Aberdeen Citizens Academy Program returns

Planning and Inspection Board to research ways municipal governments can impact affordable housing

ABERDEEN — The Town of Aberdeen Board met Monday with a potential text amendment to the UDO and a preliminary discussion on affordable housing as the key items on the agenda.

The Town of Aberdeen’s Citizens Academy Program will return in October after a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For various reasons, because of COVID, we haven’t done our citizens academy for a couple of years,” said Town Manager Paul Sabiston. “We have about six participants signed up now, and we’re looking for four or five more candidates that can join us Monday. We’ve got a pretty good group started, and we are going to start on Monday with our first session. As in the past, we’re going to meet about every two weeks for three sessions.”

According to the Town’s website, “The purpose of the program is to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between local government and those it serves. The sessions will provide a ‘toolbox’ of information to help citizens navigate the complex system of government operations and services.”

“We go through the group, department by department, and what we kind of do as a Town is try to educate the citizens on an introductory level,” Sabiston said. “These classes have always been fun, and they are free. We try to have a good gift at the end of them too. Usually, some pretty good food, too, if that’s all you care about. So if you have even a little interest in learning about the Town, come on. It’s a fun group, and we have some good discussions.”

The town board held a public hearing regarding a potential text amendment submitted by Hawthorne Residential Partners to amend the UDO Chapter 8 – Nonconformities to create non-conforming density standards for multi-family developments.

“The amendment is specifically looking to add non-conforming protections for multi-family density for previous properties,” said Planning Director Justin Westbrook. “Currently, there are no protections for density in those projects, so should one of those projects experience a catastrophic loss of structures, the property in its entirety would not be allowed to ever rebuild back to the density it had previously enjoyed.”

According to Westbrook, the text amendment only applies to “Acts of God,” and if, for instance, something is done by the landowner, the potential amendment protections would not apply to the property. Furthermore, rebuilds would have to follow all of the other standards of the UDO, as the amendment just preserves prior density.

However, while staff recommended the text amendment for approval, the planning board voted 7-0 in favor of denial of the amendment, mainly due to the applicant not being able to attend the meeting in which it was to be discussed. Due to that fact, the town board voted to continue the public hearing for the amendment so that the Planning and Development Board could take another look at the amendment with the applicant present.

The Town of Aberdeen also started having preliminary discussions on the lack of affordable housing in regards to ways in which the municipal government can have an impact on and affect the course of it in order to help facilitate homing necessary workers such as first responders, nurses, teachers, those in the service sector and government staff which are in need.

“The market is not what it was a couple of years ago,” Westbrook said. “Homes are going in a matter of hours, if not minutes, as opposed to the months houses were usually on the market.”

The discussions focused on how the Planning and Inspections Departments had begun to research how other municipalities in North Carolina were addressing the issue and how they would be bringing forth various methods before the town board in order to address the affordable housing crisis.

The Town of Aberdeen Board will next meet October 24.

By Ryan Henkel, North State Journal

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