There is typically a window between the passage of a new ordinance and the date it takes effect. Otherwise developers who had already invested significant time and money in their plans and were in the final stages of approval would be sent back to the drawing board. On the flip side, however, such a grace period allows developers who don’t legitimately have plans in the works to quickly throw something together and submit it to circumvent the new rules.
“We’ve had a lot of calls from folks asking when the ordinance would be effective and wondering whether they should go ahead and get these plans in,” said Haywood County planner Kris Boyd.
That’s exactly what happened when Haywood County passed a subdivision ordinance four years ago with a six-month window between passage of the ordinance and the date it took effect.
The same thing happened again in Buncombe County this summer with just a three-month window. The county saw a flood of last-minute permits.
“It was mainly those last couple of days,” said Jim Coman, Buncombe County zoning enforcer.
The county does not intend to honor all the plans submitted before the effective date of the new ordinance. They will not approve developers who rushed to file plans with the intention of circumventing the new regulations, but instead will only consider those who legitimately were in the midst of a development, or as Coman puts it “which ones were really in a good faith.”
Buncombe commissioners took a different tack this fall when passing a stormwater ordinance. They made it effective immediately.
“They didn’t want the same thing to happen as did with the subdivision ordinance,” Coman said.
That’s exactly what Boyd recommends. Last week, he asked Haywood County commissioner to consider making the slope ordinance effective immediately for roads but leave a two-month window for home sites.
“We have a tremendous amount of concern about an overloading of permits if the implementation date is set too far in the future,” Boyd said. “Road work would be the majority of the flood of plans submitted to us.”
Boyd is not as concerned about a rush on permits for individual home sites. The main rush would come from developers putting in road networks.
There is one problem with making the slope ordinance effective immediately. The county hasn’t hired the extra staff it will take to oversee the new slope development permits. Boyd said it will take a least one additional staff person and possibly two down the road depending on the rate of development.
Boyd said the existing planning office could absorb the workload of the slope development ordinance until an additional staff person was put in place.
Commissioner Larry Ammons was concerned about making an ordinance effective before the extra staff was in place, however.
“I think it is important when you pass an ordinance you have the proper enforcement folks in place and they’ve been trained,” Ammons said. “We’ll have to look at that.”
At the same time, a delay would result in an even larger workload that could take the staff even longer to dig out from under.
“Those are the kinds of questions we have to look at,” Ammons said. “There won’t be a perfect way to do it. I imagine there would be some give and take.”
Another option for combating the potential flood of permits is enacting a moratorium on large subdivisions during that time.
Commissioners will likely vote on the slope ordinance and set an effective date at their meeting at 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 20, on the third floor of the new justice center.