The Van Wyck News
|Volume 5 Number 18
||A Voice for Freedom||5 December 2013|
Thanksgiving is over and it is time to get back to work for the last County Council meeting of 2013 on 9 December. Cluster Development passed First Reading at the 25 November Council meeting “just to get it out where we can discuss it.” This was actually a clever parliamentary maneuver by Chairman McCullough, a major supporter of cluster development. To discuss this item without passing first reading it was necessary only to move it from the action agenda to the discussion agenda. By framing the matter as he did, Mr. McCullough got the result he wanted, passage of first reading, and put the controversy off to another day.
The intense interest of some members of County Council in getting this Proposal passed into law can be understood in terms of the cash flow and the politics of the situation. Matamy Homes is standing ready to spend $150 - $200MM in Lancaster County over the next few years to build the Treetops site if County Council will give them the parameters they need to build 933 homes on that site. County Council is interested in the appearance of prosperity that such spending will provide during the 2014 and especially the 2016 elections. There is nothing else on the horizon that can provide this kind of short term financial impact. The long term impact is certainly negative, but County Council is hoping that by the time the negative long term impact is realized they will be safely re-elected. Union County, NC is a little further down the residential development path than Lancaster County, but this is the direction we are headed. Union County Schools have sued Union County for inadequate funding and have won a $91MM judgment against Union County, which Union County has no way to pay.
There are two problems with Cluster Development as it stands before County Council at the 9 December meeting. The first of these is the fact that the long term infrastructure costs of these developments, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, will be funded entirely by current taxpayers. Residential development does not yield enough tax revenue to pay its own way, much less pay for any infrastructure as is shown clearly in a report commissioned and paid for by County Council in 2005.
For a county to be adequately funded it must rely on commercial and industrial development to make up for the deficiencies in residential tax income. Lancaster County already faces a substantial deficiency in infrastructure spending as shown by the condition of our roads. This is a result of many years of overemphasis on residential development. County Council's initial response to this situation is to impose the 1% sales tax currently in place to fund the Courthouse for an additional seven years and use the proceeds to fund infrastructure projects such as road improvements. Although a small portion of this tax would fall on visitors to the county, the largest portion would be borne by residents. The County is expected to propose additional new kinds of taxes, perhaps a business license tax, in the very near future. Cluster Development would add substantially to this problem by stimulating residential development without any corresponding increase in commercial development.
The second problem associated with the current form of the Cluster Development Overlay is the very risky way the developments will be put together, with values of the building separation, lot width, lot size and road width much smaller than are ordinarily used in cluster developments. The values of these parameters are those required to permit Matamy Homes to develop the Treetops site to 933 homes, not those already safely in use in Lancaster County as set forth in Ordinance 400 (Lancaster County Code Appendix B section 5.2.4). Areas of particular concern are as follows:
In addition, no consideration at all has been given to such matters as storm water control and environmental protection, areas which have been identified as particular areas of concern in discussions with planning professionals in other counties which are using cluster developments. The road paved width is of particular concern. If driveways are to be so short that visitor parking is limited to one or two cars per house, parking must be permitted in the street and the streets have to be wide enough to allow the passage of emergency vehicles with cars parked in them. Twenty feet of paved width is too narrow; most other places seem to be using 30 feet or more of paved width.
We believe that there is a legal risk associated with the use of an unenforceable condition regarding opposing windows on adjacent houses to justify the five feet side setback. One of the primary means by which fire moves from one house to another when houses are close together is by fire blowing burning debris through the broken window on a burning house through the broken window on an adjacent house. The way such incidents are usually avoided is by placing the houses 20 feet of more apart. To assure that windows on adjacent houses are not opposing requires the building official to bring the plans for a proposed house to the site and lay them out on the ground before signing off that they meet the requirements of the law, thus allowing the house to be built. This puts an untenable responsibility on the building official; many of these houses will get signed off with a simple certification by the builder that there will be no opposing windows. We believe that the county, which asserts its ability to provide a safe environment for homeowners to enjoy their property free from such safety worries as the prime reason for imposing zoning restrictions in the first place, will face substantial legal liability in the event of a major fire.
This proposal is clearly not ready for prime time. We feel strongly that it should be defeated and brought back up at the time we are rewriting the UDO. It has already been sent back to the Planning Commission for rework and came back with all the problem parameters unchanged.
If County Council feels that this Cluster Development Proposal should be sent back to the Planning Commission for additional work, it is important that this be done with specific directions attached as follows:
1. Modify the lot widths, areas, setbacks to the values in the table above..
2. Increase the street width to at least 30 feet.
3. Remove the option for 5 foot side setbacks and the conditions that go with it.
4. Address the infrastructure impact either by limiting the maximum size of such developments to 150 homes or fewer or bring forward a, Adequate Facilities Ordinance or other technique to transfer the burden of funding infrastructure to the developer.
5. Address the environmental impact situation.
6. Address the storm water collection, control and disposition. Storm water is polluted and should not be dumped into adjacent streams or lakes.
7. Responsibilities of the Homeowners Association and remedies in the event of default on these responsibilities need to be defined.
The Van Wyck Christmas Parade will start at the Post Office and end at the Community Center on Saturday 7 December at noon. The Parade will move down Old Hickory Road to the Community Center led by fire trucks and police cars, with about 50 units participating. At the Community Center there will be goodies and talks with Santa and Mrs. Claus for children.
Lighting the WayLighting the Way will begin at the Van Wyck Post Office at 4:30 PM on Sunday 8 December with brief comments from the pastors of the Van Wyck Churches. The crowd will move up Old Hickory Road to Van Wyck Presbyterian Church, then to the Methodist Church, lighting the candles along both sides of the street. The group will then go by car to Trinity Presbyterian Church and White Oak A>M>E Zion Church, then back to the Community Center for hot chocolate, hot apple cider and Christmas cookies. At each church there will a brief sermon and some Christmas singing. All are welcome; there is no charge but donations are accepted at the Community Center.
Saturday, December 7. noon, Van Wyck Christmas Parade and Candy Toss. 2:00 PM put out candles and globes for Lighting the Way.
Sunday, December 8, 4:30p.m. Lighting Of The Way
Feeding the HungryDonations to Lancaster County food programs have fallen off recently. The recession increases the number of people facing hunger and the need for food. The Van Wyck Press is happy to transport food to the agencies serving the needy in Lancaster. If you have food that you would like to donate and would like us to transport it for you, let me know.
- District 1 - Chairman (Larry McCullough)