We think members of Burlington’s planning and zoning commission are on the right track with their recommendation to the city council that the notification range for telling residents about rezoning proposals near their homes should be widened.
The planning board this week recommended that the notification be expanded from a 300-foot radius around a proposed rezoning location be expanded to 400-feet.
We believe citizens should be made aware of rezoning changes near their homes, so that they can voice any concerns to the proper officials – first, in Burlington’s case, to the city’s planning and zoning commission, and then its city council.
Burlington, in particular, also needs to take a look at the methodology it uses as another part of its notification system. In addition to mailings and advertisements in the newspaper, each local jurisdiction also posts rezoning signs on each property that is to be considered for a rezoning.
In Burlington, we’ve noticed, however, that these signs are often tied onto existing city road signs, in such a way that they are not visible to residents until and unless the driver of a vehicle is directly in front of the sign -– and happens to look over to see the rezoning sign.
In other words, most road signs are designed to be seen while driving. So they are parallel to the driving lanes and can be seen from drivers traveling in either direction.
But in several cases we’ve noticed in Burlington, the rezoning signs are placed perpendicular to the roadway, which results in much less visibility. Indeed, we’ve often failed to find a rezoning sign because of this phenomenon.
And the record for poor signage has to go to one recent rezoning in Gibsonville, which at least had its rezoning sign parallel to the roadway; the trouble was it had nothing on the southbound side of the sign. Only northbound drivers would know there was a pending rezoning.
We also think there should be multiple signs on large parcels or tracts that are being considered for rezoning. At present, the interpretation is that a city need erect only one sign on each separate parcel. But in many cases, the magnitude of the rezoning proposal is not captured by having just one little sign on a property.
The most serious problem with notification to residents, however, isn’t with rezonings per se, but rather with the periodic “land use plans” that are developed, and/or revised, about every 10 years.
Mebane, for instance, is about to start on its latest incarnation of its land use plan.
In such cases, we’ve noticed, however, that no notice whatsoever is typically given to residents about changes that are being contemplated near their homes, or even on property they may own.
Most recently, residents along Cherry Lane in Graham have discovered the harsh realities that can occur when these “land use plans” are proposed – or, worse yet, adopted – without any specific notification to nearby landowners.
In Graham, residents in the Old Fields subdivision have suddenly discovered that Graham city officials have deemed the acreage along Cherry Lane opposite from their residential development as primed for future industrial development.
The fact that it is, and has been, agricultural for decades is no impediment to the city, since it had designated this vacant acreage as intended for future industrial development.
Only a few privileged residents – typically fewer than a few dozen – usually go to these “planning sessions,” where many grand and glorious future land use plans are proposed.
The other phenomenon we’ve consistently noticed is that, when these “master” land use plans are being developed, they are inevitably described as “preliminary,” “advisory,” or otherwise flexible and readily subject to change.
But, as soon as they are adopted by the relevant city council, they are transformed into an almost mandatory overlay of how a particular city’s officials are going to deem appropriate future land use.
All without, ever, having notified specific residents about the broad changes being contemplated or even recommended for their properties or those near them.
Which doesn’t pose much of a problem – until some major change in actual zoning is subsequently proposed. The first defense of every rezoning advocate is that the new zoning is “consistent” with that city’s planned land use in the area.
All of which is a constant reminder: beware, we caution again to property owners.