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Chatham commissioners provide direction to streamline planning approval processes

Posted Thursday, March 10, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - The Chatham County Board of Commissioners provided initial feedback on March 7 to Planning Department staff on several options to begin streamlining the approval processes for subdivisions. The board postponed discussion on proposed changes to streamline the conditional use rezoning process.

A public hearing on the proposed changes will be held after the Board of Commissioners review draft versions of the revised Subdivision Regulations, which staff will prepare based on direction from the commissioners.

“We had asked staff to come back to us with ideas to make this process more customer-friendly, with a major focus to reduce the overall timeline and eliminate unnecessary steps,” said Chairman Brian Bock. “The process should be effective and protect the environment, while also not making it an overly lengthy and costly process.”

The Planning Department staff developed several options for reducing the overall time required for approval of subdivisions. Most of the options related to reducing the time to approve the first plat, which currently involves three levels of review: Environmental Review, Planning Board Review and Board of Commissioners Review.

“Each level involves several steps that could be revised to reduce the length of time involved in the process, but first plat review is the point where the most time can be saved,” said Jason Sullivan, planning director. “The goal today is to provide what staff views as the most workable options and get some direction from the commissioners on the general direction to take.”

During a discussion of three options presented by staff to streamline the Environmental Review process, Chairman Bock said, “We are not in any way talking about doing away with making sure that projects are environmentally sound, but shifting this to a less burdensome process to meet that goal.”

A majority of the Board of Commissioners directed staff to proceed with an option that would reduce the timeframe for environmental review from a range of 60 to 120 to a range of no more than 60 days. Only those developments with 50 lots or more would be required to obtain an environmental assessment, compared to current threshold of 25 lots.

The environmental reviews would continue to be “peer reviews” conducted by consultants and paid by the applying developer.

The majority of the Board of Commissioners agreed with a staff proposal to reduce the timeline of the Planning Board review. This option still allows two meetings for the Planning Board to review the application and allows staff to have one meeting delay to address issues that come up.

During the meeting, the Board of Commissioners agreed to a change that requires the Planning Board to submit first plats to the Board of Commissioners within 30 days of acting on the first plat. If not acted upon by the Board of Commissioners by four meetings (reduced from five), the first plat would be approved by default.

The board discussed proposed changes to the construction plan and final plat stage. The majority agreed to remove the option for the Board of Commissioners to review the construction plan and final plat, unless the developer submits significant changes at this stage, as defined in the Subdivision Regulations. This change includes an appeal process of staff’s decisions.

The discussion included several other miscellaneous proposed changes related to subdivision approval processes.

Due to time limitations, the Board of Commissioners did not discuss a proposal to amend the Zoning Ordinance to authorize Conditional Zoning in the county-zoned areas of Chatham County. This would combine the two part conditional use rezoning and conditional use permitting processes into a one-step approval process involving just two meetings.

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Chatham commissioners provide direction to streamline planning approval processes

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