Albemarle City Council, Planning Board discuss need to update land use plan

On Monday evening, the Albemarle City Council and Albemarle Planning and Zoning Board held a joint meeting to review and discuss current and long range development issues, and commit to the process of developing an updated comprehensive land use plan.

Albemarle Planning and Development Services Director Kevin Robinson delivered a presentation on the long range planning process, including a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis (including respondent comments), as well as an analysis of development trends in Albemarle from 2000 to now.

Survey respondents identified the city’s parks and recreation system, infrastructure and public services and natural resources as community strengths. K-12 education, economy and jobs, diversity and housing were identified as primary weaknesses.
Only two significant threats (education and economy/jobs) to the community were cited, while respondents identified natural resources, public services, parks and recreation, infrastructure, retail services, cultural resources, community health and overall affordability as areas of opportunity.

Data showed residential construction in Albemarle at or under 100 units per year from 2000 to 2019, with construction jumping to near 150 units between 2019 and 2021 before spiking to more than 250 units in 2022, and on pace to equal or exceed that number in 2023.

Conversely, non-residential construction reached high points in 2001 and 2005, with construction exceeding 200,000 square feet each year. After falling to near zero between 2012 and 2014, a jump to approximately 150,000 square feet occurred in 2015, with relatively low non-residential development since that time.
Future residential construction, according to Robinson, includes approximately 1,800 units which have been approved, and just over 2,000 for which plans have been submitted.

“Approved plans have been reviewed and authorized by planning and zoning and the city council and are highly probable to be developed within three years. Submitted plans have a moderate probability of development, probably within three to five years … this means that concept plans have been submitted and they are in various stages of the approval process,” said Robinson.

A comprehensive land use plan would address a number of issues involving new growth and development, including infrastructure capacity, identification of growth areas, transportation and roads, types of development and impacts to existing city services and amenities, according to Robinson.

“The plan is required by the state for a local government to have zoning regulations,” noted Robinson. “It will be broad in scope, time and area, will provide an overall vision and goals for the city for the next 20-plus years, and should serve as a policy and decision-making tool for everyone.

“The plan is not a master plan that provides detailed designs for every aspect of the city,” Robinson added, “at least not by itself. It also is not a rigid legal document.”

According to Robinson, the plan would consist of six major components. These include vision, plan and scope, existing conditions, plan development, the comprehensive plan itself and implementation of the plan.

Formulation of the document would be an approximately 17-month process, beginning with appointment of a steering committee, community surveys and various studies (transportation and utilities), as well as compilation of existing data and review of existing conditions.

Council members and planning board members offered a number of questions and comments.

Planning board member Michelle Cumming asked Robinson what could be done to strengthen the schools within the city.

“The data we have is new, hot off the press,” said Robinson, noting that meetings with Stanly County Schools officials are in the works.

Councilman Chris Bramlett expressed concern with the manner in which Stanly County Schools has drawn the city’s school districts.

“There are about 27,000 people who have a 28001 area code, which makes them residents of Albemarle,” said Bramlett, “but the Albemarle High School graduating class in 2023 was only 41 students. This can’t be allowed to continue.”

Bramlett also expressed concern over the recent decision to reject an annexation request for a residential tract near City Lake Park.

“We just denied annexation of 86 acres, and under county regulations it now can only have 28 houses on it. We run the risk of the city being ringed by three-acre tracts, and that would be an annexation nightmare,” he said.

Councilman Bill Aldridge said the city needs “variety” in types of housing, and expressed concern with the number of approved plans in comparison to the city’s infrastructure and services.

“If two or three of these developers start moving dirt at the same time, we are sunk,” he said.

“Developers need to do their homework in advance,” added Councilman Benton Dry, citing the recent continuance of the public hearing on the City Lake-area annexation.

Cumming stated, “We need to get Stanly County and Albemarle to buy in (to the plan).”

Aldridge also expressed concern with the density of houses in some of the newer developments, citing Morgan Ridge as an example.

“It seems this could cause property values to decrease over time,” he said.

Robinson referred to the Verdunity Land Use Fiscal Analysis (which will be presented to City Council on Sept. 18), stating that it shows “no correlation between housing density and declining property values.”

A number of Council and Planning Board members responded to Aldridge’s statement that houses in that development were valued between $300,000 and $400,000.

Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall noted the importance of public participation in the community surveys that will provide guidance for the plan.

“We messed up last time,” she said, in reference to survey data collected to put together the city’s stormwater management plan.

“We did not get enough (public) involvement,” she said. “We’ve got to find every possible way to get people to complete these surveys.”

She suggested the city follow the lead of the Stanly County Health Department, whose Community Health Survey attracts participation from a large chunk of the county’s population.

The next meeting of Albemarle City Council will take place at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at Albemarle City Hall. The Albemarle Planning and Zoning Board will next meet at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at Albemarle City Hall.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.