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Opinions mixed on new subdivision ordinance

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — One Carroll County supervisor had concerns about road standards for a new kind of subdivision and a citizen made several objections at the April 14 board meeting, but all other speakers and county officials addressing proposed changes to the subdivision ordinance supported the new ideas.
Carroll supervisors dealt with several subdivision ordinance modifications at the March meeting, but put on hold decisions involving the creation of a class C subdivision and flag lots.
A class C subdivision designation, as proposed, places limits a development to five lots on a minimum 1.5 acres each, accessed by a minimum 18-foot-wide street.
Flag lots involve a way of getting access to a tract of land that does not have public road frontage.
When the time came for the April joint public hearing with the planning commission, most of the speakers said that these standards would help with development in Carroll.
But citizen Janet Tate launched into her concerns even before the public hearing, during citizens’ comment time, by bringing up statistics about narrow and winding roads that serve housing developments.
Carroll has a history of allowing such “substandard” roads, she said. The county has more private roads than all other kinds of public roads combined.
Tate compared Carroll to Floyd County, finding that Carroll had 884 private roads in 2008 and the neighboring locality had 170.
Comparing the two localities’ tax rates, Tate said that Carroll’s is 136 percent higher than Floyd’s.
“There is a long-standing myth, propagated by special interest groups, that all development is good — not coincidentally, such a philosophy has large financial benefits for these groups,” Tate said, reading from prepared remarks. “Credible local and state governmental agencies will tell you that responsible development is the best course of action for our county moving forward.
“Carroll County clearly has a road problem,” she continued. “The solution to a problem is not to make it worse.”
After the public hearing began, auctioneer Dennis Ward shared how beneficial allowing flag lots would be for one set of his clients.
He noted that six family members inherited the land from the old Wilkerson farm south of Hillsville on U.S. 52.
Dawn Auction representatives wanted to help the family get the most out of the sale of the land. Options included making the tract into a subdivision with requirements for a commercial entrance, engineering work and fees and building the road into the property, Ward said.
“Not everybody’s in the position to do that — either financially or with the time involved — so we were trying to determine what would be in the their best interest to sell the property,” he said.
So, Dawn Auction decided to carve the property into flag lots, but that has “completely destroyed that field as far as agriculture is concerned,” Ward said. He encouraged the supervisors to approve flag lots.
Citizen Ray Melton said he has a need for an entrance to a two-acre lot that he owns in order to sell it. Such an entrance — known as a “flag pole,” which only has to be 20 feet wide — would help him.
Officials also had County Attorney Jim Cornwell read a letter from surveyor Tom Slusher in favor of the subdivision ordinance modifications. He wrote that he’s seen too many divisions fall by the wayside due to technical elements of the ordinance.
The survey called the changes a step in the right direction to make the ordinance more “user friendly.”
Tate, during the joint public hearing, spoke specifically against Class C subdivisions and its 25-foot road right of way standard.
“So I set up how important roads were when I spoke a little bit ago,” she began.
For years, the subdivision ordinance required a 30-foot road right of way, as well as the same standard for roads in cemeteries, she said.
“Yet the Class C subdivision proposes a 25-foot right of way? Tate said in her prepared remarks. “Inconsistencies like these, especially in the same document, are glaring. There is no reasonable rationale to lower these already low standards.”
Those living in subdivisions accessed by private roads already have to contribute the road maintenance costs, lack mail services or school bus pickup and public safety concerns about the challenges that fire and rescue vehicles encounter to get over the roads, she noted.
Tate felt that a Class C subdivision could add to those issues.
“After speaking with Will Dotson, land development engineer with [Virginia Department of Transportation], about the standard private entrances, it became clear that only in the best of circumstances could the required entrance specifications be met with only a 25-foot right of way,” Tate said in her prepared remarks. “Laurel Fork Supervisor Josh Hendrick…. stated 25 feet is not enough to maintain a road, ditches and shoulder.
“These two fellows are the experts — I suggest we listen to them,” Tate said in her prepared remarks.
Hendrick clarified that the Class C roads wouldn’t cause him concern if they had the right kind of design to handle the traffic.
How tight a road makes turns and goes up and down can be every bit as important as the width, the Laurel Fork supervisor explained. With the right design, the road wouldn’t even have to be 18 feet wide, but could make do with 16.
Just because a road is private doesn’t mean some big trucks won’t have to use it, he added. But Class C doesn’t have any geometric standards.
“It’s all about getting the safety and welfare portion of it, to get EMS people in,” Hendrick said. “If [residents] want to build a driveway that you can’t get a fire truck in, that’s totally their business,” but county officials should make sure those emergency vehicles can get into a subdivision.
Otherwise, Hendrick felt that increasing availability of land to subdivide is a good thing. He called flag lots a valuable tool to make land usable.
Supervisor Tom Littrell said he was initially against Class C, but then he went out and measured his Virginia Department of Transportation-maintained road.
He found it was 17 feet from shoulder to shoulder. “So I’m not too concerned about the 18 feet.”
However, consideration should be given to emergency vehicle access, Littrell agreed.
Supervisor Phil McCraw felt the planning commission, in the modifications, did a good job in trying to help the people who aren’t lucky enough to have road frontage.
Planning commission members at the meeting approved a motion recommending the changes to the subdivision ordinance.
It’s time to adopt the modifications after several months work, Supervisor Sam Dickson said. He doesn’t expect it to come out absolutely perfect.
“There comes a time when you have to settle for a certain amount,” he said. If it needs changing, the county can go through the process to do that again.
Dickson made a motion to approve the changes, seconded by McCraw.
After a question about speed limits on private roads, Hendrick clarified he meant a “design speed” for safe travel on it, rather than a speed limit to be enforced by police.
“The speed limit is just going to set your geometry standards — how tight you put your curves…” he said.
A wider road would encourage drivers to go faster, but 16 feet would be enough with the right design.
When the time came to vote, five supervisors approved the measure. Only Hendrick voted against.
Tate spoke one more time during the later six-year road public hearing, noting that she found it “ironic” that several speakers still had issues with their public roads, some of which have existed for years but are still gravel in places.
That these existing roads create concerns show that there are going to be issues with the private roads in the future, she indicated.