A guide to the county's Compact Communities Ordinance

Posted 8/25/21

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners’ lengthy Aug. 16 meeting included three contentious public hearings, which included discussion and questions about rezoning requests and compact communities.

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A guide to the county's Compact Communities Ordinance

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The Chatham County Board of Commissioners’ lengthy Aug. 16 meeting included three contentious public hearings, which included discussion and questions about rezoning requests and compact communities.

What is the county’s compact communities ordinance?

At prior board meetings, commissioners discussed the possibility of repealing or changing its compact communities ordinance, which was created in 2004. In that ordinance, a compact community is defined as “a compact development with a mixed-use village center” that meets all the other conditions specified in the ordinance.

“The CCO was adopted in 2004 to address Briar Chapel,” County Planning Director Jason Sullivan told the News + Record, “and certain sections are outdated based on other regulations that have been adopted in the intervening years.”

For example, the stormwater and riparian buffer provisions in the ordinance are no longer applicable because of other ordinances adopted or amended since 2004. Additionally, Sullivan said the CCO was designed for projects “with a bigger footprint” and developers of smaller projects submitting applications under the CCO are requesting waivers of the standards due to site constraints.

“It is lengthy but does explain all the reasons the Chatham County Board of Commissioners adopted the CCO in 2004,” Sullivan said of the purposed section. “I think the takeaway from this section is that the regulations in the ordinance are intended to implement all these objectives and are not intended to be options on a menu.”

The full list of purposes outlined in the ordinance can be seen in the adjacent box. The top three reasons listed include helping implement the Chatham County Land Conservation and Development Plan, protecting Chatham’s “rural character by adequately buffering compact communities from neighboring properties and roadways” and promoting new communities that support mixed-use development.

The CCO is restricted within a small area of the county, Sullivan said, and it allows up to two dwelling units per gross acre of land — the only regulation that allows a higher density.

“Otherwise, development densities range from one dwelling unit per acre to one dwelling unit per five acres,” he said.

At the board’s July 19 meeting, Commissioner Diana Hales mentioned the Unified Development Ordinance being developed by the county, a document that outlines traditional zoning and subdivision regulations along with other desired city regulations such as design guidelines and water management.

“No matter how much we want to crunch it, it’s two years out,” she said of the UDO. “So in the meantime, more developments are coming through.”

At that meeting, Commissioner Karen Howard also expressed interest in potentially repealing the compact communities ordinance, if it was legal to do so. County Attorney Bob Hagemann said the board could look into a repeal, but the standards of approval set in the ordinance would still apply to applicants who began the application process before it was removed.

“I think we need an option for high density development in those areas of the county that the comp plan says we want higher density development right now,” Chairperson Mike Dasher said at the time. “We have a compact community ordinance and that is not a great vehicle for what I think this board wants to see there, but there is no other vehicle for an applicant to use.”

Sullivan said the UDO is intended to “update, modernize and integrate” existing regulations into a single user-friendly document. It will also help implement the future vision of the county laid out in the 2017 Plan Chatham document (www.chathamcountync.gov/comprehensiveplan).

The Land Use Action Items recommends creating a set of mixed-use zoning districts that can apply throughout the county, and the CCO is one of several ordinances referenced in Plan Chatham as an example of a starting point for the creation of such new districts.

“Two consulting firms have been selected to draft the UDO,” Sullivan said. “Contract negotiations are being finalized, and we hope to have it underway in the next few weeks.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.


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