Mayor, developer debate subdivision rules

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CLAYTON — Developer Reid Smith said the proposal would spell the end of most new housing construction in Clayton.

Mayor Jody McLeod said Smith was exaggerating.

What they were debating was a proposal to require at least three access points in new subdivisions with more than 250 lots.

Speaking before the town council last week, Smith reeled off a long list of existing subdivisions that would not have met that standard. “Riverwood, Glen Laurel, LionsGate, Ellington, Parkview, Timberlake, Cassedale, Summerlyn, Chandlers Ridge, Cobblestone, East Village would not have been approved in these regulations,” he said.

The proposal was born of the town’s concern over access to Clayton subdivisions in emergencies. (The town is also thinking about requiring two access points in subdivisions with more than 30 lots.)

“If a subdivision is constructed with only one access point, there is a risk that if that access point is blocked for any reason, then emergency services would not be able to get to residents within the development,” town staff noted in a memo.

Reid had no real qualms with requiring two access points. “If that’s the level of concern and security that the council wishes to have, it’s hard to argue that,” he said.

But Reid balked at three access points in the largest subdivisions. “We’ve got to have health and safety,” he said, acknowledging earlier comments from Clayton’s fire chief. “But we’ve also got to have places for people to live.”

McLeod, the mayor, said rules sometimes need to change as time passes and towns grow. Rollingwood, another subdivision Reid mentioned, was developed in 1965. “I don’t think even back then anybody knew what it would need,” he said. “We’re trying to prepare for the future.”

That future appeared dim to Reid. “You’re just about to stop the show,” he told the mayor, “because pretty much all quality development in Clayton would not have been able to exist and will not be able to exist moving forward with these regulations.”

The mayor wasn’t convinced of that. “I just beg to differ on the will not be able to exist,” he said. “There might be one or two that don’t want to go this route, but it doesn’t mean the entire development people in the United States aren’t interested.”

“Jody, I do this for a living, and I have passed on projects with this” requirement, Smith said. “I know the projects that it’s already stopped and the projects that it will stop.”

But Smith did concede the mayor’s point. “There are a few that will come through,” he said. “We’re working with staff on some projects that will, so it’s not going to completely stop it.”

But Clayton won’t be the same, Smith predicted. “This is going to significantly impact the development community and Clayton’s ability to provide rooftops for the town,” he said.

McLeod answered with this: “And I would say to you there are people out there who would be happy to hear that.”

In the end, neither the mayor nor Smith swayed the council, which voted to table the access proposal and talk more about it at the council retreat in February.