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Article 63
Published: Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 2:14 p.m.
Update to county zoning ordinances raises concerns on cost

By David Bodenheimer
The Dispatch

The Davidson County Planning and Zoning Department with the assistance of the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments will work to evaluate and update a comprehensive zoning ordinance for the county.

The Davidson County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with PTCOG on a 5-2 vote Tuesday night, but not before some questions about the cost of the work.

Guy Cornman, county planning and zoning director, presented the request to the commissioners.
“It’s been over 25 years since Davidson County has completed a major overhaul of the zoning ordinance,” Cornman told the board.

Cornman stressed the importance of having a modern, up-to-date ordinance for the county that would clearly define land use.

“It’s critical for the county to have an ordinance that puts teeth into the policies to help shape the physical development of the county,” Cornman said.

PTCOG would serve as a third-party consultant that Cornman said would better help planning and zoning employees identify what work needs to be done.

PTCOG is an entity of government between the state and federal level that offers technical assistance to local governments. Since counties in the state contribute funds to the organization, PTCOG offers assistance at a lower cost.

Cornman said PTCOG would bring expertise to the county on a regional and state level about what has worked best in other communities across the state in similar situations.

“We would have to do research on our own by contacting counties across the state to try and gather that information,” he said. “The PTCOG already has that knowledge and would be able to call on it much easier.”

But an initial contract that was not to exceed $50,000, with no real details about the work, made commissioners leery of accepting it.

Cornman told the board that the cost could be significantly less, possibly in the $25,000 to $30,000 range. Commissioners were told the cost estimate includes the professional services of PTCOG staff, travel and administration.

Commissioner Fred McClure criticized the proposal saying there was no structure, and a more approximate figure for the cost of the work was appropriate.

“I’ve been in business for a long time, and anytime that I give somebody a blank check they tend to use most of it,” McClure said. “There is no structure here to say exactly what is going to take place.”

Cornman and Hannah Cockburn, planning program manager for PTCOG, said the proposal cost was purposely left broad so they would not limit themselves in work on the project.

“We did not want to handcuff ourselves to a specific number (cost) because we just really don’t know exactly what we’re going to get into,” said Cornman of the contract.

The timeline on the work states that between now and July, county planing and zoning employees would work with PTCOG conducting research and ordinance preparation. From July to August, the groups would review and send a presentation to the board of commissioners for adoption. The goal is for a new zoning ordinance plan to be adopted by the end of the summer.

“Fifty thousand is the max,” Cockburn said. “Technical services are always charged to the local government based on our costs. We will charge you what our actual incurred costs are. Fifty thousand sounded like a nice round number.”

Commissioner Larry Potts asked Cockburn how to justify granting the organization $50,000 when it could not provide full details on how the money would be spent.

“I’ve got to explain some abstract theory on why we’re going to spend $50,000,” Potts said.
During the debate, it was clear that the commissioners were not opposed to following through on a new ordinance plan.

“It’s going to have to be a joint effort,” said Commissioner Sam Watford of the communication between the board and planning and zoning department.

After two motions to limit the work expenditures to $25,000 and $30,000 did not carry, the board voted 5-2 to limit the scope of the work to $40,000. McClure and Potts provided the two opposing votes.

Work on the new zoning ordinance will begin this month.

David Bodenheimer can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or david.bodenheimer@the-dispatch.com.

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