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Proposed zoning change would slow development

The public is being asked to give its input on a proposed amendment that is designed to slow the division of undeveloped land in Harrison County.
‘Since 1974, the subdivision ordinance has included exemptions for occasional lot splits to allow landowners to sell a lot or deed a child a building site when the need arises,’ said Eric Wise, planner with the Harrison County Planning and Zoning office.
‘Over the last few years, however, we have seen these exemptions used to convert whole farms into residential subdivisions, which is not always in the community’s best interest,’ he said.
At the urging of some county residents, the Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission has been studying options for amending the subdivision ordinance.
Plan commission member J.R. Eckart, who also serves as chair of the Harrison County Board of Commissioners, said at Thursday night’s plan commission meeting, ‘The commissioners all felt it was worthy of further review. I think we should set a public hearing and take it to the next step.’
The plan commission unanimously agreed and set the public hearing for Thursday, Nov. 2.
‘I do hope we get good reception on this,’ Eckart said. ‘We’ll have to do a lot of education on this to get the public’s support.’
Plan commission members fear a similar response to changes in the subdivision ordinance that was received after they changed the sign ordinance in 2004. It wasn’t until the new ordinance took effect in early January 2005 that the public realized a change had been made, despite several articles in this newspaper about the pending amendment.
A handful of residents, including Corydon attorney Gordon Ingle, have been pushing for a change that would slow development in the outlaying areas. They have attended many plan commission meetings to express their concern and to ask that something be done.
Ingle referred to what is taking place with property as ‘developer abuse.’
‘The right to subdivide your property once a year was preserved in the zoning ordinance (to) allow a landowner to give property to his/her loved one when an adult,’ Ingle said. ‘This encouraged family members to stay near their parents and was a laudable goal.’
He said developers began abusing the ordinance as written in the last several years.
‘They have rapidly subdivided the tracts quickly over three to four years, and then sell off one- to two-acre tracts along the county road, after installing predominantly low-cost housing on the tracts,’ said Ingle. ‘This has enabled the developer to earn significant profit, with a modest investment, within a few years, at a great cost to county government.’
Wise said that the proposed changes to the ordinance ‘will make it less likely that large tracts of land will be totally converted into residential lots without approval of a minor or major subdivision plat.
‘Also, in the extreme cases when such a conversion does occur, the extended conversion period afforded by these changes may allow more time for services such as water, fire and schools to be upgraded to serve the expanding population in an area,’ he said.
Wise stressed that current landowners have the same options now, and that those who purchase new exempt lots will be the ones required to wait for 10 years before they are eligible to divide the tract.
‘This particular ordinance has been coming along for quite some time now,’ said plan commission member Victor McCauley. ‘I think this particular one is beneficial to the county.’
McCauley encourages anyone who is interested in the amendment to attend next month’s pubic hearing.
Once the amendment is approved by the plan commission, the county’s board of commissioners will have to vote on it.
A complete copy of the proposed amendment to the subdivision ordinance is available for review at the county planning and zoning ordinance office, which is located at 124 S. Mulberry St., Corydon.