Zebulon town commissioners recently heard an eye-opening report from a consultant who wants to help the town restart its effort to create a Unified Development Ordinance.
That consultant, Chad Meadows, laid bare the problems the town had with its previous consultant. That company, the otherwise well-respected Lawrence Group, had dissolved and the staffer working with the town had agreed to continue the work on Zebulon’s project. But soon that effort fizzled and the town was left with nothing to show for months of work.
It would be easy to dismiss this problem because most people don’t know what a unified development ordinance, or UDO, is. But the document is a powerful tool towns use to guide development. Designed and implemented well, a UDO can encourage the kinds of growth townspeople want to see in their community. Poorly constructed, a UDO can be a major discouragement to builders and developers who otherwise might like to do business in the community.
The resultant growth, or lack thereof, can have important ramifications for existing taxpayers who benefit from steady growth as a shield against rising tax rates or diminished services.
Meadows, in his report to the town board, proposed that the town not pay his firm for their work until it is completed satisfactorily. That resolves the issue of town leaders having to claw back money they’ve already paid out if the work is not up to snuff.
But even more than that, the town board really needs to ride herd on this process with regular reports from the planning staff and the consultant, to ensure that the work is being done as expected.
Already, the town is trying to build a UDO designed to implement the goals of a growth plan approved in 2008. That plan, called a comprehensive growth plan, should generally be updated about once every 10 years or so, which means the current plan is nearing the end of its shelf life. Creating a UDO that implements an eight-year-old plan could mean the town is back at the drawing board again in the not-too-distant future, if town commissioners don’t ensure that the UDO that Meadows creates is not elastic enough to accomodate new changes in the growth landscape.