Ideas regarding fees and regulations began to crystallize at the second in a series of meetings that Garner hopes will lead to policy updates that facilitate town growth.
After an initial feeling-out meeting three weeks prior, developers, business leaders and town officials broke down into groups at White Deer Park on Sept. 12 to discuss different topics: policy, land availability, transportation and marketing. After the discussions, the group came back together and presented the core ideas that arose. Town staff plans to provide some deeper research into current policies and other data.
The town’s ultimate plan is to be able to present concrete proposals at a town council meeting in mid-October.
The group studying policy took a close look at development rules and fee structures. In particular it discussed altering fee structures and rules regarding the number and type of houses that could be permitted in a given year.
Clarifying issues raised in the first meeting, town engineer Frank Powell said the current policy allows a maximum of 300 houses built per year because of sewer limitations. Of those, 210 must be Type 2, which have higher quality requirements ranging from square footage minimums to front porch rules and building material regulations.
Powell said those numbers could go up and regulations could be made more flexible. Rather than hard limits on each category, he proposed inserting tradeoffs, such as allowing a Type 2 to fall slightly short on one standard if it exceeded another. He also called the limits outdated.
“Water and sewer-wise we are in the best shape we have ever been in,” Powell said, noting that as Raleigh added water capacity, the recession slowed new housing construction.
Powell also explained the fee structure. Developers complained at the last meeting about large upfront fees and asked about charging them as individual houses were built. Powell noted that in recent years most of those fees, including water and sewer, have moved to the individual building permit phase. The town has expressed willingness to move the roughly $1,000 Parks and Recreation fee – the lone remaining upfront fee – to the same, less capital-intensive schedule.
In addition, the group suggested looking at water and sewer fees to make sure they were competitive, particularly as Garner finishes paying down debt from its decade-old water bonds.
“Once the debt is paid we may be able to moderate those fees some,” Powell said.
The future of 540 figured heavily into talk of transportation policy. According to the post-meeting recap, the group hopes the Orange Route would fill an unmet need of moving people from east to west on the south side of Timber Drive.
The transportation group also talked about better arteries to major highways, naming N.C. 50 (Benson Road) as a particular challenge. There was also interest in the Garner and Wake County long-term transportation plans, which town staff will research in coming weeks, in particular regarding bus expansion plans and potential light rail.
The marketing and perception group also wanted to know about the costs of hiring a professional public relations firm. It hoped to combat the “sour milk face” people get “when you say you live in Garner.” Young professionals would be a particular target in the attempt to quash misconceptions.
In a demographic presentation before the breakout, economic development director Tony Beasley pointed out that the highest rates of growth came in residents under the age of 35.
The land availability and infrastructure group wants to ensure that expansion opportunities aren’t hindered by limitations in water and sewer capacity. “Maybe it’s time to look northeast and south,” said businessman Vic Bell. The town hopes to grow the business area around the northeastern Greenfield business district and add residential areas to the south.
“Everyone felt like there are so many good things coming,” Bell said. “It might be time to get a little more aggressive.”
Specific things the group hopes to see at the next meeting Sept. 26 include exact definitions of Type 1 and 2 housing requirements, pay-down schedule of water and sewer bonds, data from existing 540 studies, maps of transportation plans and sewer lines, schools plans, fees schedules and a flow chart showing the building process.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland