Column – City must begin following Unified Development Ordinance

Published 6:24 pm Friday, March 3, 2023

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Zoning Applications recommended by the Planning Commission Staff are not adhering to the City of Suffolk Unified Development Ordinance and are being recommended and approved contrary to law. 

The purpose and intent of UDO include implementing the policies of the Comprehensive Plan to ensure that public facilities required to support zoning changes and new development, such as central water, stormwater management, streets, schools, parks/open spaces and trails, meet or exceed the level of service standards established by the Comprehensive Plan concurrent to the impact of the development. Proper application of the UDO ensures that no rezonings, site plans or subdivision plats are approved if the action would cause a reduction in the level of service for any public facilities below the adopted level of service. Advancement of Capacity for Public Facilities needed to avoid a deterioration in the adopted levels of service shall not be accepted by the city unless the proposed public facility is a “planned” capital improvement included within the Capital Improvements Program of the applicable service provider.

In considering an application, the planning department director must study the demand on existing public facilities in the impact areas, including existing and approved developments, committed and pipeline development and the availability of existing capacity to accommodate the proposed development. If capacity is not currently available, the director must consider information for planned capacity and the year in which such planned capacity is projected to be available. If the director determines that any public facility will not be available concurrent with the impacts of the proposed residential development at the adopted level of service based upon existing public facilities, the UDO states that the director shall make a negative determination in the staff report. 

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Upon receipt of the Planning Commission recommendation, City Council may: Make a positive determination, a negative determination, or a positive determination subject to one or more of the following conditions:

  1. Deferral of further development orders until all public facilities are available and adequate if public facilities in the impact area are not adequate to meet the Adopted Level of Service for the entire development proposal, consistent with the requirements of §31-601 Subsection (g)(3); or
  2. The approval of a portion of the proposed development and the deferral of further development orders for the balance of the development as set forth above.
  3. Reduction of the density or intensity of the proposed development to a level consistent with the available capacity of public facilities; or
  4. Provision of the public facilities necessary to provide capacity to accommodate the proposed development at the Adopted Level of Service and at the time that the impact of the development will occur.

In September 2022, the Planning Commission Staff recommended Rezoning Application RZN2022-007, Ellis Farm on Manning Road, for approval even though two impacted schools currently exceed capacity with forecasts for higher enrollment numbers over the next seven years. Kilby Shores and Forest Glen are overcrowded and use mobile classrooms for overflow. This approval is contrary to the UDO because Kilby Shores is at 104% utilization. With the projected growth through 2024 and additional students projected to be generated from the Ellis Farm development, the utilization will increase by 10.5% to 114.5%. In addition, the capacity does not consider the recent approvals for other developments in the pipeline.

Although the staff report contained information on school impact, it lacked complete information justifying the demand on existing public facilities in the impact areas from existing and approved development to include committed and pipeline development; the availability of existing capacity to accommodate the proposed development; and whether existing capacity is available or indicating increased planned capacity and the year in which such planned capacity is projected to be available as required under §31-601. Instead, the staff report merely suggested that the developer had proffered funds to accommodate the generated students in existing facilities which are clearly over capacity.

Considering the requirements under §31-601, the staff report was incomplete. The Planning Commission staff should not have recommended the Ellis Farm application for approval due to not meeting the threshold for available capacity concurrent with the impacts of the proposed development nor having the school improvements or replacements as Planned Capital Improvements within the next five years. To adhere to the UDO, City Council must deny this and similar applications that do not meet the criteria set forth by §31-601, whether or not the Planning Commission staff report recommends approval.

Violations of the UDO can lead to penalties and criminal sanctions. For example, according to §31-310, except as otherwise provided in the UDO, “any development or use initiated after the adoption of this ordinance, or maintained in violation of the ordinance, which is not in compliance with the provisions of this ordinance is prohibited and shall be referred to herein as an “unlawful” development or use.” The UDO further states that “[v]iolating, causing, or permitting the violation of, or otherwise disregarding any of the provisions of this Ordinance by any person, firm or corporation, whether as principal, agent, owner, lessee, employee or other similar position, shall be unlawful…” and is subject to criminal sanctions.

I respectfully ask that the city follow the UDO in its decision-making. Suffolk citizens deserve a rezoning process that adheres to the current codified ordinances.

Dr. Sherri L. Johnston serves as executive director of