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From peas to PUDs

WINDSOR – In the past, it was all about peas, as in peanuts.

Now, it’s all about PUDs, as in Planned Unit Developments.

As Bertie County eyes significant growth along the shores of the Chowan River and Albemarle Sound, how to control that type of residential and commercial expansion has become a hot topic of discussion between county officials, citizens and developers.

That discussion was heard here Monday night where the Bertie Board of Commissioners set aside a public hearing during their regularly scheduled meeting in regards to amending the county’s Subdivision Ordinance to allow for PUDs.

On Oct. 12, the Bertie Planning Board held a special called meeting to review revisions to the PUD requirements. From that meeting, the Planning Board members devised Article VII of the county’s Subdivision Ordinance and forwarded a draft of those provisions to the commissioners for their approval.

For clarification, a PUD is an area comprised of group or clustered residential units that may or may not be located adjacent to a commercial or retail area. They can consist of multi-family or single-family attached dwellings.

A few of the highlights of the Planning Board’s draft of PUD provisions includes minimum parcel size (10 acres), maximum height (55’), density (4.35 units per acre), public water access, buffer zones, roads, sidewalks, signage, parking requirements and green space.

One county citizen, John Davis of Merry Hill, questioned the PUD provisions, especially in regards to density and water access.

“I think we need to do more research on this,” Davis said. “We may need some outside help in determining the high end of the density numbers and in the areas of access to public waters.”

Davis referred to the 4.35 units per acre provision, saying that was only an average.

“Let’s say, for example, that there is a 1,000-acre PUD,” he said. “Some areas will have higher densities of residential units. Other areas, as required, will be open space. But as long as they all average out to 4.35 units per acre, then we’re within the provisions as written in the ordinance amendment.”

Davis suggested placing a restriction on the upper end of the density levels. He also addressed the water access issue, saying that it was left, “too open.”

That particular portion of the ordinance amendment reads as follows:

“For PUDs where property being subdivided abuts public trust or estuarine waters, adequate areas suitable for access to those waters by the general public shall be established. Parking areas may be required by the Planning Board. The Planning Board will consider the amount of shoreline available to determine the most suitable type of access. The design of the development will also be considered in making a determination on water access.”

Davis admitted he attended the Oct. 12 Planning Board meeting. To that end, Board of Commissioners Chairman Rick Harrell inquired of Bertie Planning Director Traci White of what were the Planning Board’s thoughts on Davis’ ideas.

“We had a friendly disagreement on the matter,” White replied.

While Davis had issues with the draft amendment, Michael Flannelly said he was happy with the Planning Board’s effort to devise fair and equal provisions to the ordinance amendment.

“I’m in agreement with the provisions suggested by the Planning Board,” said Flannelly, who works with Forest City Land Group, a company proposing to construct Bal Gra Harbor on the banks of the Chowan River.

Flannelly continued, “I think he (Davis) wants to delay things. He wants to drag this out.”

Upon completion, Bal Gra Harbor (located just south of the Eden House Bridge) will consist of 1,500 acres. Plans call for a deep water marina, town center, with shops and restaurants, and a variety of home options. It will also offer a beach club, several parks and a community center with pool.

In response, Davis said he was simply addressing the high end of the density levels.

“I don’t want to limit Mr. Flannelly or Forest City,” Davis noted. “I’m not talking about a delay that will take months to address.”

An issue then surfaced concerning fire protection to such large areas of single and multi-story residential developments as well as retail outlets.

Commissioner Wallace Perry, who was celebrating his birthday on Monday, referred that issue to Robert “Wood” Perry, Chief of the Merry Hill-Midway Fire Department.

“None of the departments in the county are equipped to fight a fire in a three-story structure,” Perry said. “Our question is when will this equipment be required and who will pay for it?”

Colerain Fire Chief Milton Felton said there are other planned developments in the county and that most, if not all, are located outside the boundaries of a fire district.

“A fire substation of Merry Hill-Midway may help with that matter, but then that places a financial burden on a small, rural fire department,” Felton said. “This is something we really need to look at.”

At the close of the public hearing, County Manager Zee Lamb recommended delaying the vote on the ordinance amendment until the next commissioners meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Nov. 13. Lamb said he had commitments from two individuals that could offer assistance during that meeting on the PUD ordinance.

In the meantime, the Bertie Planning Board has scheduled an Oct. 26 meeting. However, Lloyd Smith, attorney to the board of commissioners, asked for that meeting to be delayed to the week of Oct. 30 in order for him to attend to address some of the issues he has with the wording of the proposed PUD ordinance.