Carroll eases subdivision restrictions

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — The Carroll supervisors had the last say in the back-and-forth on the county's subdivision ordinance at their regular June meeting Monday, and they opted for several less restrictive standards.

A majority of supervisors voted to lower minimum road widths and lot sizes in Class B subdivisions — which replaces the loose recreational subdivision category — and minimum sizes for lots to be served by well and septic systems in class A subdivisions.

Even the elected official who tried to hold out for the higher standards, Tom Littrell, ended up voting for the final version of the subdivision ordinance, because he felt it improved the county's previous guidelines.

Versions of the subdivision ordinance had met with stiff resistance from developers, surveyors and others who make a living on residential growth. Those who objected felt earlier proposals would prove an economic disaster for Carroll County by costing jobs and tax revenue.

So after the earlier public hearing, the supervisors sent the ordinance back to the planning commission for more consideration. The commission members were to make revisions based on the public comments.

The supervisors went through the latest recommendations by the planning commission one by one at their Monday meeting, starting out with the minimum acreage in Class B subdivisions, which are intended as private residential developments with no public services.

County officials noted that supervisors wanted the minimum acreage to be three, but the planning commission had recommended four as a compromise.

Supervisor Wes Hurst said he stood steadfast on three acres as the minimum size lot in Class B subdivisions, but Littrell, noting he isn't a fan of the Class B subdivision, preferred to stick with the compromise.

Voting on a motion by Hurst, all supervisors but Littrell agreed to retain the three-acre minimum.

Three strands of red yarn tacked in a diagonal across the meeting room wall were meant as a visual representation of mountain slopes that are appropriate to build houses on.

Assistant Administrator Ronald Newman explained the most gradual slope and most horizontal piece of yard was a 20 percent slope. The next steepest was 25 percent and the steepest one, which rose to the ceiling, represented 33 percent.

Previous proposals would have made slopes of more than 25 percent unsuitable for development, but building official Jim Whitten said a 33 percent slope is pretty close to what homes need to have for a walk-out basement.

"With that being said, I don't think we want to stop people from having the option of building a house and putting a basement in it," Supervisor Sam Dickson said.

As an alternative, Dickson proposed a new clause for the subdivision ordinance that notes a slope of 33 percent "may add special problems for development and shall be reviewed by the county engineer," according to the proposal.

If the county engineer determines that the slope created a problem for a proposed subdivision, then the developer would be required to "present a plan for corrective action developed by an engineer" licensed by the state of Virginia.

The county engineer would review these corrective plans and provide a recommendation for either approval or modification of the subdivision.

County Attorney Jim Cornwell noted that a slope of 33 percent would no longer prohibit development, but add special hoops for developers to jump through as part of the approval process.

If the supervisors lowered the allowed slope any more than that, then they'd be wearing the county engineer out in reviewing subdivisions, Hurst said.

He indicated his support of allowing steeper slopes. "My house has a walk-out basement and I wouldn't take anything for it," he said.

Newman said the comprehensive plan states that more than 50 percent of land in Carroll County has a 20 percent slope.

Voting on Dickson's proposed language, all supervisors supported adding that clause.

Littrell said he supported the wider street rights of way for Class B subdivisions. Making the rights of way 50 feet would allow streets to be taken into the Virginia Department of Transportation's secondary road system in the future.

That seemed like better planning to him. A 40-foot right of way could only be widened with considerable effort by getting more easements, he said.

"If somebody later on buys a house and wants to have the road taken into the system and wants to have school bus service, mail service..." this change to the subdivision ordinance would allow future owners to decide to get those services, if they so choose, Littrell said. He made a motion to make it so.

But Hurst said he thought Class B subdivisions by definition would never qualify for such public services. He'd rather see the road width left at 40 feet.

A Class B subdivision would be like a "gated community," he said.

Supervisors' Chairman David Hutchins said he recalled people saying that they wanted a Class B subdivision for summer homes, second homes and wanted to live in a private community. "They wanted it such that they didn't want all the services of the county other than fire and rescue — they want a private community."

Mail services and all other services stop at the gate, he said. They wouldn't want other traffic, like to a connected subdivision, to flow through the gate.

One intent of updating the subdivision ordinance was to make recreational subdivisions safer than what they are now, Dickson said.

"But there is a need in a mountainous community with beautiful view for something different than a [more restrictive] Class A subdivision."

He believes that the right of way should be left at 40 feet and if so, the ordinance has already been tightened up. The allowed right of way used to be 30 feet.

The 50-foot right of way would offer more options for people in the future, Littrell said. The second or third buyers of these properties might want to change the road and the services they receive and this would make it easier.

In the vote on Littrell's motion to go to 50 feet, only Supervisor Manus McMillian joined him in supporting it. The other four supervisors voted the change down.

Littrell asked to clarify that another part of the ordinance would require all roads with a slope of more than 14 percent to be paved and no road shall exceed a 16 percent slope.

Hurst then referenced the minimum lot size for properties in Class A subdivisions that are served by well and septic systems. He felt that three-fourths of an acre would be sufficient, instead of the one acre proposed.

This has been increased from a minimum of less than half an acre, or 2,200 square feet, said Newman.

"Which is extremely too small," McMillian said.

Littrell said he preferred the one acre minimum.

Dickson said he liked three-fourths of an acre. "That's kind of a compromise between the two." He made a motion to adopt the three-fourths of an acre minimum.

Do developers call a soil scientist to do a test to find out what size lots they are going to have to have? Hutchins asked.

They will need to, because the health department needs that information to approve the final plat, Newman said. The health department's findings can lead to required changes in the subdivision.

But Littrell noted that the planning commission agreed unanimously to go with the one-acre minimum on this. "I still feel like for future planning and our county we should stay with the one acre [minimum] on the piece of the property that did not have public water and public sewer."

The supervisors did not change the 35-foot setback.

Hutchins directed Cornwell and Newman to make the changes to the ordinance, so the supervisors could approve a final version before the end of the night.

Cornwell told the supervisors this new version will apply to subdivisions submitted to the county for approval after July 1.

When the supervisors returned to the subdivision ordinance later, Supervisor Andy Jackson made a motion to approve it as discussed.

Hurst seconded the motion. All supervisors voted yes.

"I don't like all the points in it, but it's far better than the one we have at the present time, so I vote yes," Littrell said.

This is a process that was started in 1998, back when he served as Carroll's attorney — two sets of county boards ago, Cornwell said.

"It will require tweaking, I'm sure," Hutchins said.