Troutman Planning and Zoning Board approves updated procedures, discusses traffic impacts
BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Troutman Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved an updated rules of procedures for its operation during its meeting Monday night.
The document had not been revised since 2008, so a fresh look was much-needed with Troutman’s increased growth and volume of zoning requests, according to Planning Director George Berger.
Many of the changes were to update names and remove gender-specific language. However, several substantial revisions clarified how to handle board members’ potential conflicts of interest, either through relationships to applicants or through financial gain, and their interaction with the public on pending matters.
Planning board members who believe they have a potential conflict should declare it, and the board will then vote whether the possible conflict necessitates the member’s recusal. If excused from the matter, the member will leave the podium for only that agenda item and can then comment on the matter during the public hearing as a citizen if they choose.
Berger said that the board member’s First Amendment right to speak on the matter must be protected; however, the board member’s comments “should have no more weight than any other member of the public.”
Another section of the procedures addresses an undisclosed conflict. If another board member or a citizen or applicant believes a board member has a potential conflict, the person can file a challenge of that conflicted member’s participation.
However, “any challenge made to the Planning Board shall be supported by competent evidence and shall be submitted at a properly convened meeting of the Planning Board.” After hearing the evidence, the board would vote to make the final determination about whether a conflict exists.
Berger noted that if a challenge arose after a Planning Board vote but before Town Council consideration of the matter, he would disclose the challenge and any evidence to the council.
The council could then decide to either send the matter back to the Planning Board for reconsideration or, if the conflict challenge was deemed unfounded or insignificant, members could choose to proceed with the public hearing on the matter and then vote.
The rules also specify that “there shall be no attempt to exclude entire categories of considerations because of the business or profession with which a member is associated” but only in specific cases in which a potential conflict may exist.
Additionally, the procedures state that “planning board members shall not commit themselves on any question to be considered by the Planning Board, prior to the consideration of the matter at a duly authorized meeting.”
The rule goes on to state that members can “listen to comments regarding a pending case but shall refrain from responding with opinions or views.” Members are permitted to seek technical information about a matter from the zoning administrator or board secretary (the Town Clerk or designee), but they are not to investigate a matter independently.
Under these revised rules, the Town Council can also remove any Planning Board member who misses three consecutive meetings, but the member does have a right of appeal to the council before removal.
The document also commits the board to revisit the procedures each January to ensure all members clearly understand them and to make any changes needed to ensure smooth and consistent board performance.
TRAFFIC IMPACT ASSESSMENTS
Berger updated members on several matters before the board in the past several months. He noted the public concern raised about traffic impacts on already overcrowded roads.
Developers of the proposed Cavin Creek subdivision pulled its zoning request from the Town Council’s July agenda after the public outcry about potential intersection dangers on both Perth and Autumn Leaf Roads at the June Planning and Zoning Board public comment on the matter. The board voted not to recommend the project the the council.
The developers had completed the traffic counts required for a traffic impact study before school ended in June, and they asked for time to compile other information before bringing the subdivision zoning request before the council, likely in August.
Berger noted the newly updated Unified Development Ordinance for the first time requires a standard TIA for a development with less than 250 houses, while an expanded TIA is required for a subdivision with more than 250 homes.
The standard TIA, which costs an estimated $5,000 to $10,000, does not require specifics of turn lanes and other details because of the huge costs involved. Developers are reluctant to spend $40,000 to $50,000 or more for a detailed TIA before the guarantee of zoning approval is in place, according to Berger.
“No one’s going to put themselves on the hook that early.”
Berger said that the Town Council will now verify that the developers have done their due diligence on traffic impacts and taken citizen concerns seriously as it considers the proposed development. Berger noted the respected Kimley-Horn engineering firm, with whom the town has often worked, is conducting the study.
Board member Mark Taylor, a N.C. Department of Transportation engineer, suggested the possibility of requiring developers be required to obtain the relatively inexpensive Technical Memo of Understanding from NCDOT as part of their zoning requests.
Berger said that idea, along with a fiscal impact study, should be considered as possible additions to the UDO. He is already researching these items for future presentation to the Planning Board and Town Council.
“The public’s trust must be put forward in terms of traffic impact issues,” added Berger.