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Commissioners, planning board discuss potential building moratorium

Staff Writer

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners met with the county planning board on Monday evening to discuss the specifics of a proposed moratorium on residential development in East Lincoln.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 27 at the James W. Warren Citizens Center.

“Once we take in the public comments it will be up to the board of commissioners to define the scope of what we’re trying to accomplish through this moratorium, if in fact they still want to go down that road,” County Manager Kelly Atkins said. “Right now, we don’t know if it’s going to be focused on sewer, a vision plan, both or another direction so I think we’ve got to do a little bit of homework once we have that information settled.”

Freshman Commissioner Rich Permenter suggested the six-month moratorium in the Catawba Springs township last week to give the county time to craft a “vision document” for how to handle growth moving forward. He suggested starting in Catawba Springs, where growth is most prevalent, before moving on to other areas of the county.

According to county attorney Wesley Deaton, the county could adopt a temporary moratorium on development except for the purpose of developing new or amended plans or ordinances, such as a land use plan, related to residential uses. Commissioners could rely on Deaton’s expertise to decide whether Permenter’s vision document, which would also take into account roads and utilities, falls within those restrictions.

“There are differing legal opinions regarding moratoriums, but if our county attorney says ‘no, you can’t do it’ then that works for me,” Permenter said.

“We’ve also got the school of government and the county commissioners association where we can get other legal opinions and we need to do that right now while we’ve got the time,” commission chairman Bill Beam said. “However, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us having this discussion. In fact, I think this is a discussion that should have been had before I got here two years ago and then maybe we wouldn’t be having to hash this out now. An open discussion is a good and healthy thing. If we can go through this process in order to develop a better plan or understanding of where we’re trying to go and how we want to get there then that’s fantastic.”

Commissioner Martin Oakes has suggested that a moratorium might be necessary to address looming sewer capacity concerns in certain areas of the county, but it’s unclear how serious those concerns are. The county self-imposed a two-year moratorium on new sewer permits in 2007 amid concerns of state penalties for exceeding capacity.

Lincoln County Public Works director Don Chamblee projects that the county sewer system can accommodate between 2,000-3,000 more homes, but there are certain lines that are already experiencing capacity issues. The developer of Sylvan Creek, a subdivision with up to 198 homes between Highway 16 Business and Saint James Church Road that was approved in August, recently discovered that there isn’t enough sewer capacity in that area to support the neighborhood.

When the board of commissioners approves a new development, such as Sylvan Creek, the public works department doesn’t immediately allocate sewage connectivity for that development. That allocation isn’t considered until the developer submits an engineering study. Oakes suggested that the public works department should allocate sewage connectivity upon the approval of a development that would expire if the developer doesn’t submit the engineering study within one year.

The public hearing regarding the proposed moratorium will take place on Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m. inside the James W. Warren Citizens Center, located at 115 West Main Street in Lincolnton.

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