Unkindly grandfathering

March 09, 1994

The planned residential development of Park Ridge Estates was approved by the Manchester town zoning commission more than a decade ago. The 21 lots on the second section of that subdivision have yet to be built.

Over the years, new requirements have been imposed on residential developments in the town. But Park Ridge Estates has been quietly exempted from those mandates, grandfathered into these ordinances because it already had development approval.

Thus, the unfinished subdivision does not have to comply with the town landscaping law, Carroll County's forestry preservation law, or the town requirement that any new development supply its own drinking water.

Manchester knows it must provide water to homes built there. But it does not know when those homes will be built, when they will need basic public services and when they will start providing tax revenues for the community.

Park Ridge Estates is not unique, nor is Manchester's predicament. Other residential developments have languished unbuilt, after receiving government approval, and manage to escape the restrictions and demands placed on other subdivisions that are already built.

That would change, at least in Manchester, under a recent proposal to limit development approvals by the town planning and zoning commission to a year or 18 months. After that, the developer would have to reapply and meet current standards. Manchester now limits site approvals for commercial HTC developments to 12 months, to avoid these kinds of problems.

Developers certainly need flexibility in deciding when to proceed, when to commit their money to the next stage of a subdivision. A provision to extend approvals for good reason, rather than requiring entirely new applications, should be incorporated in the commission's new rule.

But the community needs firm decisions on development for its facilities and tax revenue planning, and to make future zoning decisions more equitable. Town officials and the planning commission members appear to favor the change. They should act expeditiously to adopt a time limit, and to carefully restrict the privilege of grandfathered approvals.

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