by Katie Orlando

DAVIDSON – Davidson’s strict regulations have held development to a high standard, but a lengthy and confusing process may also have scared away economic development.

The board approved changes at its Tuesday, May 15, meeting to Davidson’s planning ordinance that will shift the public input phase to a more effective point in the process. These changes will only affect by-right development, projects that already meet zoning and ordinance standards.

Residents expressed concern that changes would take away citizen input and remove barriers to bad development.

Mayor John Woods said the change would not change or weaken the development ordinance but improve the process by which it operates.

“It is not a loss of focus on the quality of developments that we wish to attract,” Woods said.

Interim Planning Manager Ben McCrary first changed the name of the public input process. The town used to hold charettes for new development. The name alone of the public workshops to create a community-accepted plan for developments created a barrier and confused developers and anyone unfamiliar with Davidson’s process.

Charettes will now be called public input sessions and will take place once the developer has a concept plan.

Previously, participants created a vision without a clear idea of what a developer wanted to do. Getting public input on an existing concept plan for development will increase efficiency and allow that input to be more effective.

The new process also takes away the time limit on public input sessions so the community can devote as much time as necessary to different scale projects.

The changes do not require a public input session for subdivisions of fewer than seven houses or individual buildings. Town staff and the design review board will approve development of individual buildings. Staff will approve site master plans, and plans will not require public input sessions if a small-area plan has been updated for the site within three years.

Town Attorney Rick Kline said the changes won’t necessarily make development easier or loosen standards, but they will make the process more streamlined and efficient.

“The quality of the final development will not change because the ordinance will not have changed,” Kline said.

The board also voted to write the Davidson Lands Conservancy’s input in development into the ordinance.

Commissioner Rodney Graham voted against the changes.

In other town news, Davidson Finance Director Cindy Jones presented the proposed $9.256 million town budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget includes $325,000 from the town’s fund balance, traditionally saved as working capital and a source for long-term projects and unforeseen costs.

The budget would hold Davidson’s property tax rate at 3.5 percent.

The board will continue budget discussions at its Tuesday, May 22, work session.