I had the dubious honor of attending Roswell’s Zoning board yesterday evening to learn more about a Conservation Subdivision that was being built locally.
If anyone has attended government meetings, they know that it is more exciting to watch concrete dry, and the item I wanted was, of course, slated to be discussed last. The 5 member board pondered carefully about a new storage building, the height of a fence, and a new house that exeeded the lot-to-concrete size by about 3% (and this was a modest house).
So finally the item that I was waiting for arrived – with very little fanfare and very few people in the audience by now. They heard the request by the dutiful young man from the city, then the applicant had his say. The applicant was a pleasant gentleman, and the current land owner with a home on the property, not one of those obnoxious developers that have plagued the town of late.
The idea is good – more green space, less concrete, impervious surfaces abounded. They even put an area aside for an organic garden – how nice I thought until I saw that the lot size was so tiny that anyone wanting to put a few tomatoes in a pot would be challenged.
However, this was all irrelevant because the reason to be at the zoning was to get approval for a set back of house. Hmm, I thought. The regulations for calling oneself a Conservation Subdivision are very clear: you need natural common areas and lots of open-to-nature atmosphere – very touchy-feely-tree-hugging feel. The problem was that putting 10 houses there also crammed them so close that they needed a variance on the set back to accommodate the greenspace. So as I was listening, it occurred to me that picking and choosing which regulations you can accommodate and which you need to adjust was perhaps not playing the game quite right. With less than 10 houses, and they were modest, could the lot size be increased such that no variance was needed???
So I tentatively approached the good gentlemen on the board and asked them – was it right to fudge the rules, so that you can get your fancy ‘conservation’ title? What worried me was that these rules are made with the intention of creating spaces that are in tune with nature. So designing within the rules is part of the game, rather than designing the subdivision and then seeing what rules need to be changed to get what you want. The board were polite, of course, but totally missed the point that when taking a title such as a Conservation Subdivision you are on board with the idea, and making adjustments to the regulations confuses the issue. Anyone can make a nice subdivision, but if you want to hang your hat on a Conservation angle then surely you should do that with the right spirit and without the need for variances .
Of course, along with everyone else, they got approval for their varience and the team all went home happy that they had done their duty for the city, but it left me with a very unsettled feeling.