Hancock County Government

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Article on Interim Development Ordinance

From The SeaCoast Echo

By Bennie Shallbetter
Staff Writer

If County Supervisors and the County Planning Commissioners agree, a proposed interim development ordinance could change the direction of the county's growth for the next two years and beyond.

Jeff Loftus and Sue Chamberlain presented Planning Commissioners with a draft of the proposed ordinance at a pubic hearing at Thursday's planning meeting. It calls for dramatic changes in the way the county guides development. Commissioners voted to request a workshop with County Supervisors to discuss its approval.

"This ordinance will send the county in a whole new direction," said commission attorney John Scafide.

The ordinance is meant to be used as a powerful tool for development, especially large development, that may take place over the next two years while the county is in the midst of reorganizing its zoning regulations and re-writing its comprehensive plan.

Though there was very little official comment, it was obvious that the presentation was received with mixed reviews. A group of developers cornered Loftus and Chamberlain outside the door.

Besides stringent conditions outlined for large development, the ordinance also suggest a "development agreement" to be negotiated between the developer and county officials. The agreement could require large developers to provide substantial funding for the construction of needed infrastructure to support their projects. In a largely rural county, with little central infrastructure, the issue of who would foot the bill for non existent infrastructure has been a
major concern.

The interim ordinance could give the county the "teeth" it needs to negotiate by allowing officials to put some of the burden of the cost on those who would be profiting from the improvements. The agreement also contains a clause that would require developers to guarantee the long-term maintenance of both their projects and the infrastructure it

Some developers grumbled at the high costs that such an agreement would bring to their projects, but without such an agreement the county itself and the taxpayers living there would be left to foot the bill for the additional infrastructure capacity needed for large developments.

The ordinance also outlines standards for minimum service requirements for road access, water and sewer for both large and small development. Subdivisions locating each home on less than 2 acres will need to provide a central water system under the ordinance. Structures higher than 35 feet, or three stories, will need to be equipped with a sprinkler system for fire safety.

Condominium projects will be subject to a detailed list of criteria including extra setback requirements for any buildings in excess of 35 feet in height. The list of criteria will govern site layouts; the location, number, and even the look of building entrances, design features, building materials and more. Building walls facing a street will be required to integrate design features such as textured masonry, windows or vined trellises to break up the monotony of the

Planned developments will be required to be harmonious with existing neighborhoods in size, landscape, use and more.Under the ordinance they must contain a mixture of dwelling unit types and densities. The ordinance will encourage compatible mix of both residential and non-residential uses in planned developments.

The ordinance will require final approval for projects that deviate from conventional standards be made only after consideration of of a list of around ten criteria including compatibility with existing patterns and densities, the availability of adequate public services such as sewer, water, schools, roads, and fire protection, distance from commercial areas and community facilities, the character of the project, protection of environmentally sensitive lands, effects on the watershed, energy efficiency of the design and more.

The ordinance also expands and outlines the requirements that the developer will have to meet when submitting a project for review. Residential developments will be required to offer amenities, with the number of required amenities depending on the number of units. Amenities may include pools, parks, picnic areas and more. Projects must also include plans for open space, public space and landscaping.

Any changes other than minor changes such as landscaping type or the location of a walkway, which may be approved by the building official, will result in the project being sent back through the review process.

The ordinance also provides more stringent guidelines for development along what are considered arterial roads or entrances into the county and a moratorium on many allowed uses in agriculturally zoned areas, with additional criteria for conditional use requests in those areas. Condominiums, apartments, retail businesses, hotels, restaurants,
automobile lots and more will be restricted in agricultural areas
under the ordinance.

The ordinance was developed by Michael Louer of Planning Works, LLC and Gulf Regional Planning. Funding was made possible through a grant from the Mississippi Development Authority. A copy of the draft may be viewed at the County Planning Office.


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