City to aid family splits in ETJ zone

First Posted: 4/1/2015

Mount Airy officials have identified a solution that will make it easier for property owners in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) zone to subdivide land for family members.

This became an issue recently with local resident Patsy Hunter. Hunter, who owns property on Johna Drive in the ETJ territory — an area extending into the county for one mile beyond the entire city limits where Mount Airy still has zoning control — attempted to give her daughter a parcel to build a home.

However, Hunter was told that this simple act between a parent and child would constitute an illegal subdivision under the city’s zoning laws.

Andy Goodall, a city planner, explained when the issue arose that present city regulations do not allow the creation of new lots unless the property involved fronts a public street. The problem with Hunter’s land is that while Johna Drive extends from a public street, it is a private roadway.

Goodall said this restriction is designed to avoid possible problems such as one neighbor who owns part of a private driveway cutting off someone else’s access to their property if a feud develops between them.

However, members of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners said they believe the ordinance should be amended to accommodate family situations such as Hunter’s.

Board members gave the nod for changing the rules to provide a “family option” for subdivisions.

After Goodall returned with several proposals in late March, the commissioners said they favored one with the most-lenient terms in comparison to others.

It would allow up to five new parcels to be created from a parent tract, subject to minimum lot size requirements under the zoning regulations. “This day and age, people aren’t having more than one or two kids,” Goodall said of how this could accommodate most family situations.

In expressing support for the option of five new tracts, Commissioner Jon Cawley said he thinks the most leeway possible should be allowed in such cases. “I think your direction should be the legal maximum,” Cawley told the city planner, who is now doing the groundwork to make the change a reality.

In order to prevent someone from taking advantage of the new rules by “turning over” a site for a quick profit, board members said property that is transferred should remain in the recipient’s name for at least five years.

However, Commissioner Steve Yokeley said the proposed family option might not be welcomed by everyone affected.

Goodall agreed that this factor made him “leery” about altering the ordinance. “We can’t be responsible for people’s relationships.”

Parcels that are subdivided would be required to have access to a state- or city-maintained road by way of a 45-foot right of way.

The planner is recommending that “strong language” be included in the revised ordinance stating that the owners of property served by private rights of way in such cases are responsible for maintenance within those rights of way and not the city government.

Goodall said the proposed changes are similar to how property subdivisions along private roads or streets are regulated in unincorporated areas of Surry County.

“I want to make this happen,” Commissioner Jim Armbrister said of enacting the more lenient subdivision rules — adding that in going forward with the concept, he hopes it won’t take six months to reach fruition.

The planner said revising the ordinance will be about a 60-day process, which will include a public hearing on the changes tentatively scheduled for the commissioners’ second meeting in May.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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