Phillips: Zoning changes are about responsible growth

Phillips: Zoning changes are about responsible growth

SMITHFIELD– The majority of proposed zoning changes for 53 areas in Smithfield are meant to fix inconsistencies between the future land use map and the zoning map to better match the reality of what’s in place, says Town Planner Michael Phillips.

The proposed changes will go before the Town Council for approval at a public hearing on Jan. 19 at 6 p.m. Speaking with The Valley Breeze & Observer, Phillips explained that most of the proposed changes will either increase or decrease density zoning throughout the town, but that does not necessarily mean there will be an influx of new houses.

He said zoning changes are not all associated with future land use, which shows areas where densities can be increased, decreased, or land can be conserved.

“We want the zoning and land use to match what is really on the ground there,” he said.

Phillips said residents have expressed concerns that the changes may create in-fill development from property owners who are now able to split lots and make money off the land.

In-fill development can be healthy, Phillips noted. He said the goal is to have a balance between development, rural areas, neighborhoods of varying densities, and land conservation.

He added that not all changes would allow for higher density of housing, and while matching land use, some will reduce density to keep Smithfield rural.

“It’s really to have ample areas for the town to grow responsibly,” he said.

Phillips added that development can’t overburden infrastructure, saying there are areas on the map targeted for conservation that can’t support developments.

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Phillips said many of the zoning changes will prevent issues with setbacks when property owners wish to develop land. While there will be subdivisions that occur, Phillips said he doesn’t envision many happening.

“People like to enjoy what they’ve earned, though there will always be people who want to capitalize on it,” he said.

Phillips said the town received one application to subdivide a lot before the zoning change.

“I don’t see us getting a lot,” he said.

“The move will be conforming. They won’t have to go to the Zoning Board for sheds or pools or additions,” Phillips said.

Some changes would see multiple low-density lots rezoned to medium-density lots, or lots allowing a single-family dwelling with a minimum of 65,000 square feet in lots with sewer and water, and 40,000 square feet without sewer and water.

Multiple lots will switch from R-80, which allows a minimum land area of 80,000 square feet per single-family dwelling, to R-200, a residential conservation district allowing a single-family dwelling in an area with a minimum of 200,000 square feet, and allows for limited agricultural pursuits.

Some lots switch from R-20, or a higher density area allowing for a single-family dwelling on lots with 20,000 square feet, to R-20M, which allows for multi-family dwellings.

Other changes include cleaning up split lots with multiple zoning identifications. Phillips explained that this happened due to blanket zoning in the past, where districts were formed by certain distances rather than actual land use.

Phillips said technology changes allow for a more accurate map of the town and its zoning. In the past, lines were drawn at a certain depth, creating zoning districts using large chunks of land rather than looking at actual use. This approach created many areas with split lots, or lots with more than one zoning designation.

“This will make the development of these lots easier,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the town was careful to not leave large, vacant lots to prevent high-density development. The contentious table H-25, which identifies areas capable of high-density development, is on track to be removed from the comprehensive plan in the coming months, Phillips added.

A complete list of the lots is available on the town’s website, including maps and plot identifications.