Commission tackles subdivision rules

The Blount County Commission, with its complement of three stillnew commissioners, met Monday to grapple again with a chronic problem area of county governance: subdivision regulations.

At the urging of veteran District 4 Commissioner Waymon Pitts, the commission is looking at ways to better ensure that county residents, specifically those living in subdivision developments, are protected by regulations governing subdivision design and construction.

Coming in for particular attention are the county’s regulations covering the construction of subdivision roads. The commission wants to achieve two goals: first, to encourage developers to meet county road construction specifications to provide high-quality, durable roads in all county subdivisions; and second, to assure that county taxpayers are protected from having to bear the cost of rebuilding those roads where those standards are not met for whatever reason and the roads “come to pieces” within a short time after they are built. In such cases, costs of repair should be borne by developers, not taxpayers, according to the commission’s point of view. Keeping taxpayers off the hook

Underlying the focus on subdivision roads is the county’s unfortunate experience with poorly built roads that deteriorated rapidly. Residents then demand that those roads that were not properly constructed by developers be rebuilt at county taxpayer expense.

Roads built in new subdivisions don’t automatically “belong” to the county, according to the commission; the county is not obliged to maintain them. They are the responsibility of the subdivision developer who builds them. They are not considered as public roads until they are accepted for continuing maintenance by vote of the county commission.

The accepted practice – that the county commission would like to enforce and reinforce – is that developers are responsible for building roads and for doing necessary maintenance on them for two years after they are completed, including bringing them up to acceptable condition before they are approved by the commission for continuing maintenance at public expense.

At the end of the two-year period, according to commission procedures, the commissioner for the district where a subdivision is located typically may move that the roads be accepted by the county, provided they have come through the trial period reasonably intact. If there are problems with the road, developers are generally expected to make whatever repairs are needed to bring them up to an acceptable level before the county will accept them as county roads. Performance bond protects public

What motivates developers to build roads properly is the performance bond, which may be an actual cash deposit or letter of credit issued by a bank or a type of insurance provided by a financial institution.

The bond or letter of credit guarantees the developer’s work by providing money to rebuild the road properly and to county specifications if the developer fails to do so, or if the road deteriorates during the two years and the developer defaults.

The amount of the bond is generally the estimated cost of repairing or resurfacing the road plus 50 percent to allow for increase in cost of material over a two-year period.

At the heart of commission discussion was when the two-year trial period should begin – when the subdivision plat is initially approved and sale of lots begins, or when subdivision roads are completed and paved. In Monday discussions, the commission considered a bond process with the amount contingent on what stage the development is in at the time the amount of the bond is fixed, with a higher amount set at earlier stages of construction.

The bond required before road construction is complete would be considerably higher than the amount that would be required at completion. Also discussed was a two-stage process whereby a higher initial bond at an early stage in development could be released to the developer and a bond in a reduced amount required at the final completion of road construction. Putting engineers on the hot seat

The commission also discussed establishing the subdivision developer’s professional engineer as the responsible authority for guaranteeing conformity to county subdivision specifications. The subdivision engineer would be required to certify that all requirements of county specifications are met as shown on the plat submitted by that engineer and approved by the county commission. Falsification would be punished by disallowing that engineer for further work in Blount County and notifying the engineer’s professional organization that he had falsified official documentation.

Monday’s discussions were preliminary and will be finalized in subsequent followup drafts of subdivision regulations after commissioners have had an opportunity to think about implications and discuss them further.