Questions & Answers: Proposed Changes to Buffer Rules, Slated for a January 16 2018 BOCS Vote
Buffers increase property values, improve our air and drinking water, create wildlife corridors, help keep us healthy and happy, and separate dissimilar uses. Buffers attract home buyers and businesses.
To developers, buffers are “unusable space” that limits the amount of land available for impervious surfaces such as parking lots and buildings. Beware. The current regulations to provide buffers are under attack.
Q: What problem are we trying to solve?
A: According to the Commercial Development Committee, developers with interests in "small," by-right commercial parcels – three acres or less – are having difficulty getting bank funding because of uncertainty about spatial needs, particularly those for required buffers and stormwater. (Note there are no statistics or County review of recent development to verify this claim.)
Q: Who currently reviews and approves buffer waivers and modifications?
A: Development Services. However, the county would be best served if buffer requests were reviewed by staff expert in planning and landscaping, i.e., the Planning Office and Public Works.
Q: Can a developer currently modify or waive DCSM standards for buffers?
A: Yes. DCSM standards for buffer widths and plant content can be modified or waived by staff, sometimes with conditions, during the site plan process.
Q: Can a developer currently get a variance for Zoning Ordinance standards?
A: Yes. Zoning Ordinance standards, which preclude utility and other easements, can be waived by the BOCS as part of a rezoning or Special Use Permit approval. Also, the Board of Zoning Appeals has broad authority to grant variances to the Zoning Ordinance.
Q: Can utilities, stormwater, and other infrastructure currently be located in the buffer?
A: No. The primary intent of the buffer is to separate uses both visually and spatially. If these additional elements were allowed in the buffer, the separation would no longer be achieved because the buffer would contain the development features the buffer was intended to buffer.
Q: Must utilities be co-located in buffers to address spatial problems on small commercial properties?
A: No. Buffers widths can currently be modified or waived (shifted or shrunk) to accommodate the placement of parallel utilities adjacent to, outside of the buffer.
Q: How many properties fit this criteria – three acres or less with existing commercial zoning?
A: According to Planning staff, approximately 200 parcels, later revised to approximately 400 parcels with no data provided.
Q: Where are these small parcels with existing commercial zoning? What percentage are in the Route 1 corridor? Can the Planning Office provide a list and map of these parcels?
A: Unknown. The Planning Office says the map showing the parcels is too big to make available to the public.
Q: What criteria would be used to assess and grant early waivers?
Q: In order to respond to developers stated need for added certainty and predictability on small commercially zoned properties, can this problem be solved by adopting a policy that prioritizes the review of waivers for small properties at the start of the site plan process?