Building moratorium is extended

April 13, 2005|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A frustrated board of Washington County Commissioners voted Tuesday to extend a ban on major rural residential growth for six months effective immediately, after refusing to discuss a staff proposal that would have barred approval of new residential lots outright for a year.

Tuesday's 3-2 vote was the fourth time the commissioners extended the building moratorium, which originally was approved in October 2002 and was supposed to last for up to a year. The ban applies to rural subdivisions of six lots or more.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps supported the ban. Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson voted against it.


The majority of the commissioners said their only choice was to approve the extension as they continue to struggle with how to deal with a growing county.

The commissioners have not yet decided on other options to control growth, such as the much-debated rural area rezoning. The rezoning, also known as downzoning, would limit the number of lots allowed in rural areas and affect approximately 250,000 acres.

The commissioners also are considering tightening the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) to limit growth.

In the meantime, the county's public schools are seeing rising enrollments. All but two of the county's 27 elementary schools are at 85 percent capacity or higher, the commissioners have said. Some schools are at more than 100 percent capacity, they said.

Munson, who became agitated over the discussion Tuesday to extend the moratorium, said he didn't care whether students had to sit in overcrowded classrooms.

He said prolonging the moratorium wouldn't be fair to county residents, and that the commissioners should let it expire and not put any restrictions on developers. Munson blamed the growing school enrollments on the Board of Education.

"Where are you going to put the kids, John?" if the moratorium were allowed to expire, Kercheval asked.

"I don't give a damn," Munson responded. "Let them redistrict them. They left theirselves get in this mess. They should've been looking at this years ago ... so let them dig them theirselves out."

"That's what I thought," Kercheval said.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps, who took issue with Munson's statements, said the School Board has been trying to deal with growing enrollments.

Nipps, a former School Board member, said years ago the School Board asked the commissioners for more school construction money but was turned down repeatedly.

"We have to partner with the Board of Education to try to remedy (this situation)" Nipps said. "The people who are living in this county ... are entitled to decent facilities."

"To say open the flood gates and let anything happen anywhere ... I think would be irresponsible," Nipps said.

Nipps, however, said Tuesday was the last time she wanted to discuss extending the moratorium.

"I am so tired of this," she said. "I really am, and I would like to see the five of us move along ... We've got to get this thing wrapped up."

Wivell said he also was tired of discussing the moratorium and thought the county's APFO was a better way to limit growth. The APFO helps ensure that schools, roads and other infrastructure can appropriately handle increasing development.

In areas where schools are full, Wivell said the commissioners should deny the issuance of building permits - an ability they have under the APFO.

"If schools are at capacity, then we have to stop issuing building permits in those districts," Wivell said. "We have the authority to do it now."

Planning staff recommended that the commissioners not allow the final approval of any new residential lots for a year to curb school growth.

But Snook said the commissioners would not discuss that proposal.

After the meeting, Debi Turpin, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Washington County, said she wasn't thrilled with the moratorium's extension, but that it was better than what was proposed by the planning staff.

She said the moratorium has contributed to rising real estate prices in the county, because it's limiting the amount of land available for building while the demand for homes is going up.

"It's frustrating for everybody ... the commissioners, the development community and the builders," Turpin said.

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