UDO: Does it offer another possible option for commissioners? | News
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Friday, November 20, 2009

UDO: Does it offer another possible option for commissioners?

Posted by on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 1:16 PM

UPDATE, 2:43 p.m. Planning Director Steve Medlin explained the meaning of the UDO section Lowell Siler referred to yesterday. There have been no significant changes in the facts or circumstances of the area to be rezoned, Medlin said. Changes to the validity of the Jordan Lake protest petition have nothing to do with the area to be rezoned, he said, therefore, commissioners may not apply to rezone the Jordan Lake watershed until 12 months have passed.

ORIGINAL POST: A comment posted to Triangulator this morning raises the issue - do Durham County Commissioners have any option other than to brace themselves for a lawsuit regarding the Jordan Lake protest petition? We summarized yesterday that County Attorney Lowell Siler appeared to tell County Commissioners repeatedly that only a superior court action could amend the 3-2 vote they took in October to redraw the watershed around Jordan Lake.

But today, re-reading the Unified Development Ordinance that Siler cited, it appears there could be another option—at least in a very general, non-legal lay interpretation (i.e. - we are raising the question and looking for answers). We at the Indy are waiting for an official interpretation.

But yesterday, when Commissioner Ellen Reckhow asked Siler to reiterate what had been discussed at the commissioners' closed session Thursday morning, he stated he informed commissioners of section 3.5.15 of the UDO.

"When the body has taken action, no action can be taken again until 12 months have passed," Siler said.

He left out the second part, which is quoted here:

3.5.15 Subsequent Amendments

When the governing body has taken action on a zoning map change, no new application may be filed for a similar zoning map change until at least 12 months have elapsed since the date of the previous action. The Planning Director, or designee, may waive this requirement if the application has been significantly modified or there has been a significant change in the facts or circumstances since the previous request.

We have called planning Director Steve Medlin, Siler, County Manager Mike Ruffin and several commissioners to see what, if any, discussion has already taken place on this ordinance that could be disclosed. Ruffin said today that Medlin could provide an interpretation of that second part of the UDO, but that a response most appropriately would come from Siler, who is out of the office today, but will return Monday. We'll update if/when phone calls are returned.

UPDATE, 2:13 p.m.

Commissioners Chairman Michael Page said the board didn't discuss the UDO or whether the board could apply again for rezoning based on new information when they met yesterday.

"What was advised to us yesterday was [court] would be the best option," Page said.

"I think in many ways, this is being done because this is going to end up in superior court anyway," he said, referring to already pending civil action surrounding Southern Durham Development and whether former planning manager Frank Duke had the right to move the Jordan Lake watershed boundaries.

Background, for those new to this issue:

The controversy surrounds a petition filed last month by an environmental group whose members wanted to make it harder for county commissioners to redraw protective barriers around Jordan Lake. Had the petition been valid, commissioners would have been required to cast a 4-to-1 vote in favor of redrawing the lines, instead of the regular majority (3 votes to 2) they ended up casting.

But Durham’s planning department, led by Steve Medlin, initially ruled the petition was invalid, so only a 3-to-2 vote was required of commissioners when they heard the rezoning case Oct. 12. Whether the petition is truly valid is still debated. A memo released Wednesday shows Medlin believes the petition is valid, but Siler said he still questions the validity of the signature of John Gunter. Gunter, president of the Chancellor’s Ridge Homeowner’s Association, signed the petition in representation of some common areas at the development.

The rezoning of the protective watershed is debated issue itself (read more). The county and developer Southern Durham Development have been in a tug-of-war dating back to 2006 about where the watershed lines should be. When commissioners voted Oct. 12 to redraw the boundary, they cleared a major hurdle for Southern Durham Development, which wants to build a sizeable residential and commercial development right next to Jordan Lake.

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