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Executive Summary Recommendation

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PARA Task Force Recommendation for
Establishing Various Zones and Implementing Zoning
in Washington County, Arkansas

December 8, 2005

A primary focus of this Task Force has been to protect the agricultural and rural character of Washington County, the quality of life for all individuals and land value and investment of the properties within Washington County. The Task Force recognizes that investments in land and property are the largest investments that most citizens of the County will make in their lifetimes and thus is striving to find a way to protect these investments. Although issues vary dependent upon exact location of property, there exist two land areas within the unincorporated parts of Washington County --- rural unincorporated areas (RUAs) and extended planning/growth areas of cities (EP/GAs).

The PARA Task Force has decided to take a phased approached to the complex issues facing the residents in Washington County and the development patterns that are evolving currently. This approach consists of: 1) Implementing an Agricultural and Rural Protection Ordinance (ARPO); 2) Establishing both interim and final land use Plans (based upon current uses and desired future uses to minimize future conflicts); 3) Establishing broadly defined zones for RUAs and EP/GAs; 4) Designing and implementing supporting rules for RUA and EP/GA zones. The ARPO will be committed to the Quorum Court on December 8, 2005. Timing of the additional three components of this phased approach will be detailed later in this document.

The PARA Task Force has found through several months of meeting that the best way to address some of the largest and most controversial issues, especially those issues regarding high impact commercial, multi-family and industrial properties and that have the most public outcry, is through a Land Use and Zoning Ordinance. Implementing a Land Use and Zoning Ordinance throughout the entire County is no small undertaking. It will take multiple public meetings and may take up to a year to entirely complete. Therefore, the Task Force proposes that the County Judge appoint a committee of County Planning Board members and Quorum Court County Services Committee members to take the ideas proposed below and work them into an operable interim Land Use and Zoning Ordinance not later than the March Quorum Court meeting. At that time, Washington County’s Interim land Use Plan will also be submitted to the Quorum Court.

Rural Unincorporated Areas (RUAs)

RUAs are defined as all areas of Washington County not lying within incorporated cities and towns or within the extended planning/growth areas (EP/GAs) of these cities or towns. All properties within RUAs will be zoned as:

  • Agricultura/Single Family Residential or
  • Residential Subdivision (if they are in an existing or approved subdivision as defined by Washington County)

All current uses of properties in RUAs that are not agricultural/single family residential or residential subdivision will be grandfathered in as non-conforming uses and will be allowed to operate as they presently do, unless they desire to expand significantly or change use in the future. Changes in current use will require re-zoning to conditional use as determined by the supporting rules to be developed by the joint committee appointed by the County Judge. All rules must ultimately be approved by the Quorum Court before they are in effect. Washington County will not issue building permits within RUAs, but will issue permits of zoning compliance within RUAs.

Extended Planning/Growth Areas (EP/GAs)

EP/GAs are defined as all areas within Washington County within the extended planning/growth areas of incorporated cities and towns. All properties within EP/GAs will be zoned as:

  • Agricultural/Single Family Residential 
  • Residential Subdivisions 
  • Multi-family Residential 
  • Neighborhood Services (Schools, daycare, churches, etc) 
  • Light Commercial 
  • Heavy Commercial 
  • Industrial

All current uses of properties in EP/GAs that are not agricultural/single family residential or residential subdivision will be classified as non-conforming uses and will be allowed as their current use. Changes in current use will require re-zoning to conditional use as determined by the supporting rules to be developed by the joint committee appointed by the County Judge. All rules must ultimately be approved by the Quorum Court before they are in effect. Washington County will not issue building permits within EP/GAs, but will issue permits of zoning compliance within EP/GAs.

Interim and Final Land Use Plans

This system is proposed to be an interim system- in place only until the County has completed gathering public opinion to complete a land-use zoning map. The interim plan will consist of the two categories:

  • Agricultural/Single Family Residential
  • Residential Subdivisions (Single Family)

The Agricultural/ Single Family Residential zone will allow the following (shown in green on the existing land use map):

  • All Agricultural/ Farm uses
  • All single family homes not within platted subdivisions. This includes the following:
    • All lots made by exempt lot splits
    • All lots created by exempt family lot splits (splitting/deeding land of at least a acre or more to a family member)
    • All existing farms or tracts that have not been subdivided

The Residential Subdivisions zone (shown in purple on the existing land use map) will allow the following:

  • Platted Subdivisions that have previously been approved or are currently in the process of being approved. (The County considers a subdivision to be any tract that is divided into more than 4 lots or has more than one lot that is 1 acre or smaller.)

Throughout the next year (January 2006- December 2006), the County Planning Department will work closely with each City within the County who has a planning/ growth area to determine the City’s long range Land Use Plan for this area. Once the information is obtained, the County will work to propose zoning that corresponds- in as much as possible- with the City’s vision for the future. The County Planning Department will also spend time with the people/communities outside of the Cities’ planning/growth areas to ascertain the vision of the people within those areas and assess current growth trends. Until such time that the land use plan and final zoning map is complete, the county will use an interim zoning map/ land use plan.

Supporting Rules for RUA and EP/GA Zones

Supporting rules for RUA and EP/GA areas will consist of revising or creating the following guidelines:

  • Revision of the existing Large-Scale Development Ordinance to afford greater protection for residents in the immediate area(s) in question;
  • Revision of the existing Subdivision regulations to bring about uniformity with respect to infrastructure availability and compatibility with existing and future land uses;
  • Creation of a mechanism(s) for residents to change land use in their current zone to a different land use, including but not limited to applying for a change in zone or a conditional use permit; and
  • Creation of permits of zoning compliance.

These supporting rules will be drafted by the joint committee appointed by the County Judge but, like any other ordinance establishing rules by the county, must be passed by the Quorum Court to take effect.

Summary Thoughts on Immediate Impacts of PARA Recommendations

The Task Force would like to make it clear what impact the proposed land use ideas (below) will have upon the citizens of the County:

A person owning property within the County will only be affected by this ordinance if they propose to change the use of their property to a commercial, industrial or multifamily (apartment buildings or multiple duplexes) use. All agricultural and single-family residential uses will be allowed in accordance with current County regulations.

If an individual wishes to change to the use of their property to commercial, industrial or multifamily use within the next year, prior to the time that the County Planning Department has completed the gathering of public opinion and City opinion in regards to long-term land use, the individual may apply for a conditional use zoning certificate. This would require the individual to hold hearings before the Planning Board and the Quorum Court (As a refresher- at this time all commercial and industrial development taking place on a parcel of land over an acre in size is currently required to come before the Planning Board). The conditional use zoning certificate would allow the County Planning Board and Quorum Court to apply certain conditions of approval to the site, or to deny the application if it appears to be entirely unsuitable for the proposed area.

The conditions of approval would be conditions that responded directly to the needs of that site, a tool that has the potential to solve major problems in some cases. For instance, if the proposed use was an industrial dirt pit, and many neighbors were upset due to concern with machinery noise and dust blowing from the site, two conditions that could be placed on the property might be (1) limiting times of operations (2) requiring a 60’ vegetative buffer be left (uncleared) around the perimeter of the entire site to help reduce dust. If the individual were in agreement to these conditions then he/she would be granted the zoning to proceed with the operation. If the individual applying for the conditional zoning was not in agreement with the conditions laid put by the County, then he/she would be unable to receive permission to build on that site because industrial/commercial endeavors are only allowed by the granting of a Conditional Use Zoning Certificate.

In other words- agricultural and residential uses are allowed by right- while commercial, industrial and multi-family uses are not dis-allowed, but allowed only if/when certain conditions are met which make that use acceptable in that area. In some cases, due to the nature of the use and the surrounding existing uses/environments, some requests for a conditional use certificate may not be granted if there is no way to put conditions upon the site which make it acceptable for a certain use.