From West End to Cameron, Carthage to Aberdeen, you can find urban sprawl.
Once a phenomenon more pronounced in larger counties, urban sprawl has slowly been seeping into Moore County these last few years. Tract-home builders are turning up along two-lane “country” roads with pop-up subdivisions, offering pieces of the American dream.
It doesn’t take many of these communities to spring up before traffic starts to choke the roads. And once a sufficient number of rooftops are there, you start seeing the gas stations, the small strip centers offering dry cleaners and nail salons, and maybe a coffee place to serve these “transitioning” communities.
We’re not getting out ahead of urban sprawl, but Moore County planners are trying to impose some order to it or, at best, rein it all in a bit. County commissioners Tuesday night approved changes for subdivision development.
The rules are heavily criticized by the majority of home builders and Realtors. Such changes, they say, will deter development and make such projects more expensive, thus raising home prices.
But commissioners and other local leaders see a different perspective: carefully chosen developments that don’t overextend water and sewer, that preserve rural property and concentrate homes closer to existing services and businesses.
We can’t help but see the wisdom in all of that.
New Rules — And a Rush
Key provisions of the new rules: Most subdivisions with five or more lots will need public water and sewer. Right now, that minimum number is 20. Also, developers will need a “conditional use permit” for their subdivisions and get commissioners’ approval. And the new rules add provisions involving fire protection that, in effect, could make compliance difficult or expensive for developers.
The water and sewer provision alone is a huge change. Extending those services can cost millions of dollars, depending how far a line has to be run from where the existing service ends. Developers had been using septic tanks and wells for those homes. While cheaper, there are also environmental risks with that.
And requiring a conditional use permit? That will require a special type of “quasi-judicial” hearing in which both sides present evidence but cannot offer opinion. Those hearings are costlier for the applicants.
You won’t be surprised to learn that, seeing the writing on the wall, developers have rushed to submit subdivision plans for 1,019 new homes under the current rules, even if they might not get built for years.
No Need to Delay
Those in the home building and selling business had asked for more time to work with the county on these changes. “Do you want to grow as a county or keep it the way it is? You can find balance between the two, but the way you create this is to talk to the people who do this work,” said Warren Wakeland, executive officer for the Moore County Homebuilders Association.
But how much more time? Had the county delayed this another month, builders could have submitted plans for another 1,000 homes under old rules. And the commissioners were already on record with their support and paying greater attention to “smart growth” espoused in the county’s land-use plan.
According to that plan, smart growth is “preserving the rural character, protecting farmland, and directing growth to urban centers with existing densities, infrastructure, resources, and public services.”
Yup, sounds right to us. We appreciate the work that home builders and Realtors do in community building. Their work adds value to the tax base and our neighborhoods. But what’s the point if we develop willy-nilly? Again, good planning must drive development, not vice versa.