At Wednesday night’s meeting in Hillsborough, local officials made spirited comments about what will become of rural areas in Orange County.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners met with legislative boards of Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough to discuss changes to how the rural buffer can be used.
The rural buffer, 37,000 acres surrounding Chapel Hill and Carrboro, is zoned for low-density residential buildings. The area has many small farms. Residents there don’t get urban services like water, sewer and trash pickup.
Officials have proposed amendments to the development ordinance to allow for “agricultural support enterprises” like meat processing facilities, bed and breakfasts, and garden centers. Proponents say this would support farmers by allowing them to generate more income.
Orange County and the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill must approve these plans for them to become part of the ordinance.
In mid-October, Carrboro approved a resolution that includes a six-year sunset clause, which means the amendments would expire six years after they take effect. This gives a chance to reevaluate the new policies.
“The point of the sunset date is that we could review this at a later time and realize that the previous policies were better and try to go through the whole process,” said Sammy Slade, mayor pro tem of Carrboro. “But then the onus would be on establishing the rules that worked if it is found that these currently proposed ones don’t work.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt expressed strong feelings against this sunset clause.
“To give a date at which it could end, I think puts farmers in much greater jeopardy than anything else we could do,” said Kleinschmidt.
He said this is bad policy because it encourages farmers to develop or sell their properties quickly since they wouldn’t know what policies would be in place after six years.
After other officials expressed disapproval of the sunset clause, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle chimed in.
“We were all mixed on it,” said Lavelle. “And really out of deference to a few of our board members, we kept it in to bring it to the whole body to see ‘what does Chapel Hill think about it,’ and ‘what does Orange County think about it.’ And I’m hearing loud and clear that no one likes it.”
The Carrboro resolution also recommends against four uses in the rural buffer: agricultural processing facility, microbrewery with major events, winery with major events, and assembly facility greater than 300 occupants.
The quarter-cent sales tax, which Orange County voters approved in 2011, was also on the agenda. The county expects the tax to generate $2.5 million each year, which will be split equally between education and economic development.
Officials also discussed affordable housing and a $100 to $125 million bond referendum, proposed for 2016, to pay for county and school needs.