In 4-2 Vote, County Commissioners Approve Larger Lot Sizes

Change Not Expected To Slow Residential Growth

SMITHFIELD – Johnston County Commissioners approved Monday night their first major land development code change in 11 years.  The current land ordinance was adopted over 20 years ago.  In a 4-to-2 vote, Commissioners voted to increase the minimum lot size for homes with public water and septic tanks to 30,000 square feet (0.6887 acre).

Commissioners had been considering increasing the minimum lot size for nearly two years and held a series of public hearings on the proposed changes prior to Monday’s vote. Commissioner Larry Wood and Chairman Ted Godwin voted against the code change saying they favored a minimum 40,000 square foot lot (0.9182 acre).

“I’m supporting 40,000 square feet. I’ve done that since it was proposed. I understand the economics of that,” Chairman Godwin stated prior to the vote.

Commissioner Wood also questioned why the development code still requires a minimum of one acre (43,560 square feet) for a singlewide mobile home and why doublewides are treated differently than singlewides in the county land use codes.

“Why don’t they have the same requirements?” Vice Chairman Chad Stewart also questioned, agreeing with Commissioner Wood.

James Lipscomb, a Clayton area developer, said he supports the ordinance change but said there was a difference between minimum lot size and average lot size in subdivisions. “If you have the same number of people moving to Johnston County you’re going to gobble up more land.”  Mr. Lipsbomb said he believes the change will cause land prices to increase and could hurt farmers.

Decrease In Density 
Another one of the seven changes in the ordinance is a decrease in the number of units allowed in multi-family developments such as townhomes.  Under the old ordinance, 15 units per acre were allowed. Now only 12 units per acre will be permissible, starting Sept. 1st.

Language was also updated in the code to require adequate capacity of public water and public sewer before the planning board or commissioners approve a new development.  The wording change will give officials the ability to reject a development if adequate water or sewer isn’t available.

Commissioner Butch Lawter said, “It’s not in the interest of Johnston County to run sewer into unincorporated areas.”  Commissioners agreed that most residential growth needs to occur in municipalities or within their reach so towns can provide water and sewer services to new home developments.

“Are we really slowing growth or spreading growth?”
“Are we really slowing growth or spreading growth?” Vice Chairman Stewart asked.  “The same number of people are going to move into the county just on a larger piece of land.”

“But they’re not going to be at the same stop sign at 7 o’clock in the morning,” Chairman Godwin replied.

Mr. Stewart said he doesn’t believe residential housing development will slow down until the county limits the number of new home permits issued each year or the economy slows down.

Short Term Solution
Planning Director Braston Newton said the changes approved Monday night are not a long term fix, just a short term solution.  “Does agricultural residential (zoning) fit Cleveland the same way it fits Bentonville? I would say no, not today.”

Newton said a new comprehensive land use plan for the county was needed.  The planning director said a bid could be awarded as early as September 2020 to develop a new set of land use guidelines, that would address differences across the county, again using the example of the vast difference between the Cleveland and Bentonville communities.  “Cleveland is already out of the box. The rest of the county, we have time to influence that…. I look forward to a comprehensive plan.”

After questioning by Commissioner Tony Braswell about when the new minimum lot size requirements should take place, Newton recommended the changes be implemented on September 1, 2020.

Before adopting of the changes, Vice Chairman Stewart brought back up his concern on the different requirements for single and doublewide homes. “I’m upset over the trailer lot sizes, the doublewides. If we cherry pick what we want we’re not going to get nothing done,” admitting he would like to see manufactured housing conformity in the ordinance but it wasn’t feasible to get it adopted Monday night.

Environmental Health Director Todd Ramsey said his staff has seen lots as small as 17,000 square feet. “It makes it difficult for environmental health and storm water. We have a situation now in a subdivision with storm water issues. The developer is working with us trying to work through those issues.”

When asked what he thought the minimum lot size should be, Mr. Ramsey said he was reluctant to say.

“More water runs off 35 roofs than 30 roofs.”
Chairman Godwin reiterated he still wanted 40,000 square foot lots. “More water runs off 35 roofs than 30 roofs.”

Commissioner Wood said the board had talked about schools, roads, and minimum lot sizes for years and it was time to act.  “We’ve had this on the table for two years. We failed to act. We can talk about getting everything right tonight which I sincerely doubt it. We can bring up different parts of Johnston County. I think we’ve got to be honest with ourselves and the public. It’s because we might do one or two things wrong. We keep saying it’s not in the best interest of Johnston County but we fail to act.  I know there is consequences to everything.”

“We’ve not slowed down the number of residents going to move to Johnston County. We’re just spreading them out,” Vice Chairman Stewart said.

“I’ve heard a lot of numbers tonight. We’ve been talking about this stuff for 20 years. I-40 opened up 30 years ago. I want to see this board do something. If it’s wrong fix it,” Commissioner Jeff Carver stated.

In a 4-to-2 vote, Commissioners Stewart, Lawter, Braswell and Carver voted for the ordinance amendments that included an increase in the minimum lot sizes.  Commissioners Godwin and Wood voted against, indicating all new lot sizes should be at least 40,000 square feet. Commissioner Patrick Harris was not in attendance.

Save McGee’s Crossroads
On Tuesday, a representative of Save McGee’s Crossroads released a statement to Johnston County Report saying, “Last night, County Commissioners took a first step in updating Johnston County’s land development ordinance, which hasn’t had a comprehensive update in more than 20 years. We would like to say a special thank you to Commissioners Chad Stewart, Ted Godwin, Tony Braswell and Larry Wood for recognizing there are long term implications to out of control growth and for having the determination to pass this first amendment. While we are optimistic that this is a first step of a more comprehensive plan, we understand that there are a lot of powerful interests that do not want any updates to the County’s land development code.”

“Johnston County is a great place to live, which is why so many want to call it home. However, it also has a rich agriculture heritage, and many of the attributes that draw people to this area are at risk with the County’s lax and outdated development code. While growth is inevitable, Commissioners should craft the code to encourage growth around the towns and cities and discourage growth in rural areas where farming is still the predominant industry and where subdivisions are being developed with little regard to their effects on the surrounding communities.”

“In short, the proposal passed by Commissioners doesn’t go far enough in protecting our rural communities since it only increases the minimum lot square footage by 1,000 square feet. A more appropriate minimum square footage in rural areas outside the municipal transition district would be 50,000 square feet based on the net development area.”

“We thank all of the citizens who have expressed their opinions and concerns to the County, and we urge Commissioners to take more definitive steps in protecting one of Johnston County’s most valuable assets – its rural lands.”