Kathleen Project Vote Sharpens Development Debate

Tuesday’s 4-1 rejection of urban density in a rural corner of the Kathleen area by the Polk County Commission highlighted the various way development regulations are interpreted here.

It was unusual that commissioners rejected both the Planning Commission’s split recommendation and the staff’s seemingly unanimous recommendation for approval.

Commissioner George Lindsey’s dissent focused on the way the rules are set up to justify and to accommodate development, which he argued should guide decision-making.

He argued that it seems inequitable that a developer should be advised how to make a project compliant with the existing regulations only to face denial.

But the reality is that in many cases the staff report reflects an effort supported by county policy to accommodate development applicants to devise a rationalization for approving applications.

The window for that rationalization is the result of the way Lindsey and his colleagues in the development community lobbied commissioners to write development regulations that contained provisions such as the one that was at the heart of Tuesday’s case.

So instead of staff report that criticized a plan that would plop 5,000-square-foot lots next to 200,000-square-foot lots, there was a staff report that emphasized a provision in the development code that authorized the ability to transfer the imaginary density on undevelopable sections of property to the developable sections through something called density bonus points.

This flies in the face of traditional philosophy that if you bought a swamp, that was your problem, not the county’s.

Lindsey called for a work session to clarify what the rules should be to provide more certainty for applicants.

But it seems that if there are regulations that guarantee approval, you might wonder why have a public hearing at all.

Perhaps what’s needed is a review that results in a development code with fewer loopholes that gives property owners in the path of new development a little more certainty.