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During the last couple of Lancaster County Council meetings, we have talked about cluster developments, applying for a volunteer firefighter retention grant and a capital projects sales tax. These three issues have raised questions and the cluster development overlay district (CDOD) has been shadowed in confusion, so I would like to talk about them in this column.
The CDOD is a zoning classification that the county planning staff has wanted to introduce since 2010, as it fit into the strategies outlined in the 521 Corridor Study. Because of existing staffing levels, they were not able to dedicate the time to writing the ordinance.
Earlier this year, a developer, representing a large landowner in the Panhandle, submitted an application to rezone a piece of property from PDD residential (which is no longer allowed by state law) to a lower zoning classification. PDD residential allows for a building density of up to four homes per acre.
The property owner could have asked, and most likely would have been granted, under the existing ordinance, that the property be rezoned to the current PDD classification, which also allows up to four homes per acre. The current PDD classification requires that 20 percent of the acreage be zoned commercial, which the property owner felt would not be a viable use for the property.
The planning staff and County Planning Commission worked with the applicant to develop an ordinance that would accommodate the county’s desire to offer a CDOD that allowed for more natural areas to be maintained than had been previously allowed in the county.
The CDOD, also known as a conservation development plan, is a planning tool known as an overlay district, which does not have a specific zoning density. The CDOD derives its density from the underlying zoning that it overlays. By using a CDOD for a community, a developer would not necessarily be granted any higher density than is already allowed by our current zoning.
The main difference is that by choosing a CDOD, a developer would have a requirement to set aside up to 25 percent of the development as open space or undeveloped land. In addition, if there is part of the property that is not suitable for building, such as wetlands, then that portion of the property, would also be allowed to be dedicated as additional open space in the community. By agreeing to set aside those portions of the property, the developer would be allowed to build the development by grouping home sites and using smaller, more efficient lot sizes.
Here is an example of how this would work. Say a land owner has 500 acres of property he wants to develop as a residential development. It is currently zoned to allow 1.5 homes per acre. In a typical allowable development, the developer could clear cut the property in its entirety and build about 750 homes.
In this example, let’s say that 7.5 percent of the subject property is not able to be built on because of a large lake and associated wetlands. By using a CDOD to develop the property, the developer would have to agree to set aside up to 25 percent of the property (125 acres) for open space and undeveloped land, in addition to the 7.5 percent of property (37.5 acres) of non-developable land for a total of 162.5 acres.
The end result is that the developer would still be allowed to build about 750 homes. The difference would be that the developed community would have 162.5 acres that was preserved in its natural form.
The SAFER or volunteer firefighter retention grant was a grant that was being proposed to be submitted to FEMA to fund a three-year trial program for retaining and recruiting volunteer firefighters.
The grant would have paid for the salary of a volunteer coordinator, advertising, clothing, incentive rewards and a monetary payment to volunteer firefighters to help pay for their gas when they responded to a call or participated in training.
In Lancaster County, as well as the rest of the country, our fire protection is mainly provided by volunteers. In the mid 1990s, Lancaster County had more than 600 active volunteer firefighters. We now have 298 active volunteers in the county and the average age of our volunteers has increased.
The requirements and training to be a volunteer firefighter are the same as the requirements to be a paid firefighter. The time that our volunteers provide can easily average 300 to 400 hours per year, per volunteer.
It is critical that we develop ways to recruit new volunteers and retain our existing volunteers. If Lancaster County had to replace the work of our volunteers, it would cost about $30-$40 million per year and would almost double everyone’s property tax.
I made a motion to approve this grant application and it was seconded. Chairman Larry McCul-lough, Councilman Larry Honeycutt and I voted to approve the grant; unfortunately, it did not pass because of a tie vote.
This was a disappointment to me, but it was very disappointing to our volunteer firefighters.
I have encouraged the volunteer firefighters to reapply for this grant next year and I am committed to working to get it passed.
When you see our volunteer firefighters, please let them know how much you appreciate the job they are doing.
Capital project sales tax
Finally, County Council has voted to set up a Capital Project Sales Tax Committee to begin planning for a 2014 ballot initiative that would ask the voters to consider reauthorizing the collection of a 1 cent sales tax, which is currently being used to pay for the county courthouse.
This committee would develop the ballot question, as well as a list of capital projects to be funded and a budget for those projects.
I support this effort and will be lobbying for the majority of the taxes collected to be used for road improvements throughout the county. I will keep you informed as this process moves forward.
If you need to contact me, you can send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indian Land resident Brian Carnes represents District 7 on Lancaster County Council.