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Rezoning moratorium up for final vote

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By Chris Sardelli

Two proposed county ordinances have David McKinney worried about the future of development in the county.
McKinney, an Indian Land resident and former owner of Lancaster Dodge Chrysler Jeep Inc., became concerned after seeing the two ordinances on council’s recent agendas. The ordinances include one that would suspend rezoning requests in the Panhandle and another to reduce the size of planned development districts throughout the whole county.
“I’m concerned,” McKinney said. “There are a lot of questions that aren’t being talked about.”
Final reading of both ordinances is slated for Tuesday.
But McKinney hopes council will explain its reasoning behind them before it approves them. He said council needs to be more clear about who would be affected by the rezoning moratorium and by what process council will make exceptions to the rule.   
“In the slowest economic period, we’re putting on hold any zoning changes in the Panhandle and there hasn’t been any discussion to the public,” he said.
In a memo to council, County Administrator Steve Willis said the ordinance would suspend all rezoning activities within the Panhandle area until the county rewrites its Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
Council defines the Panhandle as the area of the county north of the CSX rail line from the Catawba River to the North Carolina state line. The Panhandle is the highest-growth area in the county.
“The ordinance is designed to ensure that rezoning occurs which is consistent with the 521 corridor study and with the final version of the UDO,” Willis told council.
McKinney said the suspension of rezoning requests in the Panhandle could aversely affect economic development in the area.
At council’s Nov. 30 meeting, Deputy County Administrator Jeff Naftal said the rezoning moratorium in the Panhandle can be bypassed by council for major economic development purposes.
“If a business comes to us from the economic development board, then we will make an exception on this moratorium,” Naftal said.
PDD change
Council will also consider final reading Tuesday of an ordinance to change the minimum size of planned development districts, or PDDs, in the county, from 150 to 2 acres.
Willis has said county staff and council members proposed the change as a way to gain control over the quality of developments built in the county.
“By requiring that projects in the PDD be at least 150 acres, the county is tying its hands needlessly,” Willis told council recently.
He said reducing the size of PDDs will allow council to have a more thorough review of proposed commercial developments, and will help new developments reflect requirements from studies, such as the corridor study. He also supported the change as a way to increase communication between commercial developers and the county.
McKinney is surprised council is considering such an ordinance.
“This is a tremendous change in the philosophy being taken by County Council after many years of trying to increase the size of PDDs,” McKinney said.
He worries this will push most conversations about PDDs “behind closed doors.”
“Where is the transparency? Where’s the public input when council and economic development go behind closed doors to create a PDD?” he asked. “I’m not saying it’s bad, but there’s just no discussion. I’m concerned there could be favoritism and abuse as a result.”

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416