County's study session may change community plans in future

PRESCOTT - The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors and Planning and Zoning commissioners discussed a variety of subjects Tuesday during a joint study session, and county residents could see some future changes in ordinances and the General Plan.

A study session gives supervisors and commissioners a chance to discuss past issues and future plans. Officials do not vote or take action during a study session.

Supervisors and commissioners recently approved a new community plan policy contained in the county's General Plan. Now, however, they could decide to call a moratorium on accepting any new community plans because of the county's cost in time and manpower to work on them.

However, if the board votes in the future for a moratorium, community plans already submitted for county review still would move forward.

"I think we should do a bang-up job on the General Plan and get out of the community plan business," District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis said. "Because of the economy, I think we should temporarily set the community plans aside."

"This is going to upset some folks," Chairman Tom Thurman said. Development Services staff will consider the board and commissioner's comments about the moratorium and at a later date will brief officials about the pros and cons of the idea.

The board and commission also discussed the possibility of reducing zoning and building fees for nonprofit organizations and events. However, county Deputy Attorney Randy Schurr told the group that it could open the county to a lawsuit.

"It would violate the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution," he said. Schurr explained that public officials could not give money to private groups, whether it is a religious or nonprofit organization. He said that a case is pending before the Arizona Supreme Court that would decide the issue of giving discounts to nonprofit groups.

Land Use Manager Steve Mauk told the panel that the county's temporary permit amnesty program, which ended in September, earned more than $76,000 in permit fees. He said his staff still is processing fees, and that many more people applied for amnesty after the program ended.

In addition to bringing in some badly needed cash, Mauk said that he was able to demolish dangerous and dilapidated structures. County officials are considering another temporary amnesty program in 2010, but they would not decide that until next year.

The panel told Planning Division Manager Elise Link that it is time for the county to write an ordinance that deals with renewable energy, such as solar and wind power. State law requires a county to write an energy element ordinance in its General Plan when its population reaches 200,000 or more.

Commissioner Tom Reilly suggested forming a sub-committee to study the different issues between home units and large commercial solar and wind farms.

"This is too important to ignore," he said.

County residents may not have an option in the near future to transfer development rights. Although supervisors and commissioners like the idea of protecting some land parcels from development by transferring those development rights to another parcel, they agreed that it likely would be too expensive and complicated to write the ordinance.

"Zoning ordinances do a good job of protecting land," county Development Services Director Chad Daines said.

Ever since the county joined the Enhanced 911 system about a year ago, the county's addressing department has been busy naming streets in unincorporated areas of the county. In order to participate in the E-911, every home must have an address, said Toni Ketchum, addressing manager. She said unincorporated areas of the county have "lots" of unnamed roads, and that her department has a long way to go and the cost is adding up.

The panel told development services to study three payment options and make a recommendation at a future meeting: make owners of lot splits pay the cost for the county's time and street signs (which would be around $400 minimum); let residents pick the name of their street and pay the costs; or, have the county assign a name and pay for the cost.

Kathy Houchin, development services customer service and permit manager, told the board that she would like to see the county move to a web-based program for permits. She said that it would cost between $20,000 and $25,000 for the software, and about $7,500 each year for maintenance and software upgrades. The county eventually would recover those costs from savings in paper and staff time, she said.

Jack Judd, chief building officer, told the board that he also would like to do more business electronically. He wants to move to an electronic plan review program where customers could e-mail building plans and county staff could inspect them on a computer.

Judd estimates electronic plan reviews would shorten staff reviews between 40 percent and 50 percent.

Department directors now study guidance from the supervisors and commissioners and return at a later date with their ideas about the matters they discussed.

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