It is still way too early to celebrate, but last week Polk’s County Commission—at two of them anyway—said they were willing to review the long-standing let’s-make-a-deal aspect of Polk’s development regulations.
How this works is regardless of what the land-use map says regarding how many homes per acre should be allowed on a particular piece of land, there’s a big loophole.
That is something called the planned development concept, formerly known as planned-unit developments. The idea has been around in some form for decades. It relies on a system of so-called density bonus points that allow two or three or more times the normally allowed density if the developer agrees to do stuff that the regulations don’t require.
In some cases the trade-off is easy to defend, such as setting aside an acre or two of developable land for a new school or a fire station.
But the justification of other density bonus points being awarded either for doing things such as installing sidewalks or street lights or planting more trees that simply make the subdivision more marketable or agreeing to some token “preservation” measures such as setting aside a probably useless fragment of native habitat after bulldozing the rest are debatable.
The possible changes are an outgrowth of the discussions at recent public hearings in which the density bonus point system was used to justify cramming more homes into rural areas.
There are other questionable giveaways in the development code that should be part of this discussion.
There’s the so-called transit-supported development overlay that allows more density in areas that have no access to transit and may never have it. The most egregious case in recent memory involved a proposed development in southwest Polk that was next to an area so rural people had horses.
In one of the so-called “special area plans” that increasingly dot unincorporated Polk County, developers can get density bonus points for installing a transit stop even if there is no transit available or planned. That seems hard to justify.
Then there’s the wetlands giveaway that allows increased density on uplands on property that also contain wetlands that the developer couldn’t develop in the first place.
How soon any of this will occur—if it ever does—is unknown.
County planners are scheduled to brief commissioners on some proposed changes at a work session in August.
Depending on how that goes, the next steps would be to draft amendments to the current development regulations, set public hearings and decide when they would take effect because of the expected pleas for allowing a lot of proposed developments to slip in under the wire.
Stay tuned on whether this occurs this year or next year and how far commissioners are willing to go to change the rules. This is a good time for the public to get more involved before they’re affected rather than complaining after the damage is done.