The first round of proposed changes to Camden County’s Land Use Code are on the county’s Planning & Zoning website.

Hopefully that’s the most boring sentence I’ll write this week. But the implications behind it are far from mundane: the Land Use Code is the set of regulations that allows the county to tell property owners what they can and can’t do with their land. Its defenders would say the Land Use Code helps protect communities from unwanted developments and onerous uses of land, or something. Tomato tomato. (Hmm, that saying doesn’t work in writing.)

Point is: barring some surprising, major movement among county voters, the Camden County Land Use Code isn’t going away. But it will be changing.

Here's the current land use code. Here is the first draft of the revised code.

The three-person county commission will have to approve any changes… and those would first go through the county Planning & Zoning Commission, but only after going through a citizen advisory board (promised by the county commission). Potentially anyone could affect the changes to the code, were they so inclined, and a rough draft of proposed changes assembled by the county Planning & Zoning Attorney Ryan Harding as well as former Planning & Zoning Administrator Kim Willey has been submitted to the county’s Planning & Zoning Office, to get the conversation started. Those changes are visible on the P&Z website (re: the first sentence of this article).

It’s unlikely those changes will be the last word on the official revision: a public comment session is planned for July 24, 2018 at 5 p.m. in the third floor hearing room in which citizens can come with ideas, thoughts, and feedback for the P&Z department. Again, all of that will have to go through a citizen advisory committee, then the P&Z Commission, and then finally to the County Commission.

But this first document is a starting point. Trouble is: it’s tough to tell what’s been changed from the old Land Use Code, and what’s been kept. The current document on the P&Z site is not just a list of changes: it’s actually the entire proposed revised Land Use Code. It doesn’t have additions bolded or detractions crossed out, which means the only way to see what’s being proposed is to set the old Code and the proposed revised Code side-by-side and read them, comparing and contrasting them, paragraph by paragraph.

We’re not saying this ambiguity was intentional or malicious, but it’d be awfully helpful to citizens (and, we’ll be honest, those of us in newsrooms with a finite amount of time on our hands) if the proposed new code could be clearer in what changes are being proposed, versus what the experts think ought to stay the same. God bless you few strange folks who get jazzed about the idea of poring over two Land Use Codes all evening… but most of us would rather get that root canal we’ve been putting off.

In all fairness, P&Z Administrator Tanna Wirtz too acknowledged that the new document is difficult to decipher. She said she’s planning a conference call with Harding and Willey soon to try and get some clarity. She also emphasized that even once this major round of overhauls goes to the county commission and is approved (or not), “It’s not going to be a perfect document when it’s done.” Future modifications can be made, and Wirtz said a clear indicator is when the same kinds of issues continue to come in front of the county’s board of adjustments.

For now, we made it through the “Definitions” portion of the 255-page code (please clap) and found quite a few changes there. See below for a “current/proposed” slideshow. At first blush, the ones that interest us the most have to do with vacation rentals:

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 11.12.33 AM-17.jpg
Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 11.12.37 AM-17.jpg
Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 11.13.30 AM-20.jpg
Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 11.13.33 AM-20.jpg
Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 11.17.16 AM-24.jpg

Two interesting things here:

1) The new definition of hotel/motel would specify the facility must be a "commercial facility." That could bode well for home owners who rent to vacationers: their home could not be categorized as a "hotel/motel" as long as the county doesn't categorize their home as "commercial." Though previously the Camden Assessor's Office had been reassessing homes at a "commercial" taxation rate if they were found to be renting the home or rooms to the public on a short-term basis, that practice has reversed by the current assessor, Marty McGuire.

2) The new definition of "Lodging Facilities" would be much more wordy, and potentially much narrower. It doesn't look like vacation homes would be excluded from the proposed definition as written (nor are they excluded from the current definition), but it's curious that the proposed definition is so much more specific.

This is only just the beginning of what is certain to be a lengthy process. For now: happy reading!