Reader commentary: Ordinances document is too vague

By Kim Bishop

Strasburg has prepared a Unified Development Ordinance with the laudable desire of combining all current ordinances into one complete document. After reading through it however, I wonder if these are ordinances for Strasburg or simply cookie cutter sustainable urban development concepts from cities all around the country?

The very first purpose in the UDO is to “manage future growth so as to maintain the town’s distinctive rural small-town character.” (Page 1) This is a goal I very much agree with and think most citizens of Strasburg would like to see as the town grows. However, “small-town character” is not defined anywhere. For me it means independent individuals coming together to help their neighbor’s in time of need, but basically responsible for their own property and families. As I read the UDO it seems to be defined as the Town Council deciding what the general welfare of the community is and that they are responsible for everyone’s property and families.

I will let the UDO speak for itself:

“The UDO shall place high regard for the protection of individual property rights in appropriate balance with the communities need to implement the goals, objectives, policies and strategies of the Comprehensive Plan.” (Bullet point J, Page 2)

“This UDO is not intended to abrogate, annul or otherwise interfere with any easement, covenant or other private agreement or legal relationship, provided, however, that where the regulations of the UDO are more restrictive or impose higher standards or requirements than such easement, covenant, or other private agreement, the regulations of the UDO shall govern.” (Page 2, 1.6.2)

“This UDO shall be interpreted to promote the safety, health, convenience, comfort, prosperity, and general welfare of the public. Interpretation and application of the UDO are the basic and minimum requirements for the protection of public health, safety, morals, convenience and welfare. The UDO shall be liberally interpreted in order to further its underlying purposes.” (Page 4, 1.11.1)

There are many other places within the UDO that make exemptions for the Town Council and give waivers for standards within the UDO at their discretion. The phrase “health, safety, and public welfare” are peppered all throughout the document, purposefully to be subjective. My question is how much power over our individual property rights, or comfort, or prosperity, or morals, or general welfare do we want to give to this and future councils?

I was once told by a friend that she had had an epiphany about me. We were discussing one of the many mandates the town has passed on citizens, and she said to me, “You know Kim, I just figured out why you fight so hard against these laws.” I asked, “Yes?” She said, “Because you intend to follow them.” And she was right.

I very much believe in the law and the necessity of regulations; however, I do not believe that government leaders should overstep their bounds and force citizens into behaviors just because they “know what is best.”

Ordinances or laws for development should be passed. There should be certain set-backs, and road widths, and distances between, and initial landscaping, etc. For aesthetics and safety I understand, but while this UDO has very good standards (as far as I understand them) they also have incentives for developers which change the very purpose of having them in the first place. Again, I will let the UDO speak:

“For the purposes of this Section (Density/Intensity bonuses), incentive may mean:
1. A reduction in site development standards or a modification of zoning code requirements or architectural design requirements that exceed the minimum building safety standards, resulting in identifiable, financially sufficient, and actual cost reductions; or
2. A reduction in lot coverage, setback, and square footage requirements; or
3. A reduction in the ration of vehicular parking spaces and/or configurations as set forth in the UDO;
4. Reduced minimum building separation requirements;
5. Reduced street standards, such as reduced minimum street widths; (Page 166, bullet L)

There is a lot of good in this document, but I personally have many questions about future misuse of the purposeful vagueness of this UDO. The contractor brought in to work with the town on this UDO believes the lack of community at the last discussion meeting on this shows that the people of the town are fine with it. If that is true, then please throw this article in the trash. But if you have some concerns, please make them known before it’s too late.

Pam Bishop is a Strasburg resident.