efficient process.”

The most impressive aspect of the report, Baggarly said, was Rowan County’s quick turnaround time for approving building and planning applications.

“The review time for building and planning applications is seven business days at most,” Baggarly said. “That is the internal timeline and based on the review of data, that is met 99% of the time. Seven days is very efficient related to development review applications. This is by far the quickest turnaround time that anyone in our company has seen and we’ve assessed over 200 operations related to development, review and permitting inspections.”

That quick turnaround time means that development can happen at a more rapid pace.

Baggarly also presented recommendations for how Rowan County can further improve the process. The recommendations were broken down into three categories: technology, process and staffing. The suggestions included updating software, consolidating processes and hiring additional inspectors and transitioning some existing inspector roles.

After the presentation was delivered, commissioners determined the next step would be for County Manager Aaron Church to develop a presentation on how the county can implement Matrix’s recommendations and how much it will cost.

“I’d like us not to move ahead to implement all of this. I’d like the folks who are leading the county to take a lot at it, to categorize these as short term, medium and long range and give us a plan of what we’re looking at,” Edds said.

Commissioner Craig Pierce voiced his opinion that the county should take its time with reviewing the information and fully consider the recommendations.

“I think we need to have a longer time frame because this is an awful lot of work,” Pierce said. “With what all we have on our plate right now looking at, this is really going to come down to budget too because we’re looking at hiring a lot of people. I think we need to take our time to do this.”

Other commissioners echoed that sentiment.

The commissioners gave Church 30 days to develop a presentation on how the county could implement the recommendations and will deliver it to commissioners.

In other business:

• After several months of meeting via Zoom video call, four out of five Rowan County commissioners will meet in person at their next meeting, Oct. 5. Commissioner Judy Klusman will attend the meeting via Zoom due to personal health concerns.

• The board of commissioners approved a bid from Barrett Environmental to construct a septic tank system for the concession stand at Dan Nicholas Park. Barrett Environmental’s $44,850 bid was the lowest of four qualified bids.

• The commissioners approved a $441,485 bid from Salcoa Contracting to complete the “common solutions” phase of the county’s plan to upgrade its facilities to comply with health guidelines and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The common solutions phase, one of two, will be implemented first because it includes no construction and requires purchasing equipment and installing it. The second phase will include construction. Both phases will be financed using money from federal coronavirus relief fund and must be finished by the end of December for Rowan County to be reimbursed for its expenses. The overall budget for both phases is about $1.5 million.

• For the second time, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted to approve an extension of the moratorium on ground-mounted solar energy farms for six more months. A public hearing about the moratorium will be held on Oct. 5, a day before the last moratorium was set to expire. The extension will give staff more time to examine the process for considering applications for large solar farms in the future.

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