This week, the County Council passed three major changes to the Unified Development Order (the UDO). For those of you who don’t know what the UDO is or don’t think it matters, keep reading.
The UDO is a huge ordinance (over 100 pages long) with many moving parts. This was originally passed over ten years ago to guide uniform development and growth throughout unincorporated Jefferson County. The UDO defines when residents, businesses and developers must get permits, how close buildings can be built to roads, waterways and property lines, how septic systems must function and so much more.
Over the past eighteen months, two members of the Jefferson County Council spent countless hours reviewing the UDO and drafting changes they felt would help support growth and development in Jefferson County. The first draft of proposed changes was presented to the full council early this year, and the bill introducing proposed changes was presented in May, 2012.
The original bill introduced over 30 changes to the UDO. Several members of the real estate, surveying and large landowning community stepped forward with concerns about some of the proposed changes. A few council members
questioned the need and impact of some proposed changes. Consideration of the bill was postponed for months to allow council members to closely review the bill individually and meet with concerned citizens and business owners. During
this time, I received over a dozen email messages and several phone calls. I spent most of a Saturday with a local business owner looking at plats and discussing how the proposed changes would impact his business, and his customers. I know other council members who did the same.
I am grateful to the many local businessmen and women, and residents, who took the time to read and understand the proposed changes, and then explain their unintended consequences. It was clear that the chairman of the UDO review committee, Bob Boyer, originally intended the UDO changes to encourage the growth of local business to help create more jobs in Jefferson County. Many of the originally proposed changes did not support this stated goal.
By August, the proposed changes to the UDO had been significantly reduced and resulting bill language was supported by most of the early naysayers. In addition, the new bill language focused almost exclusively on provisions that allowed local businesses to physically expand their buildings without being subjected to the lengthy permitting process that had previously impeded business growth. This was consistent with the original purpose and, from what I can tell, has much less opposition than before.
This bill, finally passed this week, is the result of dozens of hours of discussions and honest deliberations with stakeholders, legislators and citizens.
When legislators and community members challenge each other in meaningful ways on a respectful and intellectual level and take the time to speak, listen and deliberate, everybody wins. It is impossible to tell if this legislation will actually produce the results we hope and expect they will. I do believe, however, this wrangling produced a better work product and I am proud to have been a part of this process.
Mark Twain once said there are two things you don’t want to watch, the making of law and sausage. This is certainly an example of what he meant. But, in the end, something significant for Jefferson County was accomplished.
Thanks to all who helped make this happen.