Newton explores new requirements for developers

Newton planners want to increase requirements for developers creating residential subdivisions inside the city.
Proposals to require more open space, roads and sidewalks in sub-divisions, met mixed responses from Newton City Council members, however.
“We don’t have developers coming in and knocking down the door to build on all the land we have,” said Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax. “It is hard for me to swallow tightening the requirements when we don’t have people that want to develop.”
Council member Mary Bess Lawing said stepping up expectations on developers will benefit the city in the future.
“You want really nice subdivisions. When (developers) do come to Newton, you don’t want (them) coming because restrictions are less,” she said, adding that once construction is complete, if problems arise, “They are gone, and we have to take care of it. To me it is one of the quality of life issues.”
During a work session Tuesday, Newton leaders discussed proposed revisions to the city’s zoning and sub-division ordinance. The proposals come in the wake of Newton’s Eastside and Southeast area plans and reflect include “recurring elements” of those plans, according to the city’s planning commission. In April the planning commission unanimously voted to apply some of those elements citywide by revising the city's manual of specifications and amending zoning and subdivision ordinance.  
“These will be recurring things in plan after plan,” said Newton Planning Director Glenn Pattishall, who noted that planners will soon work on a “core area” plan for the city. “It’s a uniform standard.”
Some of the proposals would require developers to increase the size of paved cul de sacs by 50 percent. Newton planner Alex Fulbright said the measure aims to “reduce the use” of the cul de sacs, while improving the city’s compliance with international fire codes.
“We want to see roads connect to other roads, either outside the development or to connect to other roads,” Fulbright said. “It is more efficient.”
Other proposed amendments would require more dedicated open space within residential developments. If approved, amendments would require developers to dedicate formal open space that “enhances a subdivision,” in addition to informal open space that might border creeks or is in a flood plain or other easement.
A developer would be required to dedicate 500 square feet per lot of formal open space, and 1,000 square feet per lot of informal open space under a proposal. The measure would increase open space requirements by 500 square feet.
Alternatively, a developer could make in-lieu payments in place of including open space in a subdivision, Fulbright said, but the requirement is 1,000 square feet of open space less than what Catawba County requires.
“The open space to insure there is open space, so you don’t just have things crammed in. Open space an amenity. It has value,” Pattishall said, adding open space within developments increases property values . “In the end, what we are talking about is, what kind of community do you want to have when the developer walks away and leaves the subdivision with the city?”
Among other amendments approved by Newton Planning Commission are new requirements for wider sidewalks on both sides of streets within some developments. A proposal would direct developers to insure connectivity to adjacent developable property by providing roads and stub-outs. Additional measure would change rules for screening around residential developments so it is “most effective.”
“I think we were OK where we were,” Mullinax said as Council members discussed open space. “We have not had enough experience with our current regulations to go ahead and double some of the requirements when we have had no developers.”
Mullinax said, however, that the city's planning commission voted unanimously in support of proposed amendments. He also said that the city would proceed with setting a public hearing on the changes and move forward with approval thereafter.
Newton Public Information Officer Gary Herman said no date has been set for a public hearing on the amendments.
"I have a lot of questions about it... We can have a public hearing. We can talk about it and use those comments and our further discussion to tweak it," Mullinax said. "There is a lot of meat in here, and we could beat it around for six months, but let;s go ahead and hash it out and let Council vote on it."