County OKs “village” plan for Rougemont

Mar. 27, 2014 @ 06:24 PM

Now that Rougemont’s heart is in line to get a new water system, county officials figure it’s high time the crossroad community gets new zoning that might allow a bit of commercial development to spring up there.

The necessary changes to the county’s land-use plan and zoning rules cleared the County Commissioners this week, the zoning end of them receiving 4-1 support.

City Council Senior Planner Laura Woods said the move affects about 576 acres in the northern Durham community.

By approving it, the commissioners scrapped existing policies that in theory encouraged commercial uses on a strip of land along Red Mountain Road. Instead, they will promote it at the community’s key crossroads, the intersection of Red Mountain and U.S. 501.

Despite that change, officials aren’t expecting large-scale development there, Woods said.

“In Rougemont, you have approximately 900 people, limited land, pretty stringent watershed regulations and other regulations that preclude intense development,” she said. “Even under the best-case scenario, the scale of commercial possible in Rougemont is very small.”

The policy change on the commercial-land front received unanimous support from commissioners, disagreement coming only on a separate zoning change that affected residential property.

With it, county officials agreed to relax minimum lot-size rules, moving from requiring at least three acres to build a home to a minimum of one acre.

Woods explained that while that theoretically allows an increase in housing density in Rougemont’s “rural village,” the reality is that few landowners will be able to take advantage of it.

That’s because Rougemont doesn’t have public sewer service, forcing people to rely instead on septic tanks. And because the area’s clay-based soils don’t “perk” or filter pollutants well, most home sites need more than an acre to accommodate a septic system.

Officials agreed to the change as a concession to some residents who complained that the three-acre minimum was a barrier to subdividing lots to build additional homes for members of their families.

But whether an owner has one acre or three, he or she still must get a septic-tank permit from the county Department of Public Health, Wood said, adding that soil conditions likely will prevent most from taking advantage of the one-acre minimum.

The change nonetheless drew a dissenting vote from Commissioner Fred Foster, who indicated he’s worried the county will eventually come under pressure to subsidize utilities there.

“I don’t want us to be used in this process, where the people who didn’t want it will have it forced on them,” Foster said.

The county is in the midst of arranging the construction of a water system for the crossroad area, where pollutants from leaking underground storage tanks have fouled existing wells.

The system will rely on new wells drilled “well out of range” of the contaminants, Assistant County Manager Drew Commings said.