5/6/2021 3:40:00 PM Proposed zoning rules may spark lawsuits, town attorney warns
Summerfield's town attorney, Bob Hornik, urged the Town Council to create zoning districts that allow the development of affordable housing - 'maybe even apartments, God forbid, somewhere in Summerfield'
by CHRIS BURRITT
SUMMERFIELD - After several years of deliberations and revisions, Summerfield Town Council got its first look last month at the proposed ordinance that would govern residential and commercial development in town.
Town Attorney Bob Hornik fired a warning shot, telling the council during its special called meeting April 27 that if adopted as currently written, the proposed unified development ordinance (UDO) may draw discrimination lawsuits alleging a lack of affordable housing.
When Mayor BJ Barnes asked Hornik whether Summerfield may face "any legal repercussions...as it relates to affordable housing," the lawyer responded, "I think potentially you will," adding later in the meeting that the council needs to address what he acknowledged "is not a popular topic here."
"But if you want to avoid potential liability, create options in your ordinance that will allow affordable housing somewhere in Summerfield," Hornik said. "You don't even have to identify where right now. All you have to do is create the zoning framework that would allow some developer to come in and say, 'you know what, I would like to put more dense housing, maybe even apartments, God forbid, somewhere in Summerfield.'"
The council scheduled a public hearing May 25, 6:30 p.m. to gather feedback on the proposed UDO. The hearing will be held at Revolution Academy, the recently opened charter school at 3800 Oak Ridge Road (N.C. 150).
Housing density has been a hot-button issue in Summerfield for several years, boiling over in 2016 after a proposed text amendment to the town's development ordinance would have added a planned development (PD) zoning district and allowed higher-density housing. The issue became so highly contentious that it divided many residents, with "No PD" and "Vote Yes for PD" signs dotting local roadsides in the months leading up to the November 2017 election.
Afterwards, the town created a UDO Review Committee as part of efforts to align development regulations with goals of Summerfield's comprehensive plan. Adopted by the Town Council in 2010, the plan embraced a dozen objectives, such as limiting commercial growth, encouraging historic preservation and building a system of sidewalks, bikeways and trails.
The committee passed along its recommendations for updating development rules to the town's Zoning Board three years ago. Since then, the board has plowed ahead, revising rules line by line. It delivered its 437-page draft to the council last month.
Council members quizzed Board Chairman Dick Feulner and Vice Chair Jeff Davis during the meeting, along with Hornik and Chris York, the town's planning manager. The discussion focused on balancing the need for affordable housing in Summerfield against existing zoning rules dictating low-density residential development.
The town's comprehensive plan calls for a wider availability of affordable housing, Mayor Barnes said, noting that some law enforcement officers, firefighters and teachers who work in Summerfield can't afford to live in the town.
The proposed UDO addresses that concern, according to Feulner and York.
Under current single-family housing zoning rules, the number of houses that can be built per acre is based upon the total number of acres multiplied by a density factor of 0.73. As an example, 73 houses could be built on 100 acres - or, an average of one house per 1.36 acres - to accommodate requirements for open space in subdivisions.
While the proposed UDO retains the 0.73 requirement for houses in the RS-30 and RS-40 zoning districts, it also recommends higher density of two houses per acre in a proposed village overlay district.
The new zoning district in the heart of Summerfield would consist of property located 1,200 feet west of Summerfield Road, running the full length of the road from N.C. 150 to U.S. 220, according to York.
The RS-40 residential district requires lots of at least 40,000 square feet, while the RS-30 district mandates lots of at least 30,000 square feet.
The proposed UDO would allow smaller lots with a variety of housing, including townhouses, in two zoning districts - open space residential and open space mixed use.
The mixed-use district could include commercial development and higher residential density of 0.84 units per acre, allowing a developer to build more houses in a subdivision.
The developer would also be required to enter into a development agreement with Summerfield to ensure that houses in the mixed-use district would be affordable to people earning 80 percent of the median household income in Summerfield, York said.
Median income in Summerfield is about $104,000, according to council member John O'Day.
Whether the allowance of higher density and smaller lots would attract developers who want to build affordable housing is unclear, Feulner said.
The relatively high cost for land - as much as $100,000 per acre - increases selling prices of houses and, as a result, limits options for the profitable development of affordable housing, O'Day said.
"The real challenge is, what can our board and what can the town council do to encourage affordable housing?" Feulner said. "You can't require a developer to build it."
to learn more
Summerfield's proposed UDO is online at www.summerfieldnc.gov. Look for "News & Notices" on the right side of the homepage and click on the link to "Unified Development Ordinance Rewrite."