Towns across North Carolina, including Garner, are entering uncharted territory when it comes to town planning and zoning.
New state laws make it possible for property owners to seek changes in their zoning without offering decision-makers any concrete plans for what they hope to do with the property. Towns can no longer require design standards such has prohibiting things like neon-colored houses or homes that have garages plastered all along the front of the home.
That uncertainty is causing a lot of angst among planning boards and town councils. It’s likely to result in more rejections on rezoning requests and more rigid town governments who may choose to stick with the devil they know rather than one they don’t.
Zoning designations set out guidelines for how property can be used. No one wants a hog processing plant dropped down in the midst of a residential subdivision. Planning guidelines out where certain uses make sense. For instance, main thoroughfares through town make better places for retail establishments than for homes. Apartments make better neighbors for retail busineses than single family homes and so their is a transition from one kind of use to another. That orderly growth makes for a better community and allows towns and developers to more sensibly provide infrastructure such as roads and water lines.
In Garner last week, council tabled a request for a rezoning based on that precise concern. At least one council member – Buck Kennedy – said it was likely the town council would have rejected the request had the panel voted.
The new law has gutted the ability of towns to properly manage their growth. The request recently tabled by the town of Garner may have been well-intentioned and the developer of the property may have no plans to do anything unusual or egregious in the town’s eyes. But the uncertainty that comes with eliminating the requirement for site plans prior to changing the land’s zoning designation means council members are going to be much less likely to agree to a developer’s request.
It’s a bit of a conundrum considering that towns and cities across North Carolina would like to grow. But they clearly are not willing to grow at any cost.