A planning board member’s perspective of zoning in Chatham County

by Stacey Curtis

Siler City, NC – Ahead of Monday’s Chatham County Board of Commissioners’ meeting, the Chatham County Chatlist is crackling again with opinions about zoning. For what it’s worth, I’d like to share a few perspectives about zoning that evolved for me during 2015 as I served as a member of the Chatham County Planning Board.
planning board
1. There are good and reasonable people on both sides of the zoning issue. Personal attacks are not a legitimate part of this (or any) conversation.

2. Most of us have misconceptions about zoning. We know that zoning can prevent our neighbors from doing things that could be offensive to us – but it’s a long, complicated ordinance, and there are positive and negative aspects that most of us haven’t considered. The lack of an easily-understood, shared  set of facts about zoning, and the lack of a convenient vehicle for educating citizens about zoning were widely-recognized challenges to the zoning conversation in 2015. I would be encouraged to see the Board of Commissioners support an initiative to better-educate Chatham County citizens about zoning and its issues. (Note: the Chatham County Zoning Ordinance can be found here)
3. No zoning is “temporary.” If zoning is implemented throughout the county now, the future Comprehensive Plan would not rescind or significantly alter that decision.

4. Fracking is a potential threat to parts of Chatham County, and the Board of Commissioners did a fantastic job this year implementing the temporary fracking moratorium. Beyond the moratorium, other options to achieve local control over fracking decisions should be explored. I have not heard about any strong ways that zoning can regulate the occurrence of fracking, but I’m interested to hear more about Lee County’s unfolding explorations into such possibilities.

5. There are “lighter” forms of zoning that do not regulate the personal use of land as much as the current Chatham County Zoning Ordinance. This kind of “Zoning Light” is what the 2014-recommended “Open Use Zoning” was intended to offer. The Board of Commissioners should consider the possibility of implementing some form of “Zoning Light” (Open Use zoning, high-impact ordinances, etc.) in lieu of extending traditional zoning to unzoned areas.

6. In two to three years’ time, the new Chatham County Comprehensive Plan will describe a shared vision for many aspects of the county’s development, and will offer guidance on how the county should achieve those ends. In implementing any set of shared goals for land use, there will be tradeoffs in personal freedoms vs. the community vision. But until that long-term vision has been ratified, I think that it would be fairest to unzoned citizens to limit any additional land use regulations to only those that would address imminent dangers to our health, or our environment’s health. Traditional zoning goes far beyond that scope.

Stacey Curtis is a Chatham County citizen and member of the Chatham County Planning Board