FORSYTH COUNTY — Citing a heavy backlog of work and a lack of planning staff, Forsyth County’s government enacted an emergency ban on new zoning applications effective Thursday night.
The decision, which was approved in a 5-0 vote of the county commission, likely will last until April 8, at which time it could be extended following a public hearing.
The moratorium was not originally on the evening’s agenda, but was added at the beginning of the meeting by County Attorney Ken Jarrard. It’s intended to give county staff a chance to catch up on previously submitted zoning requests.
According to Jarrard, the moratorium is a freeze on applications only. Anything that had previously been submitted will be handled as usual.
“It would prohibit, effective this evening, the tendering and acceptance by planning and community development [department] of any applications for the rezoning of property, rezoning condition amendments or sketch plat approval or the issuance of any conditional use permits,” he said.
“This moratorium will not affect anything in progress, anything that has already been applied. No other permits or approvals issued by the planning department will be affected. And any applications already [received] will be unaffected and will be processed in the ordinary course.”
Jarrard went on to say that the law allows the county to “do a short-term moratorium of this kind without a public hearing.”
“The reason that I have recommended that it go until April 8 is because our next public hearing is April 7. And if the board wants to enforce this moratorium for a longer length than April 8, then we would need to have a public hearing on April 7.”
Jarrard also referred to an employee shortage in the county’s department planning and community development.
“The office is down multiple senior planners, multiple staff as well and, candidly, it has affected their ability to be able to provide the planning [board], the [commission]and the community the level of work and the detail of work that they feel like they needed to provide,” Jarrard said.
As they do not require an application process, he added that county-initiated rezonings would not be affected by the freeze.
Reached Friday, Vanessa Bernstein-Goldman, the county’s deputy director for planning and community development, said the moratorium had more to do with staff than the number of applications.
“There are not a specified number of applications that required it,” she said. “We are at the point that, again because of staff vacancies, it has become a challenge for us to attend to the applications and the [commission] thought it was appropriate to help us in this matter.”
According to Bernstein-Goldman, there are several steps to moving a zoning application through the department. Those include reviews, meetings with other departments and hearings.
Overall, she said, the process is “very complex,” and takes a minimum of three months.
The number of applications the department handles varies by time.
“Right now, we have over 20 applications that are currently in process,” Bernstein-Goldman said. “By in process, I mean from the time a new application hits our desk to the time that even after an application is approved there are still various steps and tasks to be done for the file to be closed out.”