Planners table action on UDO error

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Developers will have a chance to offer input toward correcting an error in the Unified Development Ordinance that is resulting in dozens of additional houses being built in Suffolk.

After hearing comments from developers, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to table any action to change a flaw in the formula used to calculate incentive zoning density bonuses for cluster-housing subdivisions. The bonus program encourages cluster-housing developers to give up extra property for open space in exchange for letting them build extra houses in the development.

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Bob Goumas, principal planner for the city, said staff members processing density-bonus applications first suspected the error.

&uot;We saw too much of a bonus being awarded in comparison to the amount of open space being given,&uot; Goumas said. &uot;As suspected, we found the number in the current formula was not correct.&uot;

The outside consultant who penned that part of the document confirmed it was wrong, he said.

The formula that was supposed to be in the UDO would have rewarded developers with density bonuses of 1/4 and 1/10 units respectively for each acre of active and passive open space provided, Goumas said.

In other words, say a developer planning to build a 100-house cluster subdivision in a rural/residential-zoned district opts to put up an additional 15 acres of space. Five acres are active open space; the remaining 10 acres, passive.

Under the policy that was supposed to be in the UDO, the developer would have been granted an additional 2.5 houses for giving up the 15 acres.

As calculated under the current formula, that developer would have the right to build an additional 225 houses. However, a second policy that caps density bonuses from 30 percent to 40 percent of the total number of planned dwellings, would have prevented that from happening.

Two cluster-developments have already benefited from the UDO’s error.

Governor’s Pointe, a subdivision planned for the Crittenden/Bridge Road area, was initially to be a 108-home development, said Scott Mills, planning director. Thanks to a 33 percent bonus density increase, the developer is building 141 homes.

Another, Bobwhite Landing, which was planned as a 97-home cluster subdivision for the Shoulders Hill Road area, will have 134 homes, Mills said. That developer received a 35 percent density bonus incentive.

Using the intended formula would have resulted in &uot;significantly&uot; fewer houses in the subdivisions, he said.

Two other cluster-housing developers have applied for density bonuses, Mills added. Any developer who files before the UDO ordinance is formally amended will qualify for the current cluster incentives.

Commissioner Jim Shirley was among several who expressed concern over how this happened.

&uot;Am I wrong or is this not a significant difference in the number of houses?&uot; Shirley said. &uot;It begs the question of how this could have happened.&uot;

Commissioner Stan Perry questioned whether the change would be so dramatic that it would keep developers from participating in the bonus program.

&uot;I’m wondering if developers will be willing to give up 15 acres of land for two dwellings,&uot; Perry said.

Claudia Cotton, spokeswoman for the Tidewater Builders Association that represents 970 developers and builders in Hampton Roads, agreed. She urged the planning commission to wait before passing the change and to seek input from the TBA

and other industry-related businesses.

&uot;I was somewhat alarmed to see the drastic difference as mentioned by Bob Goumas,&uot; said Cotton. &uot;…From our perspective, the incentive is effectively thrown away.&uot;

It also contradicts the goal of the density bonuses of getting more open space, she added.