Changes to Forsyth County’s guiding document for development are going back up for discussion after commissioners heard from concerned residents Thursday night.
The proposed revisions to the unified development code, or UDC, have been in the works since 2011, when a stakeholder group began talks on a “user friendly initiative” to streamline the rezoning process and reboot development.
The changes would reduce the application process from two parts to one all-purpose application.
The proposal also reduces the reporting requirements for public participation meetings, neighbor notification and days to post a sign from 21 to 15.
Thursday’s public hearing could have been the last before a vote, but commissioners instead decided to reconsider some of the proposals during their next work session, which is set for Tuesday.
Some residents took exception to changes that would reduce public notice.
Robert Hoyt said his neighborhood missed out on the opportunity to learn about an adjacent commercial development based on deficiencies in the county’s notification process.
Though the time has passed to appeal the approval that allowed a fast food restaurant, the group came out Thursday to offer suggestions on how to improve public involvement based on their experiences.
“There’s some things in this new ordinance that are great,” Hoyt said. “It’s proposed that you’re going to give notices to people within 500 feet instead of just abutting. We think that’s very good … but the part we’re most stressed about is the proposed elimination of using the certificate of mailing process, which is a simple thing to do.”
That process keeps applicants “honest” about whether they contacted the neighboring public, he said.
Jack Gleason, a member of Smart Growth Forsyth County, said the group generally agreed with the idea of streamlining what is “a pretty convoluted process.”
However, some of the changes could “cut the people out,” he said, such as reducing the time a public hearing sign is posted and eliminating the requirement to have additional signs on larger properties.
Gleason said the commission may want to keep a cap on residential applications per month in case the development picks up to what it once was, so the rush wouldn’t overwhelm the county and lead to uninformed decisions.
He also recommended increasing the notification to neighboring property owners from 500 to 1,000 feet and adding a public hearing before the commission for applications where just one is held before the planning board.
Kirk Wintersteen agreed that the nearly 30 percent drop from 21 to 15 days for posting a sign could be detrimental to the public.
Developers are aware of the county’s processes and what they’re planning to build, but neighbors take longer to get acquainted with that information, Wintersteen said.
“I think effectively what we’re doing is putting developers in front of citizens,” he said. “Citizens of this county do not want to live in the third, second or fastest-growing county. The citizens of this county want to live in a quality county.”
After the hearing, Commissioner Jim Boff suggested the delay to again review the changes, agreeing with several points made by the residents who spoke.
“I’m totally in favor of keeping in there … that everybody should get verifiable notification who is a surrounding property owner,” he said. “I’m in favor of the two signs. I’m in favor of leaving 21 days. I don’t see why we should change the number of residential rezoning applications processed per our review schedule.”
If the commission requests any changes to the draft, a third public hearing could be held before a vote.