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Thursday, 03 May 2012 01:20

New regulations send planners back to the drawing board

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The Macon County Planning Board has been given one simple task: review the subdivision ordinance with the intention of making it more user friendly.

The directive came in a relatively brief get together and make-pretty joint meeting with the Macon County Board of Commissioners, held over barbecue dinners at Fat Buddies restaurant in Franklin. The pleasantries exchanged were a far cry from the controversies that have embroiled the planning board for the past year or so.

Macon County’s subdivision ordinance already has been reviewed four times previously. The planning board will start the review process of the subdivision ordinance May 17, and at that same meeting will elect a chairman and vice chairman. Lewis Penland has served as chairman for four years.

“I’m debating back and forth about it. I’m still undecided,” Penland said Monday about whether he will seek the chairman’s post again. “But there’s part of me that’s stubborn and stupid and that wants to do it again.”

Penland also said that several of his fellow planning board members have asked him to remain on as chairman.

Penland, a professional golf-course developer, has been a lightening rod for criticism as the pro-planning and anti-planning factions in Macon County have warred over the past couple of years. Penland is an unabashed supporter of some form of steep-slope regulations and a proponent of construction guidelines for developers. Neither of those Penland-led initiatives have passed muster with the conservative-dominated Macon County Board of Commissioners, however.

The steep slope ordinance seems now to be dead in the water, and not a peep about construction guidelines were heard during the joint meeting. The construction guidelines would have set very basic requirements for developers on such things as hillside excavation and compaction of fill dirt. The guidelines went to commissioners for consideration some nine months ago and haven’t been heard from since.

Instead, commissioners are opting to go back and review its existing ordinance.

None of that tension and backroom drama was in evidence at last week’s meeting. Instead, everyone seemed eager for now to put a happy, smiley face on planning in Macon County.

“We’ve had some controversies in the past,” said Kevin Corbin, Republican chairman of the commission board. “If I have a task as chair of this board it is to move things forward. Planning isn’t just rules and regulations — planning is about planning.”

Democrat Ronnie Beale agreed, saying “we need to move ahead.”

Beale did emphasize that while he supports the review of the subdivision ordinance he wants it fixed and not destroyed.

“The key, the challenge, is to have effective regulations but not gut it,” said Beale, who is a builder by trade.

Republican Jimmy Tate, the new liaison for commissioners to the planning board, said he hopes “everyone will set the needs of Macon County above personal feelings.”

Tate was on the planning board until being appointed about three months ago to the board of commissioners.

Larry Stenger, a nine-year member of the planning board and the current vice chairman, told commissioners it is up to them to set the tone and the course for the planning board.

“If the county commissioners don’t have the vision then the planning board doesn’t have any direction,” Stenger said.

To that end, the planning board was instructed by commissioners to provide recommendations on changes to the subdivision ordinance for interim County Attorney Chester Jones to review. Jones said that he is willing to meet with the planning board as necessary to facilitate the review process.

After the planning board completes tweaking the subdivision ordinance, commissioners said that they’d assign a new task. No deadline was set for the completion of the review.

The planning board will review a list of issues that include:

• Clarifying the language and amounts on surety bonding. If developers want to sell lots before completing subdivisions they are required to put up a monetary bond, intended as a safeguard in case developers walk away and leave unstable, partially graded slopes behind that need fixing.

• Road design standards. A general cleanup of definitions plus consider meat and potatoes issues such as road-turning radius when switchbacks are involved, required road widths, pullouts and general compaction standards.

• Whether to allow the technical review of subdivisions to be handled by county staff instead of the planning board, in large part to expedite the process.

• Clarifying the language about access roads into subdivisions when they cross other people’s property.

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