City council committees approve new site plan rules, impact fees

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Changes coming to the site plan and subdivision approval process could mean that residents are no longer able to talk to and lobby city council members about the proposed developments. The text change creates quasi-judicial hearings for appealing site plan and subdivisions, and the council will have to act as jurors in those hearings.

City council’s Comprehensive Planning Committee approved a set of recommendations this week to bring the city into compliance with a new state law requiring quasi-judicial proceedings when site plans and subdivisions are appealed from the planning commission.

“We are under a legal obligation to change the code,” Deputy City Attorney Ira Botvinick said in the committee meeting Wednesday. “We need to act.”

At-large councilor Russ Stephenson asked the attorney, “Should we just never talk to anyone about site plans?”

Botvinick said it depends on the timing. Councilors would have to disclose if they talked to developers and concerned residents before the site plan or subdivision paperwork was filed. But after it’s filed, city councilors would have to tell people who got in touch with them about these issues that they need to bring their concerns to the planning commission

Committee members passed the text change unanimously, but also asked city staff to develop recommendations to set up a separate body to hear the quasi-judicial appeals. The text change will go to city council for final approval on Tuesday.

Other changes mean the new zoning process would require a 20-day appeal window after a plan passes the city planning commission. The new rules will also require developers to notify neighbors within 100 feet for subdivisions and 400 feet for site plans.

Paul Brant, representing the Raleigh City Advisory Committee*, told the committee that he had concerns about the notification rule. Brant argued that on a large subdivision, “100 feet is almost no notice.”

Brant said the city should be consistent a provide notice for residents within 400 feet for both site plans and subdivisions.

Following Brant’s comments, planning director Mitch Silver was quick to note that the new rules also include more signs telling passersby about the subdivision change. Silver said most comments that come to city planners about rezonings are from people who read the signs.

Impact fees

Council’s Budget and Economic Development Committee also met this week and voted to increase impact fees by $700 over the next two years.

The new fee will be part of the package of water fees that developers must pay for each new connection. The increase will be phased in with a $350 increase next year.

Mayor Charles Meeker moved the change the impact fees to phase in instead of a $700 increase next year to get at-large councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin on board with the proposal.

Water rates for dialysis patients

The Budget and Economic Development Committee also voted to not give special water rates to home hemo-dialysis patients. District D’s councilor Thomas Crowder had asked the committee to look into giving commercial rates to people who do dialysis in their home, arguing that they use more water but it’s medically necessary.

The discussion over water bills comes as the new tiered rate system went into effect at the beginning of the year.

City Attorney Tom McCormick told the committee he was concerned with setting an exception for water customers who do in-home dialysis. McCormick said, “You couldn’t isolate one medical purpose, you would need a blanket exception” for medical conditions requiring extra water use.

City Manager Russell Allen said during the Tuesday meeting that he would prefer to set up a fund to help people with economic hardship.

The committee declined to make the medical exception, but agreed to hear back from city staff on setting up a program to help people who have trouble paying their bills.

(Editor’s note: Charles Duncan Pardo’s wife Ana Duncan Pardo chairs the Raleigh Citizens’ Advisory Committee, but Ana’s views have no bearing on the reporting of stories on raleighpublicrecord.org.)

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