PENDER COUNTY — The county canceled a Planning Board hearing to address updates to its Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) following a developer’s claim that proposed changes in land use regulations would “destroy [residents’] property values.”
Wilmington-based developer D. Logan of Logan Homes spoke up during a public meeting in Hampstead last week, predicting the changes to the county’s UDO “will destroy your property values, it will destroy the tax base in Pender County,” according to Bill Walsh of Star News.
Pender County Planning Director Kyle Breuer said Tuesday’s cancellation was necessary to take the time to address comments made by Logan and other residents during the meeting, part of the due process required when developing guidelines for the public.
“We certainly want an opportunity to digest the comments we received,” Breuer said, adding that his office valued remarks from both developers and residents while drawing up the new set of guidelines.
County assessing Logan’s claims
Logan also said the UDO would “shut down 85 percent of the county” and would only allow an average of 15 percent of a 100-acre tract to be developed, according to Star News.
Although Breuer wasn’t certain what methodology Logan used to develop those figures, he said his staff is currently preparing an analysis of how much land in the county falls within proposed Resource Conservation Areas (RCAs). The RCAs would include areas within 100-year and 500-year floodplains, wetlands, vegetated stream buffers, and areas with CAMA setbacks — all land that would be limited in terms of development capabilities, based on density calculations in accordance with zoning districts.
“And if you were to subdivide within that RCA, our proposal is that you at least have a minimum lot size of areas that are not in that RCA,” Breuer said.
Breuer declined to comment on Logan’s assertion that the proposed UDO changes would “destroy” property values across the county and was a signal of government overreach. But he said the proposed regulations within Resource Conservation Areas is an effort to ensure “measures are in place so that we do not replicate the issues that we have seen and will see in future events, like Floyd, like Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence.”
“[T]hat’s what the ultimate goal is — to make sure that we’re providing those protections and safety measures into the future,” Breuer said.
The county received approximately $4.9 million in late August to purchase 25 properties in flood hazard areas, and Breuer said the total number of properties will eventually far exceed the initial 25 included in the state’s expedited acquisition project.
New UDOs will require developers to adapt
Pender County Tax Assessor Justian Pound said his office was not in the business of economic forecasts, but believes the proposed changes to development guidelines within floodplains are legitimate.
“We’re part of the damage assessment team that comes through after these storms, and I’ve seen how it affects property owners and homeowners, and it really does matter. Seeing homes that are flooded, even relatively newly constructed homes — it’s a legitimate thing to think about. And I think the county would be remiss not to think about it, especially in our area.”
Pound said it would be irresponsible for the county not to consider the new floodplains regulations just as it would be irresponsible to “let everybody build everything” or make restrictions overly stringent.
But microeconomic considerations such as the loss of property after a flood or the rights of developers, realtors, and investors to earn money should be balanced with macroeconomic factors, Pound argued. Although the region’s growth rate has slowed in recent years, he didn’t believe the new UDO changes would slow growth any further.
“By no means are we in crisis mode,” Pound said. “To say that a new UDO would have the ability to destroy [property values] — I would be skeptical [of] that statement … I think that regionally, there’s always going to be growth. On the micro-level, it probably won’t be in some areas where we thought we might have had access to in the past. Maybe that’s a good thing.”
Pound said new UDOs require investors to adapt, often in terms of density requirements. As an example, he said a subdivision that was once allowed 125 single-family homes may now only be allowed 75 homes. But by modifying plans to include a blend of single-family homes and multi-family units, he argued, the developer would “still get the same homes out of it.”
“It’s all predicated on how the UDO changes and how the investors are equipped to make that change,” Pound said. “I see a lot of adaptations, but I don’t know that I see a lot of [development] just completely going away.”
As long as the real estate market “stays fairly strong,” Pound said there is still plenty of open space in the county for savvy investors to develop in the future.
Misinformation and the lack of affordable housing
Breuer also responded to Logan’s claims that increasing land values would hamper the county’s goals of providing affordable housing.
“I think that plays into the value of property and the assumption of [the UDO changes] driving up the cost of land, which would, therefore, force the cost of housing to go up,” Breuer said. “But there are areas within our adopted comprehensive plan that support higher density development in key locations where infrastructure may be available or planned.”
Future developments near bypass interchanges, like areas in Rocky Point near Interstate 40, would support affordable housing due to proposed density allocations, according to Breuer.
Logan also said the county was “taking people’s property, and they are misinforming the public,” according to Star News.
But Bruer pointed to a website created to update residents on the UDO project as well as monthly updates that his office provides to the Planning Board, each with meeting minutes ultimately available to the public to read. There are also meeting records on the UDO website, and any residents may attend future public meetings concerning the new UDO.
Tuesday’s canceled meeting was scheduled to be the first public review of the new UDO changes, and the county said it will soon update the website with a new meeting time.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com or (970) 413-3815