Smithfield Herald

August 4, 2014

Smithfield to update its zoning and development rules

Smithfield is updating the document that governs how and where development takes place.

Smithfield is updating the document that governs how and where development takes place.

The town is revising its Unified Development Ordinance, which is the document that brings together the town’s zoning and development rules. The document governs the size of buildings, the size of yards and open spaces, population density and the location and use of buildings, including homes and businesses.

The document is why a steel plant can’t set up shop next to a day care. The document is what a homeowner turns to if he thinks his neighbor’s choices are lowering surrounding property values. It lays out how town leaders want Smithfield to grow.

Paul Embler, Smithfield’s planning director, said the town is updating the document to fix new problems that have come up over time.

Smithfield first started working on the UDO in 2005. The town approved it in 2008 after public input.

Embler hopes to have the update finished and submitted to the Town Council by the middle of 2015.

Embler recalled what one of the consultants who helped with the plan said back in 2008: “This is not a perfect document. You’ll find there are things you want to change that need to be changed, new situations that occurred you need to address, and you will need to do amendments.”

Since 2008, the planning department has kept a laundry list of items as they have come up. Now the town’s planning board will look at those items. When the planning board is finished, its members will approve a draft for public comment and the Town Council’s input. The council will then approve the document, likely in late 2015.

Anyone interested in getting involved in the process can call Embler at 919-934-2116, Ext. 1114, or email him at The public can also talk to the planning board, which meets the first Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. in Town Hall.

To read the current plan, visit and go to the Planning Department’s page. Then go to “Documents” and click “ Unified Development Ordinance.”

Needed updates

Embler said the update effort will focus on the problems caused by applying urban development rules to rural lands.

Since the town approved its UDO, Johnston County has allowed Smithfield to extend its ETJ, or extraterritorial planning jurisdiction. Most of the land in the expanded ETJ is rural.

As an example of the difference between urban and rural, Embler pointed to the Smithfield rule that says a property owner can have only one extra unattached building on his lot, like a shed or garage. This might make sense for a small lot in the middle of town.

“In the country on a 40-acre farm that’s on one lot, does that make any sense?” Embler said. “Do we need to tweak that to make sure we can accommodate that larger size?”

Smithfield also needs to update its UDO to allow the town to enforce appearance rules in the expanded ETJ.

“When the county gave us the ETJ, they gave up their enforcement authority there too,” Embler said. “And when it came over to us, that’s not zoning. ... We’ve got to amend our code to bring those things in so we can go out there and regulate those things.”

Embler said the town has worked around this by asking for voluntary compliance or by getting other departments involved if an appearance problem crosses into another area of government. For instance, he said, one home kept dozens of chickens on its land, which is against town appearance rules. When Smithfield asked the family to get rid of the chickens, the homeowners moved the chickens inside. Smithfield got the Health Department involved after that, Embler said.

Embler’s staff will also look at sign rules. Currently, a sign placed on an outside wall can be no larger than 75 square feet. But on a large building, that size might be too small to be effective, Embler said.

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