Big changes could be coming to the way Allen County grows.
The sweeping series of proposals, which are being outlined this week in meetings with developers, government officials and members of the public, is intended to shorten the time it takes to approve a project by reducing the need for public hearings and adding certainty to the process, according to Kim Bowman, executive director of the Allen County Department of Planning Services.
The proposals, developed in conjunction with Colorado-based Clarion Associates as part of a $1.4 million city-county initiative, would also reduce the speed at which individual “metes and bounds” parcels in rural areas are developed and impose new guidelines to ensure developers complete subdivisions as promised.
Currently, public hearings are required not only for proposed changes to the zoning that determines how land can be used but also on plans for how specific projects will look – a process that can take months and produce added cost and uncertainty.
Under the new proposal, a series of “permitted uses” would be established in agricultural, residential and other zoning categories, meaning such uses would be permitted without a public hearing if they followed guidelines for design, landscaping and other factors. Hearings would still be required for changes in zoning or when seeking a waiver from those guidelines, Bowman said.
Bowman said she hopes neighborhood associations would work with her department to keep residents informed of projects that do not require a hearing.
The proposals would also continue to restrict “metes and bounds” residential development, which was the object of the 2007 proposal that led to the so-called “minor plat” ordinance.
Alarmed that “metes and bounds” projects had resulted in the development of 18,000 acres in the previous 11 years with little oversight from planners, the ordinance allowed as many as six lots to be developed as a “minor plat” subject to fewer regulations than traditional subdivisions. At the same time, it slowed the degree to which large tracts of land could be broken up for development as individual residential lots.
Under the proposal, however, a parcel of less than 20 acres could be separated from a larger tract once every 36 months, up from the current 12-month waiting period.
Don Elliott, Clarion director, said slowing metes-and-bounds growth is important because scattered homes can impede planned developments, driving up the cost of public services. Clarion, which is being paid about $248,000 for its services, as been involved in development of about 130 development codes nationwide.
The guidelines would also address developers' failure to complete streets, sidewalks and other features of residential areas in a timely manner. In 2009, for example, developers of at least 35 projects had missed the 18-month completion deadline.
The proposal would require developers to install required improvements before permits are issued, until 60 percent of lots are developed. After that, all remaining infrastructure must be completed before additional permits are issued or the developer could post a bond that could pay for the improvements if necessary.
“We think this is pro-development because it does not require a bond (up front),” Elliott said.
This week's meetings, including a public hearing Wednesday evening, could yield suggestions that result in changes to the proposals, which will also eliminate differences between city and county ordinances when possible. A final proposal could be complete by June.