As large-scale development proposals continue to flood the Apex’s planning department, planning staff are asking for more time to properly vet large-scale subdivision plans and allow developers time to respond to their feedback.
The Town Council unanimously adopted new guidelines Tuesday that extend the first review for rezoning petitions from two months to three months and the maximum review period for subdivision master plans from three months to between four and six months.
The changes bring Apex’s buffers more in line with those practiced by similarly sized neighbors in western Wake County.
Principal Planner Brendie Vega and Planning Director Dianne Khin said they wanted to extend the amount of time developers should expect from when they submit a project for review to when the project goes before the town’s boards for approval.
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They said planning staff members often feel like they don’t have adequate time to vet subdivision plans, especially those consisting of hundreds of lots, or provide adequate input to developers in time for them to make changes before they’re presented to the planning board and council.
“This would give us more time than the quick turnaround does now,” Vega said. “Engineers expect us to have all our comments in the first review. If we don’t, they argue that we didn’t bring it up, and they’ve already designed it. This extended first review would give staff more time to make sure the design meets the ordinance and that the design is the best for future residents.”
Previously, the promised turnaround for submissions had been the fastest in the region. With the increased volume of large-scale developments coming through a planning department, Vega said, speed was now coming at the price of diligence.
Fuquay-Varina promises a two-month turnaround for rezonings and between three and six months for subdivision master plans. It is the second fastest in the area. Cary’s subdivision approval process, on the other end of the spectrum, can take up to nine months.
Both of the changes will take effect in January, Khin said.
Councilwoman Denise Wilkie voted to approve both motions but initially said she favors a shorter four-to-five month review window for subdivision plans instead of the six-month maximum the new measure would allow. She also said she worried that the development community hadn’t been consulted before the matter came to the council.
“I’d like you to get some feedback from developers,” Wilkie said. “They’re players in this game, and they need to have some input on how things work.”
Mayor Lance Olive, responding to her concern that six months might be too long, said he trusted that the planning staff wouldn’t take the new timeline as a reason to drag their feet.
“The six months is a suggestion from staff, that they can take this much time if they need it to get it right,” Olive said. “But it’s not going to sit on the table getting cold while it waits for its time to pass.”
The council also directed its planning committee to explore the possibility of setting a threshold that would allow certain development proposals to be vetted and substantially approved by the town’s planning staff instead of going to the council for approval.
In Cary, for instance, subdivision master plans with average lot sizes greater than 8,000 square feet can be approved by planners without going before elected officials.
Apex’s council members agreed in principle to doing something similar. But Councilman Gene Schulze requested that those smaller-scale staff approvals still be made part of the council’s consent agenda – a list of typically non-controversial action items that can be approved with a single motion.
Council members would have the opportunity to remove staff-approved developments from that list if they felt further discussion was necessary.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan