Thursday, July 26, 2012
Zoning talks dominate county board meeting
By SUE WATSON
The Marshall County Board of Supervisors is taking a long look at subdivision and zoning ordinances, particularly those requiring developers to finish overlay of subdivision roads and those concerning dissolving of subdivision plats.
Several developers are seeking to dissolve their unsuccessful subdivision plats, including John Dailey, who had five lots platted along Chulahoma Road. He appealed to supervisors last week to allow him to dissolve his subdivision because he has sold no lots.
Platted subdivisions are taxed higher than the land was before filing a subdivision plat.
It is the tax burden that is causing subdivision developers to want to dissolve their subdivisions after failing to sell lots, particularly in light of the sluggish economy that began a slow, downhill slide in 2007.
Supervisors, on the other hand, want to hang onto the enlarged tax base of platted subdivisions, whether or not lots have sold.
And on the other hand, developers, in good economic times when people are buying new lots and homes, may find it easier for their prospects to get mortgages, said county engineer Larry Britt, who was present for the boardroom discussions.
Supervisor George Zinn III said there is a difference in a person like Dailey, who just wants to sell some lots along an existing road, and developers who are going to build a road into a subdivision.
Some developers have not completed the second lift (second inch and a half of asphalt) on their subdivision roads because they have sold no lots or too few to make it practical.
Supervisors fear these roads will be abandoned and eventually the county will have to take them over.
They say the county will be ultimately responsible for maintaining these roads if the developer is not forced to complete the road. Any land which has been improved with water, sewer, or other utilities, is subject to higher taxes, they said.
On the contrary, land that is zoned commercial or industrial is not taxed at the commercial or industrial rate until it has been put to use, according to tax assessor Juanita Dillard. State law supports that tax assessment process, according to board attorney Kent Smith.
One supervisor, Keith Taylor, said zoning has it all backward. He said land rezoned commercial should be taxed as commercial as soon as it is rezoned, while a person with residential property should not be taxed until put to a new use.
Supervisor Charles Terry objected to letting Dailey dissolve his platted 10-acre subdivision until a court case is settled in which a complainant wants to dissolve a subdivision since he sold no lots.
Several other developers have been slow in completing their subdivision road commitments because land sales are not moving.
Supervisors said they are going to advise developers who have not completed their second lift that they must renew bonds or finish their roads according to the subdivision ordinances.
Developers are required to put on the second lift after 70 percent of the lots are sold or within two years, whichever comes first.
Taylor suggested supervisors revisit Dailey’s concern after the new budget is set and when litigation is settled against the county.
“We need to do it now,” argued Zinn. “It won’t change his taxes this year.”
Taylor said he wants to wait until ordinances are amended.
Supervisor Eddie Dixon urged the board to work out zoning amendments so developers like Dailey have a way to dissolve a subdivision that is not successful and pay lower taxes on the land. They can sell it lot by lot, he said.
Zoning director Conway Moore explained why Dailey was required to plat his subdivision.
“You can sell three lots of less than five acres, but when you go into more than three lots you have to plat it,” she said.
Zinn comforted Dailey.
“Mr. Dailey, I felt like it was an open and shut case, but it appears the board has decided it would be a mistake,” he said. “I would say for you to put it on your calendar to come back and see if we have anything in place to allow you to get out of the subdivision.”
Terry motioned for the attorney to begin work on amendments to the subdivision ordinances to allow a subdivision to be taken off the plat and the motion passed unanimously.
Britt said, “He may have platted for financing purposes or setbacks. You can set covenants, if you plat, and then you have more control over your neighbor, if you live there, too.”
In an afterthought, Terry said the board could require developers to tear up a subdivision road if they dissolve the plat to discourage them from dissolution.
Chancery clerk Chuck Thomas remarked that once the market improves, “you know the subdivision will go back on the market later on.”
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