Forest Hills Planning Board 5-21-01

Village of Forest Hills Planning Board meeting


Date:  May 21, 2001


Members Present:


Chairman: Larry Kolenbrander

Anne Chambers

Jim Davis

Dick Iobst

Sally James

Ian Pritchard

Joe Rossano


Guest: Mrs. Susan Rush


The meeting of the Forest Hills Planning Board, held at the University Inn in Forest Hills on May 21, 2001, was called to order by Chairman Larry Kolenbrander at 7:00 p.m.


Joe Rossano:  At the last meeting when Jim Wallace made that motion requiring DOT specifications for the roads the minutes said that "move to require a potential developer to build streets to meet current NC DOT specifications."  Does the Planning Board have the authority to require that, or are we just to make recommendations to the Council?  If that's the case could we clarify this?


Chairman Kolenbrander:  I think that what we were doing last month was we were giving Geoff instructions as to what to include in the new subdivision zoning regulations.  What would happen then is that Geoff would place that in the new regulations.  That would then be voted on and approved - once the regulations come back to us we will get a chance to review them, make modifications, whatever, then make recommendations to the Council.  Really hat kind of thing should be in the regulations if we're going to have that here.


Dick Iobst:  We're not ordering this.  We're only recommending this.


Jim Davis:  So that is what is recommended?  That the roads be up to DOT standards?


Ian Pritchard:  Geoff has discovered that there were some different levels of standards.  He had just learned this, as I recall, and that they might be applicable. We were not so much opposed to the motion as we were concerned that the motion was premature.  We don't know which standards we are talking about.  I think that at some point in time we may want to revisit that.  The concern is about the Village taking on expenses like road maintenance.  We may want to see what Geoff comes up with.




Ian Pritchard:  Had some difficulties with the word "we." He wanted a revision made at the beginning of page two.  It is the Council's decision.  We can recommend, but ultimately it's the Council's decision.


These changes were made.




Ian Pritchard:  Had some issue with density.  The term needs to be qualified.  This is on page five.


Dick Iobst:  We will change the word "density" to "a density of over 40." 

The minutes were then adopted.




Chairman Kolenbrander:  The two items we need to discuss now are density level and the potential for architectural standards.


[Note:  Since it was decided that setting architectural standards would require a special zoning ordinance the minutes will concern themselves with the issue of density].


Susan Rush: Wanted to know what is the status of the recommendations for ETJ that the ETJ Committee made.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  The status of the recommendations that the Committee has made is that the Village Council is in the process of defining boundaries.  The question has been raised as to whether the residents of Oak Forest and the Lyle Wilson area would like to be included in ETJ or not.  The Village Council, at its last meeting, voted to poll those residents.  Once those residents are polled, then the Council will move ahead with ETJ - once they know what the final boundaries are.


Susan Rush:  What about the Kotila area?  That's what we are most interested in.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  Right.  The Village Council is going to have the polling completed prior to the next Village Council meeting.




Jim Davis:  What about sewer provisions which might be required of the developer?


Chairman Kolenbrander:  Essentially they can be written in to require water and sewer.




Ian Pritchard:  We will have a multi-stage review so that these matters can be discussed at the early stage.




Sally James:  I had something to ask, but I didn't know if it should be an agenda item or not.  I wanted some information on the Planning Board budget.  How does that work?


Chairman Kolenbrander:  There is a line item in the Village budget for the Planning Board.  That was put in there to provide funding.  [He talked about training sessions for the Planning Board.]  We sent two people to a Planning Board training session on Western's campus last fall - so we did not spend all of it.


Sally was shown the item in the budget.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  The idea is that we have the option.




Chairman Kolenbrander:  Then the two items open for discussion are the density issues and the ideas of architectural controls.  Realize that what we are doing is we are putting some ideas that Geoff will be able to incorporate into a draft ordinance.  That draft ordinance will come back to us to review.  Nothing that we direct at this point is cast in stone.


Sally James:  I'd like to say something in general before we start.  Particularly about numbers of units that go in.  When I listen to everybody I kind of get the impression that we have three different ideas going here.  One is a very strong vision of what the community could be - this appears to be on a grander scale than what we voted for.  That's what the majority of the community wanted.  I just never saw in the survey, that I read in detail, any indication that was the desire of the community.  A second one is this undercurrent of we're scared of Mr. Green coming back with a lawsuit, and in that regard I'm not comfortable because I don't have enough knowledge of that.  I went down two years ago and asked if I could buy some land and he was totally unwilling to sell it.  He has responsibility too.  He can't just make demands and win a lawsuit.  I would like to have a panel of lawyers.  Our own attorney and another attorney and Phil Haire and somebody to really address the specific issues that we are exposed to because I have not heard any concrete evidence about what would happen except we just don't want to spend the money.  We want to do everything we can to avoid it.  A third matter - we feel like we voted a specific thing and we were never told we would make this change [to change the existing zoning ordinance that governs building houses in the Valley].  We really thought that we were going into low numbers and if that's taken away from us, and we get into these much bigger numbers we have nothing to show for the incorporation.  We're just paying taxes for something that is of no benefit to us if we go to the larger numbers.  So if I felt that's what the majority of voters wanted that's fine.  Then everybody can make their decision, but I just don't feel that we're getting enough input from the community.  I know the proposals you [Larry Kolenbrander and Ian Pritchard]  want but it seems to me like we need to have the input now.  Inform people about what's going on.  I don't know how many E-mails go out but feel they are very few in relation to the number of houses there are.  When I run into people they have no knowledge of what's going on.


Anne Chambers:  Where Ian Pritchard said he felt there should be an open hearing . . . discussion.


Ian Pritchard:  The statutes provide that the Council should have a hearing.  It is a question that all of the interested parties can come.  I feel that it should be done by Council and in accordance to statutory requirements in the context of discussing every proposed change.  Otherwise you derail it before you get some substantial discussion.  I think there is an excellent set of statutes in the State of North Carolina.  I think it is very clear that these decisions are assigned by the State to the incorporated body, in this case it is the Council of Forest Hills.  This Board must work only in an advisory role.  My belief is that everybody is quite capable of speaking for themselves when they have vested interests.           


Dick Iobst:  The problem is, Ian, that we are going to hit these people cold turkey.  They don't know at all what's going on.


Ian Pritchard:  There has to be some documentation provided to them.  The documentation is not fixed, it's not fixed.




Sally James:  But you're running the risk of getting letters sent to the editor if you don't.


Ian Pritchard: That happens all the time.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  There is no discussion of the density issue in the survey that was sent out because the survey was sent out over two and a half years ago.  The problem what we're dealing with is the fact that our existing regulations need to be updated, need to be modified.  The question has been raised should we consider some of these other options?  The appropriate process for doing that is to have something concrete people can react to that spells out:  I don't like this, I don't like that.  That's what I see us in the process of doing, bringing that concrete set of regulations to the Council and saying we recommend that you take whatever process is necessary.  The law specifies "a" public hearing.  The Council can have as many public hearings as it wants to.  It can make those regulations available to those persons who want them.  They can be mailed to every single resident.  We can specify that this happens over a long period of time.  But my experience in working with situations like this is that you get a much more focused discussion if people have something concrete to react to.


Sally James:  We need something in writing to go out.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  That's what this body is trying to do.  Put together a set of regulations that incorporates what we have talked about.  We will then take those, chew them up, whatever.  When we're satisfied with them we then take that to the Village Council and say this is our recommendation that you propose these.  Council has the option of making changes.  We then go through the formal process of getting public input.  We can hold more than one public hearing.


Dick Iobst:  Everybody I've talked to does not want to change anything.  I've talked to quite a few voters here.  They say "What's going on?  We have plenty of green spaces.  That's what we want."


Jim Davis:  What we're doing here, as Larry said, is not cast in stone.  We can't stop them.


Dick Iobst:  Stop them from doing what?


Jim Davis:  We can say how many units they put in, and specify the streets that should be there, specify the water/sewage things.  And we can specify that we require x percentage of green space.  And those are the things that we can determine here.  We can specify architectural controls.  We can lay out some basic parameters.


Ian Pritchard:  [Talked about Council leadership].  We have also had the very clear advantage of having Geoff Willett.  He has been a great asset to this region.  And his wisdom, I think, calls us to listen very carefully to what he has said.  The problem is that when they set a two-acre-lot they were putting it up as if there was going to be an individual well and an individual septic system on the lot.  I fully expect there will be discussions both ways.  And I hope there is.  I see many, many long term benefits in incorporation.  The State does give the power to the community to make the decisions.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  The reason, in fact, for doing this is that right now in the Valley we have no options, no choice.  It's two-acre-lots.  We have no say over roads and streets, etc.  Right now, if we leave things the way they are, the things that we're concerned about are not going to happen.


Sally James:  That's not an issue.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  But, the part of that then, is the fact that to have those kinds of things there has to be the tradeoff.  The developer cannot make a profit using the two acres.  Then what's going to happen is the things that we need and are concerned about are not going to happen.


Sally James:  What's wrong with that?


Chairman Kolenbrander: Well . . . .


Dick Iobst:  Everybody is telling me between 35 and 40.  I personally am willing to go as high as 40 because . . . .  So many people are telling me we are more concerned about the density than we are about these other niceties.  The density seems to be on everybody's lips, and that's what basically so many people are concerning about - the density.




Jim Davis:  The indications are that there are things moving in this area and in this town overall.  This town needs to fit within the overall community structure, and I think we would be wholly in order not to go too high, nor would we want to go too low.


Sally James:  Go on with what you are saying.  What happens then?


A long discussion followed about available grants to help us keep the Valley the way it is.  Chairman Kolenbrander appointed Dick Iobst and Sally James a two-member committee to study these possibilities.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  You're [to Sally James] talking about 40 units on 65 acres.  You're looking at 1.84 acres per unit with a density of .54 units per acre.




Chairman Kolenbrander:  I opt for one unit per acre.


[Dick Iobst, Sally James, and Anne Chambers opted for a density of 40 units on 65 acres; Jim Davis opted for a density of 45 units on 65 acres; Ian Pritchard and Joe Rossano opted for a density of 60 units on 65 acres].


Jim Davis:  We originally incorporated to save what we had.  We understood that we have to have some progress, probably, and have to protect ourselves.  Yes, we're wise to set some standards.  But I still think that the majority of the people are saying that we just want to keep a quiet neighborhood.  My thinking is this:  if you set these standards, number 1 I would like to consider how will it improve us, as we exist, and maybe a little larger home.  I think the average is 1300 square feet, 1400, or 1500.  I would like to see a little larger home than 1300 square feet because it would have a tendency to raise our values.  I have talked to realtors.  They would like to see 1300 because it's easier for them to sell.  But I'm not interested in making it easier for them to sell.  We have a number of houses for sale already.  The whole idea was we wanted to preserve our property values.  In looking at this, I would look at a larger home.  The average home is 1800 square feet.




Jim Davis:  Let's not get it too full.  We are trying to keep our original notion of why we incorporated in the process.


Joe Rossano:  I tend to agree with Larry.  I think, realistically, that if you have a developer who is going to come in here and spend money to develop the roads, put water and sewer in, the improvements, to realize a return on their investment - 35 or 40 houses on this many acres I don't see that it's economically feasible.  I look over the Valley the same as you guys do.  So I have a vested interest as well.  Looking at it, what's best for the community as a whole, I think that if you have an opportunity to have a developer of quality come in and build a quality development in the Valley you have to budge a little bit on the density.  I don't like it the same as everybody else doesn't like it but I think I would be willing to bend on the density somewhat and say one house for one acre would be adequate so that would be where I sit- subject to seeing some kind of a proposal from the developer.  Somebody may come in here with just a great proposal that shields all of us from looking directly at somebody's back yard.  I don't know.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  There certainly are ways of doing things like that in terms of putting together cluster housing.  This is certainly the thing that the Federal agencies are using now.  There are all sorts of tools available that can minimize those kinds of impacts if you give the developer the flexibility to work with it.


Jim Davis:  The other thing we have to consider here is the number of people with whatever we come up with.




Ian Pritchard:  I'm concerned with the integrity of the process.  The process has to be done with full integrity.  I'm not sure what the final result's going to be.  I am sure that it should be such that it's not going to turn anybody off [He talked about economic studies on cost by the developers].  We need to give Geoff something.




Ian Pritchard:  I think you would get good debate on both sides of the issue.  We are putting something here that's going to be presented to a hearing.




Chairman Kolenbrander:  The concept of developable land.  If we had, say 65 acres gross, in order to provide streets, sewers, water, whatever, say that 65 acres was reduced by 10 percent now we're down to 55 acres.  I'm just wondering about one unit per acre of developable land that would be excluding the amount of land set aside for a green belt.


Ian Pritchard:  Many of the subdivision ordinances that we have looked at define the lot from the road, and they ask for, say, acreage from the road.  Some ordinances are written both ways.  I would expect that they would, by law, measure to the middle of the road.




Chairman Kolenbrander:  What I can do is to present to Geoff the idea that essentially what we're talking about is a range of 40 to 64.  We can present both of those to Geoff.




Chairman Kolenbrander:  1.84 units per acre.


Jim Davis:  Do we have a suggested percentage of green space.


Dick Iobst:  Five percent of green space.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  We can set buffers.  We can specify no development within a certain distance of the creek.  That becomes part of the ordinance,  that becomes developable land.  That becomes part of the review process.


Ian Pritchard:  Water and sewer issues should be part of a separate ordinance.




Chairman Kolenbrander:  No development within 50 feet of streams and ponds.  Essentially no development within 50 feet of watercourses or ponds.  Those existing watercourses have to be perennial streams.   


The discussion about architectural standards involved allowing a potential developer to cluster because that was cheapest.  The developers and builders do this because it is cheaper.


Dick Iobst:  We need to keep the people of the Village as well informed as possible.


Jim Davis:  You couldn't build in the green space.  You couldn't built in your road.


Ian Pritchard:  We can always add to the acreage.  There are no restrictions on the maximum size lot.  If we apply this principle to other than the Valley there are also other areas within the Village [He talked about Kitty Dillard's 8 acres].




Chairman Kolenbrander:  I will contact Geoff as soon as possible and find out what his time frame is.  And, based on that, we'll come back with . . .  Geoff would E-Mail me a copy of the regulations.  I would then make sure that everyone on the Planning Board got a copy before the next Board meeting.  I will get hold of Geoff either tomorrow or Wednesday, and let you all know as soon as possible what kind of time frame we are looking at.  For this point I think we can figure that our next meeting will be the third Monday in June.  I would suggest then at that point we may want to discuss - and maybe meet every couple of weeks to speed up the process a bit.


Joe Rossano:  Do we have a time frame when you want to present this to the Council?


Chairman Kolenbrander:  I'm not working on a time frame.  I think what we need to present to Council is something that we are comfortable with.  Quite frankly, sure there is somewhat pressure from the possibility of developing the Valley, but I don't think we need to let that push us.


Jim Davis:  There will be some turnover on this committee.


Joe Rossano:  There's going to be some turnover on Council too.




The next meeting is scheduled for 7:00 p.m., Monday, June 18, 2001.


Chairman Kolenbrander:  Called for a motion to adjourn.


A motion to adjourn was made and the Board adjourned at 9:15 p.m.


Respectfully submitted by


Richard W. Iobst