County amends subdivision policy

Published 11:06 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2011

County commissioners stood firm Monday as a local developer again asked for variances in the subdivision regulations established for Escambia County.

The commissioners’ decision does not allow Mason Fleming to sell lots in a subdivision in the county, but commissioners did vote in some changes in the subdivision policy.

Broox Garrett, the attorney representing Fleming, asked the commission to consider the formal request for a variance in the regulations put in place in 2007. “If there is a problem with the road there, we are asking you to accept it as a public subdivision with the variance,” Garrett said. “If you deny that, we are asking you to accept it as a private subdivision showing that maintenance of the road is not to be maintained by the county.”

Fleming, who has been seeking acceptance of a subdivision off Snyder Road for more than a year, told the commission the regulations currently on the books are limiting the sell of property by anyone in the county.

“I am asking for a private subdivision,” Fleming said. “Why would you want to hold anyone up from selling lots?”

County Engineer Bill Bridges said the main issue with any subdivision, public or private, exists with construction of roads built to serve lots sold in a subdivision situation. “The regulations we have in place are there to protect the public,” Bridges said. “They also protect the developer. Roads for subdivisions, public or private, need to have proper base, drainage and paving. A plan sheet is required, a profile sheet is required and the regulations state that an engineer has to sign off on that road to say it has been constructed properly.”

Bridges said the regulations passed in 2007 came from regulations put into place by other counties it the state. “The regulations were taken from a template adopted by Association of County Engineers and adopted by the Association of County Commissioners,” he said. “Those regulations were put into place prior to my starting work here. But, the regulations are in place. By the rules in place and the time the road was built, (Fleming) violated our regulations.”

Commissioners denied Fleming’s request for a variance in accepting the road into the county system and then moved on to consider granting his request to have the subdivision deemed private. Private subdivisions, under county regulations, would be required to maintain roads inside the subdivision at the expense of the owner/developer.

“Roads in private subdivisions must follow regulations in the code,” Bridges said. “Those regulations were put into place to make sure residents would be getting a good road to the property. Private roads would be the responsibility of the owners or developers for upkeep. Most people, even if you put it on the deed that it was their responsibility, wouldn’t understand. We’re trying to do what we think is right to protect the individual.”

Bridges said other private subdivisions in the county have had problems with residents complaining about road conditions and services. Current regulations are in place to protect citizens and the county, he said.

“Over time, it’s a big expense to maintain a road,” Bridges said. “Most people don’t understand that the post office won’t go down a private road, garbage trucks won’t go down a private road, school busses won’t go down a private road. They don’t understand that they’ve got to fix it when it needs fixing. The county cannot do any work on a private road. When a hurricane comes through and trees are down, residents will have to cut their own way out. They won’t understand. If those things happen, they are going to wish they hadn’t bought in that subdivision.”

Roy Burnham said the current regulations make it impossible to sell lots of any size to those interested in property in the county.

“When I put in a road I have got to meet county specs,” Burnham said. “That’s not what an individual can afford. I don’t want to be restricted on how much land I can sell. I don’t feel like the population of Escambia County have been heard in this situation.”

Bridges told Burnham and other interested parties at Monday’s meeting that certain instances of lots sold were exempt from current regulations. “Family can sell to family,” Bridges said. “You can sell to immediate families and to someone who has adjoining property.”

Bridges also said to be considered a private subdivision, in addition to following road construction regulations, easements would have to be granted.

“Lots must be given a 30-foot easement when they are sold,” Bridges said. “That is what is required by the rural electric cooperative to get power to a location. That easement can be shared by up to two lots. That’s what we’re proposing to amend to the regulations today.”

Bridges said the amendment would allow the easement to be shared by four lots, not just two.

Commissioner Larry White said the rules in place under the current regulations were only used as a starting point to customize rules for Escambia County.

“When these regulations were adopted we thought it was a good beginning point,” White said. “We knew it was a work in progress. What we’ve adopted now needs some adjustments. I’m welling to adopt some changes.”

Chairman David Stokes said the amendment to the subdivision rules would be that 3 acres or more would be exempt.

“We’re still tweaking,” White said. “We’re still looking at what works for Escambia County.”

Commissioner Raymond Wiggins said he would like to see the 3-acre limit reduced to one acre in an effort to allow more land buyers to attain property. “Why are we putting a hardship on people who may not need three acres and may not be able to afford three acres?” Wiggins asked. “I think that if a person buys that property and it’s put on the deed that they’ll have to maintain their own road that should be enough. If you get it down to one acre, it’s a lot more reachable for people.”

Brandon Smith agreed. “I don’t think we should penalize the rest of the citizens in the county,” Smith said. “When we restrict it to three acres that people can’t afford to buy, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

White said further tweaking may be necessary for the subdivision regulations, but said the current recommendations for amendments were sufficient.

“I think three acres is fair at this juncture,” White said. “To reduce the size to one acre would make the subdivisions regulations ineffective. The people we’re trying to reach are the developers who may not be sensitive to the needs of the residents.”

Commissioners approved the amendment, three to two.

In other business, the commission:

• Approved the fourth phase of construction at Stokley Plantation near Perdido;

• Ratified the renewal of a loan for motor graders currently at approximately $650,000 at 4.8 percent interest;

• Approved a resolution establishing participation by the commission in a statewide cleanup effort set for mid-April.