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Wednesday, 09 May 2007 00:00

Lawsuit seeks lifting of subdivision moratorium

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A group of Realtors and developers filed a lawsuit against Jackson County this week over a subdivision moratorium imposed by the county in February.

 

The Realtors and developers claim they have been economically harmed by the moratorium and are seeking an immediate injunction. By not being able to subdivide tracts of land for sale, they have not only lost profits, but have seen an increase in their cost of doing business in Jackson County.

County Commissioner Tom Massie said the commissioners had to consider the best interests of all their citizens, as well as future generations, when enacting the moratorium.

“These are people with obvious economic interests who feel like they have been damaged by the county’s actions, but the ordinances are important to the rest of the general public in Jackson County,” Massie said. “In our opinion it is a groundless lawsuit. It is an important case for all the citizens of Jackson County.”

Jackson County is currently in the process of writing its first development regulations — a subdivision and steep slope ordinance — that are shaping up to be amazingly progressive or awfully restrictive, depending on your viewpoint. The moratorium was intended as a stop-gap measure to stave off a flood of developers from launching new subdivisions before the regulations went into effect.

The controversial moratorium does not stop the owners of lots from getting building permits nor stop work in existing subdivisions. It only applies to the creation of new subdivisions. Developers who already had a subdivision underway could apply to the county for “vested rights,” exempting them from the moratorium and allowing them to carry on. Those granted vested rights are not only exempt from the moratorium, but from the subdivision and steep slope ordinances once those are passed.

The group filing the lawsuit claims that although they may be eligible for vested rights, they “should not be made to endure such an arduous process.”

Jackson County Planner Linda Cable said she received roughly 85 applications for “vested rights.”

“I haven’t had any that were denied,” Cable said. There are a few applications that were incomplete, however, and Cable is waiting for more information from the developer or landowner.

A top complaint of the lawsuit deals with a mini-moratorium imposed before the real one went into affect. Fearing a flood of developers during the window before the moratorium was enacted — but after the county had announced its intentions to do so — developers were barred from recording new subdivisions. This precursor to the formal moratorium “imposed a de facto moratorium prior to the required public hearing, in clear violation of (state statues) and a denial of due process,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit also claims the county did not provide the proper two weeks public notice of the public hearing as required by the law. While the time and date of the public hearing was widely reported by The Sylva Herald, The Cashiers Chronicle and The Smoky Mountain News two-and-a-half weeks before the moratorium, the county did not formally advertise the public hearing in the legal section of the Sylva Herald until the week before, the lawsuit claims.

The group filing the law suit includes a few of the main organizers behind the moratorium opposition: Ray Trine, Marty Jones, Travis Lewis, James Lewis, James Sutton, Johnny Maney and Jeff Madden. The group hired a lawyer from Boone, Charles Clement, to represent them.

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