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Union County Growth-control Ordinance Upheld

Union County officials say they're pleased with the ruling that upholds the county's "adequate public facilities" ordinance, which took effect in late 2006. The high-growth county southeast of Charlotte has one of the fastest growing school districts in the state. Under the ordinance, housing developers have two options. They can scale their projects to the amount of available space in existing schools. Or, if they want to build larger development, they must help pay for new schools. "It all depends on its location, the size of the development itself, and the existing capacity of a school and any planned capacity there. So you almost have to look at each one on an individual basis," says County Planning Director Richard Black. He says the ordinance helps infrastructure handle the growth. But it's the potential for having to pay for new schools that had developers crying fowl. The Union Land Owners Association, Craft Development LLC, Fairview Developers and RD Harrell Company sued the county. They argue the state has not given local governments authority to charge such fees. Black says the plaintiffs are appealing. Calls to RD Harrell and Fairview Developers were not returned. A major legal issue in this fight is whether the ordinance amounts to a school impact-fee. Union County contends it's not a fee because developers have an option, depending on the size of their projects. This is key because in 2006, the state Court of Appeals ruled that state law does not allow local governments to impose impact fees. Tyrel Moore is a professor of regional planning at U-N-C-Charlotte. He says, "The state legislature passes to the counties the statutory regulations that give the counties and the municipalities the ability, the permission and the responsibility to regulate land usage." Moore says the broader implication is that communities have the right to levy these fees, through their adequate public facilities ordinances. "They haven't stood the scrutiny of the courts maybe until this. And this is a good sign in their favor as a growth management tool for communities," he says. Moore notes Cabarrus and Currituck Counties have such ordinances. He points out that developers in other counties would not necessarily object to the fees. "I think part of it depends on where they operate, where most of their business is. And they're comfortable in that setting," says Moore. Union County Planning Director Richard Black says right now, it's hard to tell what impact the APF ordinance will have. He says a bigger issue- the sluggish economy- has slowed development significantly.