Revised ordinance passes first reading

Published 5:21 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2022

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JACKSON – A first reading of several amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance – to include some solar farm regulations – was approved by the Northampton County Board of Commissioners at their meeting here on April 4.

A public hearing was held first before the commissioners’ vote to give citizens a chance to comment on the proposal, though none chose to speak.

Code Enforcement Director William Flynn presented the information during the public hearing, detailing the proposed amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations.

“All of these proposed amendments have been before the Planning Board and received a favorable recommendation to come forward to this point,” Flynn explained.

Included in the amendments are new regulations for solar power generation facilities (solar farms), a topic which has garnered much discussion in the past. The commissioners enacted a moratorium on solar facility construction in July 2021 to give the Planning Board time to conduct research about its impact on the county. That moratorium is currently set to expire on April 30.

The proposed amendment would remove solar farms from “permitted use” under the zoning ordinance and change it to “special use.” That would mean those wishing to construct a solar facility would have to get approval first before a permit is issued.

“The intent is to help get the word out,” Flynn explained. “[A special use permit] will require input from the Northampton County Board of Commissioners, as well as the citizens. It’ll be a public hearing. It will help inform the community about what’s going on.”

Additionally, the solar facility amendment also changes the setback, landscape buffer, and security fencing regulations. The proposal would increase setback requirements to 300 feet from all property lines. The landscape buffer requirements would also become more detailed and must be designed by a licensed landscape architect. Failure to maintain the buffer will cause the county to repair the buffer with a contractor, and will subsequently place a lien on the property or a fee to the tax bill. Lastly, the security fencing should include opaque strips to help block the solar farm from view.

Other proposed zoning amendments cover campers as temporary housing, the placement of accessory buildings, and handicap ramps.

Flynn explained of the RV/camper amendment, “the proposal is to allow the setup of campers and recreational vehicles as a temporary place of residence, provided it meets the list of requirements.”

The current ordinance only allows them to be used as temporary housing at a campground facility. This amendment would expand to allow them on a tract of land as well. Temporary housing is defined as 90 days or less. Flynn noted, for example, a person constructing a house could choose to stay in a camper on the same property while the construction is still in progress.

The next amendment applies to residents with lakefront property at Lake Gaston and the Roanoke Rapids reservoir. The current ordinance only allows accessory buildings (such as storage buildings) to be placed in the rear or side yard of the property.

“A lot of lake owners view the front of their property as between their house and the lake,” Flynn stated. “We actually define it between the house and the right-of-way [road].”

The amendment would allow the aforementioned property owners to place accessory buildings in the front yard (defined as between the house and the road). These buildings must not exceed 12 feet in any dimension (length, width, or height), and are not allowed to be put on permanent foundations.

Another small zoning ordinance amendment would make it easier for citizens who are in need of a handicap ramp at their residence by removing the setback requirements.

Flynn explained that the current setback requirements sometimes make it difficult to construct the ramp, noting from his own experience that “you pull out every trick you have trying to make it work, and you get real creative.”

“We propose that we allow handicap ramps in all zoning districts and they’re exempt from setback requirements, provided they do not encroach on adjacent properties or right-of-ways,” he continued.

Flynn’s final proposed amendment was to the county’s subdivision regulations. That would be a text amendment to change the definition of a minor subdivision to “five lots or less.” He also recommended allowing staff to approve minor subdivisions, which he explained would expedite the usual process by approximately 21 days.

At the conclusion of Flynn’s presentation, Vice Chair Geneva Faulkner called for comments from the board and from citizens. Commissioners Nicole Boone and Kelvin Edwards asked a few quick clarification questions, but that was the extent of the discussion.

Following the public hearing, Faulkner requested that the board approve a “first reading” of the amendments, noting the absence of Board Chair Charles Tyner, who was unable to attend Monday’s meeting. Commissioner Joyce Buffaloe made the motion, and Boone seconded.

The vote passed unanimously.

Faulkner stated the second read would be at the commissioners’ next meeting, scheduled for April 18.