Frankford makes progress on ordinance

The Frankford Town Council discussed in detail their proposed land development ordinance at a workshop last week with Kyle Gulbronson, the town’s engineering consultant, and Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader. The council had decided in November that it would be prudent to have Schrader and Gulbronson work out some of the technical details and come back to them with a revised draft of their final recommendations.

The proposed ordinance will replace the existing zoning and subdivision codes with a consolidated ordinance. It will be presented in final form as a complete document, along with a fee ordinance, for introduction, hearing and possible adoption, likely within the next few months.

“For the past 25 years, Sussex County has enjoyed a lot of growth, and Frankford has not,” said Schrader in November, noting that the ordinance might need to be adjusted for the town’s specific vision. He had mentioned several policy changes the town might want to look at – specifically, fees for single-lot development – and suggested the town look into how much involvement they want in land development.

The proposed ordinance also has tables and is formatted differently in print form so it is more user-friendly for developers. “From a developer point of view, you need to have some predictability as to what is required, etc,” said Schrader.

This past week they discussed fees for single and multi-lot developments, fees for simple site-plan reviews, annexation, zoning districts, permitted uses, minimum lot size for residential dwellings and street standards.

In the fall, Town Manager Terry Truitt defended the fees the town charges to consider a subdivision or change-of-zone, saying the town was trying not to lose money on the applications. But she ultimately agreed that the ordinance was something the town needed to study and wanted to make more efficient.

“By the time we pay our legal fees and advertising, we were literally going into the hole,” she noted. “But, we have not addressed or updated ordinances for multitudes of years.”

After much consideration, the council decided that separating development into categories – with developments of one to five lots having certain fees, and those with six or more lots having different ones – might be the best way to go. The way the ordinance had been written, there were so many steps and regulations that single-lot development could end up costing landowners thousands of dollars for subdivision.

“You all need to take a look at that,” said Schrader. “If you are not careful, there are so many regulations and so many things that it would be two, three or four thousand worth of cost for one single-family subdivision.”

He also added that it might make sense for the town to “eat some costs on the small side in order for people to come in and it be attractive on the big side.”

Gulbronson added that what they did in their revision of the draft plan was go through the town’s comprehensive plan and try to work the goals the town had into this proposed document.

“Fees are probably the most important thing,” he said. “Development should pay for itself, but in this economy, it’s a double-edged sword. You don’t want to be prohibiting it, but you don’t want to be sponsoring it.”

They discussed the town’s costs for subdivisions, including attorney’s fees, engineering fees and advertising fees. And Gulbronson pointed out that the town could always try the new ordinance for a year and revisit it once they get real numbers for comparison.

They also discussed having a set subdivision fee for one to five lots, with the applicant responsible for all advertising and professional fees, and anything above six lots would have an application fee plus a per-lot fee and would require money in escrow, plus advertising and professional fees. Schrader also explained that, for subdivisions under five lots that would not require any new roads and no extension of water or sewer, there would not be a need for a public hearing.

“You don’t have to do that?” asked Truitt, to which Schrader answered no, if all those conditions were met. Truitt then asked if landowners would lose their right to contest a subdivision.

“If they maintain all the setbacks, and meet all the requirements, you can’t turn it down. If five lots of less, with existing public roads and sewer and water available and not requiring extensions, no public hearing is necessary,” he explained.

Gulbronson also shared with the council a “user-friendly” chart of all permitted uses in town, with all the zoning categories that can be shared with potential developers. They also discussed that as a potential piece of information that can be shared on a potential town Web site.

As it stands now, the town does not have a Web site, and developers, or landowners who simply want to subdivide their property, have to go through the ordinances one by one to see what is permitted where, and what they need to provide to get something approved.

They also discussed having the minimum lot size be 7,500 square feet, but, ultimately, the council was in agreement that 15,000 fit better with their vision of the town. They also decided that all new residential dwellings, whether apartments, townhouses or single-family homes, would have to be a minimum of 1,250 square feet.

“Be careful,” advised Gulbronson. “For the first time since World War II, house sizes are going down. People can’t afford to heat 3,000 square feet.” He also added that there are towns nearby that had similar ordinances, and every apartment in town is non-conforming. But, ultimately, he said it was a community character issue and the town’s decision.

“There are no zoning changes,” they concluded. “Everybody stays where they are.” They added that properties that already exist outside the boundaries of the ordinance will be considered non-conforming for future purposes. The plan is simply to provide an outline for the future development in the town.

Once the changes are made, the council will introduce the ordinance and refer it to their planning commission to make a recommendation back to the town council. The fee schedule will possibly be a separate ordinance. Adoption of both could be a reality within a few months.