County Commissioners Want More Study on Gift Lots
Should Moore County revise the gift lots section of subdivision regulations?
The topic was debated at length Monday afternoon at a meeting of the Moore County Board of Commissioners. No action was taken, but the board did instruct the planning staff to study the issue further and return with recommendations at a future meeting.
Arguments centered on legal and public welfare issues opposed to problems arising from bureaucratic red tape.
"Our rural people are just as important as people who buy lots in a subdivision," said Chairman David J. Cummings.
However, Commissioner Michael Holden expressed concern about misuse of the gift lot provision and said it would be "a serious mistake" to back down from subdivision regulations.
Gift lots are defined as property passed from parent owners to children and not subject to the same regulations applied to commercial developers. In 2003, the county amended its subdivision regulations to allow gift lots with limited restrictions.
More recently, questions have been raised about the difficulty these restrictions pose for some families, and Cummings and Vice Chairwoman Virginia Saunders asked Planning Director Andrea Surratt to give a presentation on the issues surrounding the gift lot issue.
Surratt told the board that the regulations were designed to balance private property rights with public interest. The regulations allow property owners to give land to their children but include such requirements as adequate access to the property. The regulations were also designed to protect future owners from acquiring land-locked property with no access to public roads.
Since August 2003, when the new regulations went into effect, the Moore County Planning Department has recorded 702 plats, including two Level 2 minor subdivisions, eight flag lots and 10 major subdivisions.
Subject to Restrictions
The regulations allow a parent to make a one-time gift of land to each child without going through the lengthy and involved subdivision process as long as the division is not deemed to be made for the purpose of resale or building development.
The regulations also provide for conveyance by will after the parent's death.
Recipients are no longer required to present their gift lot land divisions to the full Planning Board, but under certain conditions must present the details to the Subdivision Review Board.
The divided land parcels are subject to several restrictions, including the requirement that the new owner has adequate access to the property. That access must meet minimum state highway standards, must be wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles and must be adequately maintained.
Surratt reviewed exemptions allowed by state law and also raised questions about compliance with the Land-use Plan, preservation of the rural character of the county and loopholes that could allow abuse of the gift lot provision.
Legal provisions also require that any deed for such property must include access at least 30 feet wide. This is to protect future owners from buying land that does not have adequate access to public highways. Cemetery lots are also covered in the law.
Surratt cited examples whereby property has been illegally split, either by deed or map, and labeled as exempt.
'Nightmare for Some Folks'
N.C. Department of Transpor-tation engineers sometimes determine that access roads do not meet state highway standards for width, maintenance or driveway access.
To illustrate the road standard issue, Surratt displayed a series of photographs of rural driveways. She said that the state fire code requires roads wide enough and strong enough to accommodate fire protection apparatus.
Cummings questioned aspects of this provision and said that some of the existing firefighting equipment is already too heavy to cross some bridges maintained by NCDOT. He wondered why a private property owner should be required to maintain a driveway at standards higher than the state sets for its own bridges.
He said parents should be able to give or sell property to their children without being subject to such strict state standards.
"This has been a nightmare for folks in the county," Cummings said.
Cummings said he does not want to weaken the regulations but does not think it's realistic to expect people to pay $15,000 to pave a driveway, something so costly that it reduces the value of the gift of property.
"It has really caused some hardships," Cummings said. He added that all five commissioners have received their share of calls about this issue.
Holden said he was proud of the progress the county has made with his Land-use Plan, zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations in recent years. He expressed concern that some families could use the gift lot provision to avoid subdivision regulations by selling the property and then subdividing.
Commissioner Colin McKenzie expressed agreement with Holden.
Cummings said it was not his intention to weaken the regulations. Instead, he said the county needs to work out regulations that protect property owners and the community but do not pose so many obstacles for families.
"There has to be a happy medium," Cummings said, adding that he would like the planning staff to study the issue and recommend workable changes. "We're smart enough in Moore County to figure this out."
Commissioner Tim Lea said he too had received calls with the same questions Cummings mentioned. He wanted to know if the condition of an access road would affect the property owner's insurance.
Lea finally made a motion to ask the planning staff to research the issue further and to bring recommendations back to the board. Approval was unanimous.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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