Boards to consider higher density
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Friday, Jan. 17, 2014

Boards to consider higher density

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    The town of Huntersville Planning Board will hold a special meeting with the town board of commissioners 5 p.m. Jan. 21 at Huntersville Town Hall, 101 Huntersville-Concord Road, Huntersville. Board members will discuss possible modifications for developmental densities in the Rural (R) and Transitional Residential (TR) Zoning Districts to allow greater development flexibility.

Huntersville officials are considering changing a zoning ordinance to allow more homes in the town’s transitional residential and rural areas.

At a special meeting Jan. 21, town planning staff and members of the planning and town boards will discuss the possibility of allowing more units per acre, smaller lot sizes and less lot width in areas intended to serve as a bridge between rural zones and urban development.

Currently, the town’s long-range planning calls for denser development generally to be located within 2 miles of the Interstate 77 and N.C. 115 corridor, and lower-density development on either side of the corridor east and west to the town’s boundaries, in areas zoned TR, for transitional residential, and R, for rural.

According to data from 2010 in the town’s 2030 Community Plan, nearly 23,000 acres of Huntersville’s zoning jurisdiction is encompassed by TR and rural zones. That’s about 60 percent of the town’s 39,680 acres.

Planning board chairman Bruce Andersen said density changes to these areas “could have a major impact.”

In October 2013, property owner Alex Barnette applied to change the text of the zoning requirements. Barnette wants to develop more than 100 acres off Bud Henderson Road, Huntersville principal planner Whitney Hodges said.

Under the current zoning ordinance for TR zones, about one unit per acre is allowed, and for every one acre, 20 percent must be designated as open space, according to planning staff reports. A 100-acre development tract would have a requirement of 20 acres of open space.

Hodges said the proposed change in TR could allow up to two units per acre. Designated open space would be determined by Adjusted Tract Acreage, a formula that takes into consideration roads, utility easements, buffers and natural features such as flood plains and steep slope, “so that they are not completely eliminated in the calculation of density,” she said.

The possible change would be similar to the development requirements that were in place for TR and R zones from 2003 to 2006, Hodges said. While the density of units could increase, so would the requirements for the designated amount of open space.

While developer requests for conditional rezonings happen routinely, the request to revert to previous zoning requirements is unusual, Andersen said.

“The suggestion we go back to a previous ordinance, that hasn’t happened before (in my experience.) Normally you move forward,” he said.

“(A question for developers is) what can you offer us to improve the town, the value of this community, will you provide better infrastructure to justify this higher density?”

Prior approval

Town officials set upper limits on the density of developments in TR and rural zones around 2006, before the housing downturn, due to how much density had previously been approved, Andersen said.

“We have an awful lot of approved, but not yet built, subdivisions in Huntersville ... Many of these subdivisions are sitting out there waiting to be built. The housing crisis gave them latitude to delay,” he said, using Arbormere, Skybrooke North, Mirabella and Olmsted as examples of subdivisions with undeveloped property.

This type of approved but undeveloped housing will be one of many factors for officials to consider, Andersen said.

“Housing units that are technically in ghost inventory and will be developed ‘someday,’ those are the numbers that cause (officials) concern. How many thousands of homes have we approved that haven‘t been built?”

When officials put a limit on density according to lot size in TR and R zones, Andersen said, it took away developer flexibility by only allowing high densities near the I-77 corridor.

“You don’t have to build as many miles of road, you have a dense development and all this open space around you that’s a contribution to the community in the development and the community as a whole.”

But Hodges said examples of what the possible changes might look like exist in developments such as Beckett, Mirabella and parts of Olmsted.

“People have a fear that smaller lots equal lesser quality,” she said. “But (those neighborhoods) are quality developments.”

“There are examples to go out and see of what this looks like,” Hodges said. “You don’t often have an opportunity to say, ‘This is what (a possible text amendment) looks like.’”

Andersen said he can understand why developers want the flexibility.

“The markets are changing. What (buyers) are looking for is to be close to restaurants and shopping, with a little lawn you could mow with a pair of scissors,” Andersen said. “They have different values, and we can’t expect them to conform to our desires and still expect to have a growing town.”

According to Barnette’s application, he requested the proposed change “to allow residential development with a wider range of lot sizes that will appeal to a broader range of homeowners and promote increased demographic diversity; and to provide incentives to increase the amount of common open space provided in new residential communities.”

Anderson said there are also the developments approved nearly a decade ago that were waylaid by the housing downturn that will soon be coming up for renewal review.

During his 15-year tenure on the planning board, Andersen has served as chair about half that time and remembers the process of making density changes in the past. “It took nine months and lot of hard work to put this together in 2003,” he said, estimating it could take between three and six months before a decision is made.

The process will include meetings with property owners and developers, public hearings and recommendations from both town planning staff and the planning board before coming to the town board for a vote.

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda

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