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Vote ‘No’ to 140,000 homes, falsehood & power grab

By Staff | Nov 6, 2009

People outside town boundaries can vote on a new zoning ordinance Saturday Nov 7, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at your polling place. This is different from the vote on table games, which is a month later.

First, the new ordinance puts impossible burdens on traffic, water and emergency services.

Jefferson County has 16,000 homes now outside the towns (and 5,000 in towns, which are not controlled by county ordinance).

The new ordinance provides for 40,000 more homes outside the towns (estimate by county staff, Build.SaveOurCounty.org). This means 3 times as much traffic as now, 3 times the water use, 3 times as many calls for emergency services. We can’t handle it. Wells already go dry, and fire departments lack volunteers. The old ordinance provides for 35,000, not quite as bad, and is more likely to be amended down than a new ordinance.

Besides those 40,000 extra homes, the new ordinance allows 100,000 more homes in farming areas when the developers provide bus stops and a weekly shopping bus (p.60 “transit access” or “subdivision with a bus”SWAB). By contrast the old ordinance rarely allows big new subdivisions in farming areas any more (LESA, tightened in 2005).

The ordinance has no time limits or phasing, so the new traffic and demands for water and emergency services would happen whenever developers can sell homes again. The new ordinance allows thousands of homes scattered throughout the county, so there is no predictability.

Second, the new ordinance is a power grab.

The new ordinance says you need permission for any new use or expanded use of your property (p.3). The old ordinance only requires permission for “major additions,” including “substantial change of use” (3.2(a)). The old is intrusive too, but better than the new ordinance.

Third, the new ordinance is misleading and inept.

Supporters say homes will be in “clusters,” but they define cluster as anything which is not “spread evenly throughout a parcel.” Their diagram gerrymanders a cluster over most of the land (pp.237-8).

For a historic site or structure the new ordinance “protects” a 400-600-foot radius from the center, but it allows all types of non-residential buildings in the protected area, which is not much protection (pp.120-121). There is no protection for views to and from historic sites, and the ordinance encourages more housing around historic sites than elsewhere (p.123).

The new ordinance calls subdivisions with bus service “Hamlets” and requires 40-55% of the land to be left open. This is very theatrical, but Hamlet was famous for indecision, and the “open space” turns out to mean little when it can be gerrymandered like the cluster diagram above (pp.60, 178).

The ordinance pretends to protect land with “easements,” but doesn’t require easements to last long or have specific wording.

The ordinance requires buffers along streams, 100′ wide, with a tree every 30′ and a 3′ shrub every 8′. That’s not enough to protect from erosion and pollution (pp. 87, 101, 158, 266).

The new ordinance has rules about “opacity” of buffers, but the trees are widely spaced and mostly deciduous (pp.158, 167). Earth mounds “may be used” (p.168) and vary in height. Buffers are not opaque at any season, especially for half the year when leaves are off the trees.

The ordinance says 10-15% of homes will be “affordable” for people in the “work force”, but there is no rule for how long they stay affordable, or what that means, until some future date when an unknown future group will define it (pp.114, 118). Retirees and welfare recipients may or may not be included.

I’ve seen developers push the limits, and courts make surprising decisions, even with precise rules. Above are examples of new ordinance “rules” which are inept and unusable. I’ve pointed out many of these and other problems for two years, so don’t believe promises that they’ll ever be fixed.

Texts of the 292-page new ordinance & 90-page old ordinance are at the library and listeners.homestead.com.

Please vote no to 140,000 homes, falsehood and power grab.

Paul Burke

Retired Analyst for US Dept. of Housing & Urban Development, past President of Jefferson County Planning Commission.