Commission issues property development guidelines to control illegal subdivisions

Blount County’s subdivision regulations require only ONE dwelling per property parcel. This property diagram shows 29 structures on less than 15 acres. As many as 20 plus may be dwellings.

Blount County’s subdivision regulations require only ONE dwelling per property parcel. This property diagram shows 29 structures on less than 15 acres. As many as 20 plus may be dwellings.

The Blount County Commission in its last business meeting approved distribution to the public of an eight-page document called the “New Construction/Property Development Planning Packet.”

Its purpose is twofold: first to assist private landowners as they attempt to navigate their way through the various requirements and regulations involved in developing their property, and second, to assist the county to gain significant control over unplanned, unmonitored development and illegal subdivisions – a state of affairs that results in housing and environmental conditions that are not only illegal, but unhealthy, unsafe, unsightly, and ultimately not in the best interests (economic or otherwise) of the wider community.

“Real estate developers building designed subdivisions know the rules which are laid out in great detail in our subdivision regulations,” said Probate Judge Chris Green, who has coped with this subject for years. “What we’re trying to solve with this planning packet is the illegal subdivision and development of property by individual property owners. A common purpose is to provide low-cost rental housing by installing mobile homes – multiple dwellings – on a single parcel of land. Blount County’s Subdivision Regulations adopted in 2016 require there be only one dwelling per property parcel. Anything else is an illegal subdivision. They may not know the rules. We’re trying to head off problems and solve them before they occur, and become really big problems for everyone.” Example of the problem

Top: Thirteen mailboxes, somewhere in Blount County: sign of the times. Bottom: Again, the rule is ONE dwelling per parcel of land. This aerial photo shows what appears to be 17 or 18 dwellings on this multi-acre parcel.

Top: Thirteen mailboxes, somewhere in Blount County: sign of the times. Bottom: Again, the rule is ONE dwelling per parcel of land. This aerial photo shows what appears to be 17 or 18 dwellings on this multi-acre parcel.

“If we don’t catch these situations early, then first thing you know, you have a two-acre lot with one sitebuilt home on it, then a mobile home set up in the side yard, then another one along the back fence, and maybe even a third or fourth one later on,” Green said. “If you drive out there in the summer, you’ll have kids playing in the sandbox and Dominicker chickens scratching in the yard.”

Not a thing wrong with kids and sandboxes and Dominickers, Green said, but that’s three or four or five dwellings on a single parcel of land, and that’s an illegal subdivision. And by the time there are kids in the sandbox and chickens in the yard, it’s hugely more difficult and disruptive to all concerned to solve than it is if you head the problem off before it gets to that point, he said.

Green didn’t say so, but there are dozens and dozens of such illegal subdivisions all over the county. Many have been there for years, many involve multiple dwellings per parcel (into the double digits in some cases), and they’re increasing virtually month by month.

Remember: there can legally be only ONE DWELLING per property parcel. Anything else is an illegal subdivision – with nine exceptions or exemptions.

The purpose of the planning packet is to outline those exemptions and provide a process for those who qualify to claim one of them so they can continue their development project. Those who don’t qualify for an exemption from subdivision regulations will be referred to the county engineering department to apply the regulations and monitor the implementation of their proposed development project. Exemptions

• Property owner owns or has bought a single parcel of land and intends to build one dwelling on it where he intends to live.

• An owner engages in a ONE TIME sale or gift of one portion of a parcel of land, retaining the other parcel himself.

• Acquisition by public entity by purchase or donation of strips of land for widening or opening of streets.

• The property is subdivided by a court order, e.g. judgments, foreclosures, probated wills.

• Division of a parcel among legally-related family members: limited to spouses, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, or grandchildren. Each deeded parcel must have legal ingress/egress and utility easements running with the land.

• Division of land parcel where all resulting parcels are 20 acres or more.

• Construction or development of roads or buildings to be used for agricultural purposes.

• Sale of a portion of a previously unplatted parcel to an adjoining property owner to be incorporated into the receiving by deed.

• Sale of a tract that is separated from the balance or remaining part of a parcel by a natural boundary such as a road or river. The planning packet

The planning packet talks the reader through the steps in complying with requirements involved in preparing to build a dwelling on a parcel of property. It begins with the contact with 911 to get an address assigned for the dwelling, which is the first step leading to subsequent steps for meeting the requirements needed for necessary residential services: utilities like power and water, and critical health department sanitary regulations regarding soil tests and septic systems, if an existing sewer system is not available.

The packet includes an explanation of the process to follow in requesting a letter of exemption from subdivision regulations. Also included are copies of the Request for an Exempt Subdivision Letter, which must be filled out and submitted to the Blount County License Inspector, who will provide the letter of exemption if appropriate, or forward the request to the county engineering department if further handling is necessary to assure compliance with county subdivision regulations.

Also included is a description of information needed by 911 to respond to a property owner’s request for an address and a copy of the form used to record that information.

Finally, a summary sheet on Alabama Department of Revenue Manufactured Home Registration Requirements is included.

The packet blazes a pathway through the thicket of requirements a person preparing to develop his property must navigate in order to organize the project in an orderly manner. It aids in the proper sequencing of steps to take, and includes helpful observations on items to watch out for and be aware of during the process. Distribution plan

Copies of planning packets will be available soon for distribution to the public from 911, from the Blount County Health Department, and from utility offices such as Alabama Power and the various county water departments and authorities. It may later be available on the Blount County website (www.blount and/or on the Blount County Roads and Engineering Department website (…/roads-engineering.) Health/safety/economic problems associated with illegal subdivisions

• threats to public health arising from violation of standards regarding sewage/wastewater disposal

• complications/compromise of utility billing process, especially for water providers because of multiple users on a single meter, in violation of regulations

• confusion over (or lack of) dwelling addresses used by law enforcement, fire, and medical responders in providing emergency services

• disputes over property lines and dwelling access roads

• degradation of environmental esthetics

• creation of rural slums

• deterioration of surrounding property values Last word

“Every subdivision should be well designed and constructed for ordered growth and a stable, healthy environment, and it should result in desirable, livable communities that are in the best interests of all the citizens of the county,” Green said.

“I want to say right now that there is nothing wrong with mobile home subdivisions. They can meet all those requirements and be attractive places to live. Pam and I lived in a mobile home when we first married and when our children were born, so I know mobile homes meet a real economic need and in individual cases may be the best place the people in them have ever lived. I’m sensitive to that and the last thing I want to do is interfere with those people’s lives.

“But illegal housing and subdivisions are a growing problem in the county, and the best way to get ahead of it becoming a serious problem is to catch it before it does. That’s what we’re trying to do with this packet by making people aware of the requirements before they spend a lot of money on developing their property only to find that what they’ve done doesn’t meet county requirements and it becomes a huge problem for everybody.”