HUNTERSVILLE – The effort to bring clustered residential subdivision provisions to the town zoning ordinance took another step in a long journey this week when the town planning staff unveiled its density recommendations.
But one Huntersville resident at the Feb. 17 Board of Commissioners meeting said the recommendations – one for conservation subdivisions in rural areas and the other for clustered-lot developments in transitional parts of town – were too dense.
And a Cornelius real estate broker and consultant contacted after the meeting said they might not be dense enough.
Huntersville – like other municipalities in the Charlotte area from Lancaster County, S.C., to Cornelius – has recently begun taking a look at more tightly designed subdivisions as undeveloped land becomes scarcer and costlier, market demand for smaller lots swells, and public support grows for environmentally friendly developments.
At the Feb. 17 meeting, Jack Simoneau, town planning director, and town planner Whitney Hodges recommended that developers working in rural areas of Huntersville’s planning jurisdiction be allowed to increase density to as much as 0.9 units per acre from 0.7 units per acre.
But it is not really quite as simple as that.
The current subdivision standards in the rural areas call for average lot sizes of 1 acre with 20 percent open space, which comes out to 0.7 units per acre, counting the open space, roads and other acreage left undeveloped.
The two rural-area options presented at the Feb. 17 meeting both establish formulas to award developers more density for more open space.
One of the options would allow developers to create lots as dense as 1.2 units per acre of the “adjusted tract acreage” – meaning the land area minus any “site contraints,” such as wetlands, swales and slopes – if the developer leaves 45 percent of the developable land open. That works out to about 0.88 units per “gross acre.” Gross means including the constrained areas.
The other option would arrive at a slightly higher 0.9 units per gross acre using a slightly different formula.
Even though the change from a minimum of 0.7 units per acre to 0.9 is not a lot, Hodges said after the meeting, the lots could be much smaller.
“Of course, you could still have 5-acre lots if you wanted to,” Hodges said.
In the transitional areas of town – between the farther-out rural districts and the “higher intensity” Interstate 77 corridor that runs through the middle of town, where there are no density restrictions – Simoneau and Hodges presented the commissioners with similar options with similar formulas.
Those options would increase allowable density to as much as 1.5 units per acre with 40 percent open space, up from 0.95 units per acre with 20 percent open space.
“I’m comfortable that these recommendations are appropriate,” Simoneau said after the meeting. “In five years, things might be different and it might be time to reconsider it.”
That was not the way John Probst, a Huntersville resident since 1986, saw it.
Probst, who said he pines for the days when Huntersville, home now to more than 60,000 people, was “a nice, quiet town of 3,500,” characterized the proposed changes as putting “the needs and economic desires of developers ahead of the desires of the tax-paying citizens.”
On the other hand, former Cornelius Gary Knox, a real estate broker who has campaigned in both towns on behalf of landowners for higher density standards, said he wasn’t sure the planning staff proposals go far enough.
“It’s a marginal increase, and possibly not even that if a 25-acre site has normal or above normal site constraints – possibly,” Knox said.
The clustered subdivision issue has been simmering for months in Huntersville as developers and landowners have asked the Board of Commissioners for exceptions to the Huntersville zoning ordinance.
One landowner, Alex Barnette, who owns farmland in a transitional area, and developer Bart Hopper, who wants to convert that land to a residential subdivision, late last year petitioned the commissioners to change the zoning code.
The commissioners, acting on the advice of the planning staff, decided to delay a decision on their request in order to also consider making similar changes in the code for the rural areas.
The proposed changes will come back before the Board of Commissioners for an up-or-down vote in a meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 3 in Huntersville Town Hall, 101 Huntersville-Concord Road.
For more on the proposed changes, go to huntersville.org, click on Departments, and follow the links to Planning and Proposed Text Amendments.