The following is an informal report on the latest work session of the Northampton County Planning Commission. The report is submitted by Ken Dufty of Wardtown.
The work session of the Northampton County Planning Commission began at 1pm and ended about 3:30 or so. All Commissioners were present. Notable time was spent on the PC Manual, with Commissioner Anders giving an in depth account of progress on it so far. Chairman Crunk remarked that this process has taken nearly 5 years but they are getting close to having a final draft for review.
As for the Zoning Text Amendment which is worded to apply to the entire county, today it seemed like the Commissioner’s concluded it was being presented for just the retrofit of the Kiptopeke Inn for 100 apartments. Again, while the PC indicated they thought it could solve our workforce and affordable housing crisis (a crisis that is exacerbated because we allow Short Term Rentals by right), there is no wording in the proposed zoning text amendment that would require inclusionary zoning which ensures that a portion of a retrofit or new construction be priced at the HUD definition of “affordable” housing.
Assistant County Attorney Jack Thornton arrived after about 1/2 hour of deliberation by the commissioners and informed the PC that the ZTA was, in effect, moot because our zoning ordinance allows apartments in Existing Business Districts (in which the Kiptopeke inn is located) as long as the apartments are leased for “less than one year”.
Commissioner Holland hypothesized that an apartment could be leased for 364 days, vacated for one day at the end of the lease, and then have a new lease agreed to and signed for another 364 days to the same renters. Jack seemed to say that would be possible.
It seemed that the consensus was that the ZTA as proposed would not accomplish the goal of providing affordable and workforce housing, and Commissioner Sturgis and Commissioner Anders informed the other Commissioners that the two are working on drafting an alternative ZTA that they will share with the other commissioners when the language is tightened up. Kelly offered to help them finalize the draft as they work on it, and then the alternative draft ZTA would be shared with the BOS, perhaps in a joint work session.
In the end, the ZTA was re-tabled and will be taken up at the next regular planning commission monthly meeting which will be April 5th.
Some of our researchers have surmised that the reason why the developers have supported a Zoning Text Amendment for Apartments in Adaptive Reuse applications when indeed they could retrofit the Kiptopeke Inn into 100 apartments WITHOUT a zoning text amendment, is that they have their sights set on retrofitting existing buildings in the county and waiving density limits (which the proposed ZTA allows) for Short Term Rentals or higher end apartment buildings (like out of an existing barn) on our prime farmland.