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Commissioners To Hold Public Hearing on Two Proposed Amendments To County Ordinances Tuesday

By Jesse Wood

June 17, 2014. The Watauga County Board of Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on two proposed amendments to Watauga County ordinances for Tuesday, June 17. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in the Watauga County Administration Building on West King Street and the hearings start at 6 p.m.

Planning Director Joe Furman described the proposed amendments to the sign ordinance and ordinance governing subdivisions and multi-unit structures “minor adjustments” in a memo to Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque.

Ordinance to Govern Subdivisions and Multi-Unit Structures

Watauga_county_NC_sealFurman wrote that the Ordinance to Govern Subdivisions and Multi-Unit Structures was amended in May 2012 to increase required road length from 18 to 20 feet “in order to be consistent” with state fire code.

However, the planning department has discovered several instances of subdivisions that originally received preliminary plat approval of 18-foot roads prior to the Great Recession. With the downturn in the economy, contractors of those developments never returned to the planning office for final plat approval – until now.

“The preliminary plats have long since expired, meaning the 20-foot requirement would be applicable when the developers seek preliminary plat renewal. It is impractical to require the additional two feet of roadway,” Furman wrote. “Relief can be provided through granting of a variance, which because of N.C. statute changes is now a more complicated and expensive process than was previously needed for this ordinance.”

Furman concluded that the proposed change would provide the “needed relief” minus the exhaustive variance process.

Below is the proposed addition to the Ordinance to Govern Subdivisions and Multi-Unit Structures:

In the case of roads which were approved and for which construction began prior to the adoption of the 20-foot width requirement on May 15, 2012, the Planning Board may allow 18-foot road width provided the Board determines the following. 

a) the subject road received a preliminary plat approval prior to May 15, 2012,
b) the road was substantially completed to the formerly-required 18-foot width,
c) it is impractical from an engineering or environmental perspective to increase the width to 20 feet. Examples include, but are not limited to: 1) underground utilities have been placed in the road right-of-way, 2) cut and fill slopes have been stabilized and additional grading would unnecessarily affect the slopes, 3) the subject road segment is the final segment of an existing road.

Sign Ordinance

The commissioners will also consider a recommendation from the Watauga County Planning Board to adjust the interval time for “on-premise electronic variable message signs” for businesses, churches and other operations. While electronic billboards aren’t allowed under the current ordinance, changeable, electronic and variable message signs are allowed under certain provisions.

Under the current ordinance, the signs message must remain in a fixed position for one-hour before changing.

“The Planning Board has been considering that provision and believes it is unreasonably long. Unfortunately, standards for such signs statewide and nationwide vary dramatically so there is no consistent standard to embrace. The national standard for highway billboards is that messages can change every 8 seconds,” Furman wrote in a memo to Geouque. “There is no national standard for these smaller on‐premise variable message signs. In N.C., standards for these types of signs range from allowing changes every eight seconds to eight times daily. After much consideration, the Planning Board is suggesting a 15 second change interval.”

For the commissioners to vote on the changes to the ordinance, a public hearing is required to be scheduled. See meeting packet for Tuesday here.