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Spencer is latest town updating its development ordinance

SPENCER – Towns across the state are overhauling development ordinances to comply with new legislation, and Spencer is the latest in Rowan County to put its update to public scrutiny.

Ordinances are changing to comply with Chapter 160D of state statutes that takes previously separate city and county development regulations and folds them into one chapter.

A public hearing on Spencer’s new ordinance will be held at 6 p.m. on June 1 at town hall. The updated map has run in recent editions of the Post. The text in the ordinance and a video of the ordinance presentation to the Board of Aldermen are posted on its website at www.ci.spencer.nc.us.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill describes the chapter as more logical and coherent than its predecessor, though it does not make “major policy changes or shifts in the scope of authority granted to local governments.”

Town Projects Manager Joe Morris said the law is a good change and he does not believe anyone will wake up six months from now and think they have been taken advantage of by the law.

A major change is the level of subjectivity municipality boards have for zoning permits. Modifications that a board could make by applying special conditions to a permit are now few and far between, with more considerations spelled out in the code and only a few exceptions requiring a developer’s agreement.

Effectively, the new zoning map would become the main document determining development rules for the town.

Rick Flowe of the Kannapolis firm N-Focus Planning told the Board of Aldermen that zoning is based on what is already on the ground, with some commercial parcels set aside to invite job opportunities to the town.

That measure mitigates problems of developments seeking to come in where they meet zoning requirements and the town has no recourse to stop them.

“The point is a change in zoning has to be justified,” Flowe said. “No change does not have to be.”

The 400-page ordinance has been a months-long project of the town’s planning board.

The law is meant to make county and municipal zoning more compatible with each other and prevent situations where an entity operates outside of a city to take advantage of more relaxed regulations.

Morris called on his experience and said when involuntary annexation was reformed about a decade ago, it effectively removed options for municipalities. Counties began to become municipal in their scope and services.

“A lot of places, for a variety of reasons, may not have resources that help them manage growth in an orderly way,” Morris said, adding the change is like upgrading an operating system on a computer.

Morris retired as Salisbury’s town planner and noted in the case of some towns the updates were minor. He commended the planning staff with Salisbury for updating its ordinance a few years ago that modernized its regulations.

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