Council evaluates developer extensions

May 3, 2012

By Christina Lords

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Ordinance could move short plat process from four plats up to nine

The Newcastle City Council approved changes to an ordinance that aims to offer extensions to developers faced with idle projects during the downturn in the economy.

The changes would include changing requirements that would expand the number of lots a short plat process could be used for from four plats to nine.

A plat is the subdivision of a larger parcel of land into smaller separate lots that are intended for individual ownership.

The move, allowed under state law, doesn’t change the area’s zoning or density that is allowed there. It will, however, change how the development would move through the city’s administrative process, eliminating a public hearing before a hearing examiner with time for public input. A long plat also goes before the City Council for preliminary approval.

Community Development Director Steve Roberge said residents will still be able to send in public comments via email or letter and a public meeting could still be held if the development merited further discussion.

“It’s about time and how much time it takes to move through the process,” he said. “Short plats are much quicker. They are subject to the same infrastructure requirements of a full plat. It’s just a quicker process.”

Public notice for the short plat is still the same, including notice given to neighbors near the development site.

The change from four plats to nine was an idea initially discussed by the council at its annual retreat in February as a way the city can increase revenue. The developer stimulus work plan is an extension of temporary relief measures that were originally adopted in 2010 in reaction to the recession, which has left most developments dormant, according to the city.

“There’s not too many areas left in the city for long plats anyway, and I think some of the infill is going to be some of these short plats,” Councilman John Dulcich said. “I think this is a creative way to do that, and there are several other cities that use nine.”

Changes proposed by the city’s Community Development Department to the council also include:

  •  temporarily offering extensions for preliminary plats set to expire between Jan. 1, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2013,
  •  allowing for a temporary deferral of city impact fees to the developer’s building’s final inspection,
  • and temporarily offering an additional one-year extension to approved Engineering Review Permits — which allow a developer to proceed with improvements such as street or infrastructure improvements — that will expire this year.

The council disagreed with city staff members that builders should be given a temporary deferral of city impact fees, which offset a development’s impacts on public infrastructure and provide for public services.

“If they can’t afford their impact fees, they shouldn’t be doing the project,” Dulcich said.

Roberge said the changes reflect the needs of the development atmosphere in the city right now.

“People aren’t really coming in right now for new projects,” he said. “They’re looking at old projects. They’re picking up the old stuff because they can pick it up for less than they can go out and do it.”

The city’s Planning Commission recommended the changes at its March 21 meeting.

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