Scot Berry and Brian Stark with the Town of Cary joined us as guest speakers for our February Governmental Affairs Committee meeting. Scot serves as Cary's Director of Planning and Development Services and Brian works as the Director of Inspections and Permits. They spoke about the continued trends they see of infill and redevelopment with only a 1.1% growth in greenfield development from January 2017 to present.
Cary continues to work on improvements to online submittals, development plan review and inspections scheduling. For example, building permits are now being submitted through the same portal as development plans. This has reduced the need for builders and developers to provide paper copies for permit submittals. Plans can be marked up digitally and emailed to the applicant. On the development side they have changed how they do comment review meetings. Now, development plan applicants can request a meeting with the Development Review Committee during any stage of the development review cycle. Previously these meetings were called Staff/Applicant meetings and typically only occurred after the first submittal of a development plan.
Scot shared some statistics with the committee showing that the number of rezonings and consequently development plans and single family lots approved have steadily decreased over the last few years. It came as no surprise when they shared the stats for the average number of reviews for development plan approvals. They are 5.9, 4.1 and 6 for major, minor and quasi-judicial reviews, respectively. Scot also shared that the average time split for these reviews was 68.68% staff time and 31.32% applicant time. When questioned on the high number of review cycles and length of time it took to get through a rezoning, there only seemed to be an affirmation that such was true, no suggestion that efforts were being made to try and cut those times down.
Brian then took the helm to share information on building permits. Cary issued 1,084 new residential single-family permits and 1,635 residential additions/alterations in 2018. When compared to the last 5 years, residential permits were slightly down in 2018. He indicated that they are on schedule with plan review for new residential permit issuance at 10 business days and residential addition/alteration plan review and permit issuance at 7 business days.
The last part of their presentation touched on House Bill 948 and the changes they were making to comply with the bill. As it pertains to the alternate inspection method for a component or element of the construction project by a licensed architect and/or engineer, the Town is finding that the letters of verification are missing important details. Consequently, they are looking at the NCDOI's guidance paper for direction and DOI who is in the process of developing a standard form to be used.
As for the part of the bill discussing "complete" inspections, the Town was initially concerned with how this would affect their metrics and business flow. However, they have responded by establishing a training session of the most commonly found "problem" items and have already held one very successful class. The Town is also relying on the reporting to DOI for framing inspections with 15 or more violations as being a disincentive for builders which in turn will encourage them to ensure they are ready for inspection when it's called in. Lastly, the Town is piloting remote re-inspections to see if that can aid them in meeting the requirement for inspections to be performed within two business days of the request.
Throughout Scot and Brian's presentation, questions were asked and great dialogue ensued. During the Q&A session we were sure to bring up some items that have risen to the top for our membership. One such concern involved house wrap inspections. Apparently there has been some question over whether this inspection was being portrayed as required or voluntary. We have been assured by Scot and Brian that it is in fact voluntary and some great suggestions were made during the meeting to help clear up communication in the future.
Lastly, we discussed the requirement the Town of Cary is placing on the developer to bury power lines outside of the subdivision. These are not new power lines, but may be power poles that need to be moved during road or sidewalk work for the subdivision. The legislative authority states, "Section 9.3. Underground utilities. In addition to the powers now or hereafter granted to municipalities by law, the Town Council by ordinance may require that all utility or other pipes, wiring, conduits, cables, and fixtures installed after the adoption of such ordinance within the planning and zoning jurisdiction of the Town be installed underground, whether or not the same are installed in public rights-of-way." They are hanging their hat on the word "installed" given that it doesn't specify new or old (re-installed). In a nutshell, if you have to move existing utility poles, then they are requiring you to bury the lines, otherwise you don't have to bury them.