PENDER COUNTY — To increase efficiency in the development process for shovel-ready projects, Pender County is considering an amendment to its land ordinance at the request of a prominent developer in the area.
Trask Land Company Inc., currently building townhomes on the west side of U.S. 17 in Scotts Hill, made the inquiry earlier in the spring. It will go before the Pender County planning board Wednesday and if given the go-ahead would allow for clearing and grading permits to be issued prior to full zoning approval on a project.
Zoning approval is issued by county staff and considered the greenlight to begin construction.
“Our current process doesn’t allow for any site work to begin until either a preliminary plat or site development plan proposal is approved,” Pender County planning director Travis Henley explained.
“Approval” applies to non-county agencies as well, in terms of state and other needed permits, he added.
Trask Land Company, owned by Raiford Trask III, sent Henley a letter in March asking the county to consider allowing them to obtain an erosion control, clearing and grading permit, upon site plan approval but before state permits. The letter states “external permits” — including stormwater, erosion and sedimentation control as well as state water and sewer — were seven to eight months backlogged, with 30 or more projects in the queue.
According to N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, a standard review for a state stormwater permit should take 90 days.
Applicants would still have to meet all the county’s criteria for a site plan. Developers would also have to receive permits for erosion and sedimentation control from NCDEQ, and if relevant, provide a tree protection survey and mitigation plan.
No roadways, utility infrastructure or building permits will be allowed until final approval.
“This puts another checkpoint into the process and doesn’t supersede any requirement by any other outside agencies, nor lessen any of our current requirements,” Henley said.
The proposed change would essentially apply to projects that are almost complete and waiting on external permits.
“Projects that get to this point will ultimately be formally approved,” Henley said.
It would not apply in the context of rezoning requests, special use permits or master plans.
The text amendment application first came before the planning board last month but was tabled to clarify language. Since then, Pender County planning staff and Trask Land Company have collaborated to include a condition requiring tree mitigation requirements.
While the notion of requiring tree mitigation is not new to the county’s development guidelines, the revised language more directly stated that the mitigation requirements ran with the land, according to Henley.
If the project does not move forward after approval, and clearing and grading has taken place, the landowner will be required to pay for and implement a tree mitigation plan to replant appropriate vegetation.
Henley said landowners would be subject to $100-a-day in fines if they failed to do so and additional enforcement actions could be taken, such as permit revocation or criminal penalties in severe situations.
In the application, the planning staff is recommending the approval of the text amendment, citing consistency with the Pender 2.0 Comprehensive Land Use Plan: “The county supports an efficient, transparent and predictable development review and approval process. There are no conflicting policies within the Pender 2.0 Comprehensive Land Use Plan.”
The planning board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Pender County Public Assembly Room, located at 805 S. Walker St. in Burgaw.
If approved by the board, the request will preliminarily go before county commissioners Aug. 15, who have the ultimate vote to enact the change.
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