Clarity sought on 10% land use rule | national news

WORTON – There was a lot of passion and even more questions at the county commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday during a presentation on the proposed amendment to the text to remove the limit on the maximum amount of land available for separate lots in the agricultural zoning district, otherwise known as the 10% rule.

Under the county’s current zoning code, land in the Agricultural Zoning District, or AZD, is subject to the 10% rule, meaning only 10% of the land can be subdivided into separate lots.

For land to be subdivided, it must meet certain requirements, said Kent County Deputy Planning and Zoning Director Carla Gerber.

First, lots must meet the basic density requirement for AZD. Density is basically the number of lots that can be subdivided from the original land parcel or parent parcel.

Second, the minimum lot size should be 0.75 acres to ensure there is enough land for a house, septic tank, open space, and garage or shed.

The third and final rule is the 10% rule, which limits the development of new plots to 10% of the parent plot.

There are exceptions to the rule when the new lot and parent parcel are each at least 100 acres.

Using a hypothetical 100-acre farm, Gerber explained that the farm would have three development rights based on the density requirement for the AZD of one dwelling unit per 30 acres. One of the development rights would remain with the parent parcel while the other two could be used to subdivide new lots.

The maximum lot size could not exceed 10 acres in total, or 10% of the parent parcel.

“It could be 1 (acre) and 9 (acres), 5 (acres) and 5 (acres), 4 (acres) and 6 (acres) and these development rights should not be used at the same time so an owner land can subdivide a lot today and he can come back next year and subdivide his second lot,” she said.

Gerber said if you had a farm of 200 acres or more, if you split it where everything stays on 100 acres, the 10% rule doesn’t apply.

For example, if you had a 400-acre farm, you could divide it into four 100-acre farms. This land could still be developed if it met the density requirement for AZD, but the 10% rule would apply because the parent parcel would be 100 acres.

“It all depends on the size of the farm,” she said. “You can do subdivisions where the 10% rule doesn’t apply as long as it’s all on 100 acres.”

Commission Chairman Tom Mason asked if there was a way for the county to require subdivided land from a parent parcel in the AZD to remain zoned agricultural.

“This land needs to stay in the ag… that’s what we’re saying and that’s where I think we need to rephrase our text amendment” where it’s clear, he said.

Gerber explained that zoning regulations change and the state assessment office determines how land is assessed based on land use.

“We cannot impose an agricultural assessment on a property,” she said.

Mason asked what was the need to adopt the 10% rule.

Gerber said she understood the Land Use Ordinance Task Force in 1989 was concerned that the 30-acre large lot areas would be “detrimental to the agricultural industry. It was perceived that these plots are more difficult to cultivate, possibly leading to a reduction in agricultural support services. … There should be a way to reduce the average available square footage associated with subdivisions.

Mason said he was concerned about the impact the 10% rule could have on economic development in the county and that it could limit what people do with their land.

“There are other people still trying to live the American dream. That’s why the pioneers went out west and staked 160 acres, because they wanted a piece of America. Not everyone can’t afford a 300 acre farm, but maybe they can afford a 20 or 30 acre farm and they want to be able to raise cattle, grow crops, that’s part of America and we’re saying you can’t do that,” he said. “We have to recognize that there are different types of agriculture.”

Commissioner Bob Jacob said that when he graduated from high school, there were a lot of farms in the area with big families living there, but “now you’ve taken all these development rights from all these farms and basically you have empty farms with no families on them. …So now we have these huge farms that you can’t separate and you can’t sell, and 90% of the farm will still be farming, or somewhere close to it, and the farms are empty and we’re collecting no revenue of these.

Even though the public was not allowed to testify during the presentation, members of the audience spoke up expressing their concerns about the 10% rule. The public was limited to submitting written questions to the commissioners, who then addressed them to the staff.

Fifteen questions about the rule and its impact on the county were submitted for answers.

After thanking Gerber and the staff of the planning and zoning office for their work in preparing the presentation, Commissioner Ron Fithian expressed concern about the time spent discussing the 10% rule.

Fithian said: “Regardless of this amendment to the text, I’m disturbed that we’ve spent so much time during the full rezoning (process), but it’s pretty much sabotaged and it’s taken on a life of its own and we’re seeing the effects this evening.

“And then we have areas like in the Millington area where there are 700 to 900 acres that people want to do something with, and we made that a priority funding area and we’re not doing anything with it. That bothers me. We should work a lot on that. I hate to see anything take up so much of our time because we have a lot of important things to discuss and try to do this complete rezoning. We’re going to have a hard time doing it because of a couple of issues, this one being one,” he said.

Gerber said anyone with questions about the proposed text change or the 10% rule can come to the Planning and Zoning office at 400 High St. and the staff would be happy to answer questions.

Also on Tuesday, County Administrator Shelley Heller brought two bills before the state Legislature to the attention of commissioners. Senate Bill 1240/Bill 986 deals with additional funding for public schools in Kent County so the county can afford to meet its Kirwin Commission obligations, she said.

Heller encouraged commissioners to testify and write letters in support of the proposed bills, as well as school board members and the public.

“We need all the support we can get,” she said.

The second set of bills, HB 1187/SB 726, relate to the restoration of highway user funds to counties.

During the economic recession of 2008-2009, the state took highway user funds from counties to fill gaps in its budget.

Those bills would return those funds to the counties, Heller said.

The commissioners agreed to testify and write letters of support for both bills.

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