The Town Planning Board voted last week to recommend to the Town Council the creation of a mixed residential-commercial use of any property that is located in the C commercial zoning district, while also proposing specific mixed-use building requirements that it believes must be met to preserve the vision of Southern Shores and comply with its Land Use Plan.
The recommendation came about at the Planning Board’s May 19 meeting, as a culmination of extensive discussions between Town staff and the Board with Ginguite LLC, a SAGA investment group that seeks to develop a 5.2-acre tract next to the Southern Shores Landing on U.S. Hwy. 158 with both residential and commercial facilities.
The Southern Shores Town Code of Ordinances currently does not permit such mixed-use developments.
(Because of The Beacon’s six-month suspension, we did not follow discussions between Ginguite and the Planning Board at public meetings. We are catching up.)
Mixing residential and commercial uses on a single property in the commercial district is essentially “creating another zoning district,” said Planning Board Chairperson Andy Ward at the Board’s meeting last week, during which Sumit Gupta, representing Ginguite LLC, sought the Board’s recommendation of a Zoning Text Amendment—ZTA 22-06—that his company submitted to authorize and define mixed-use developments.
The Board unanimously rejected ZTA 22-06, because of a disagreement over lot coverage, then recommended its own conditions for mixed-use developments in the commercial district.
Ginguite has not presented a site plan for the vacant property at 6195 N. Croatan Hwy., which has both marshland and water on it, but Mr. Gupta, who is a Co-Founder, Partner, and Chief Executive Officer of SAGA Realty and Construction, told the Planning Board last week that the developer is considering designs with “luxury multifamily” dwellings, similar to the Run Hill Luxury Apartment Villas owned by SAGA in Kill Devil Hills.
“Affordable, workforce housing,” said Mr. Gupta, “is not [our] focus.”
Although Mr. Gupta addressed only the Ginguite property on U.S. 158, any amendment to the Town Code to allow mixed-use developments would apply to all commercial properties in Southern Shores. There are three others, according to Planning Director and Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett. They are:
*5391 N. Virginia Dare Hwy., 7.9 acres (the Stones’ property, which includes the Southern Shores Realty office, the Southern Shores Crossing, and vacant land that is not visible from the road)
*5500 N. Croatan Hwy., 18.1 acres (the Marketplace)
*5355 N. Croatan Hwy., 4.1 acres (Southern Shores Realty maintenance building)
AMENDING THE TOWN ZONING ORDINANCE
The Town Code currently allows as “permitted uses” in the commercial district a variety of retail stores, business, financial, and professional offices, service establishments, and residential dwellings, among other facilities, and authorizes certain “conditional uses,” including group developments of commercial buildings. (See Code sec. 36-207)
The residential dwellings it specifically permits are detached single-family dwellings, two-family dwellings (duplexes), and multifamily dwellings.
(The Town Zoning Ordinance is codified at section 36 of the Town Code of Ordinances. We sometimes refer to the Zoning Ordinance or the Zoning Code when referencing section 36.)
A mixed-use group development of commercial and residential buildings was clearly not contemplated by previous Zoning Code writers, who kept apartments and other multifamily housing units separate from retail shops and other commercial facilities.
Chairperson Ward described ZTA 22-06 as the “fourth version” of efforts between the Planning Board and Mr. Gupta (Ginguite) to reach agreement on the requirements and conditions of a new mixed-use group development. Both ZTA 22-06, which the Planning Board considered insufficient, and the Board’s own recommendation amend the Code to make mixed-use group developments a conditional use in the commercial district.
While Mr. Ward said the ZTA “versions” that Ginguite has presented “keep getting better,” a major sticking point between the Board and Mr. Gupta—one that consumed an inordinate amount of time at the May 19 meeting, as communication broke down—was the maximum allowable lot coverage for a mixed-use development.
MAXIMUM LOT COVERAGE FOR MIXED-USE
Ginguite’s ZTA 22-06 provides that “no more than 40 percent lot coverage of the net parcel area” can be associated with residential building footprints and required residential parking. It does not address commercial lot coverage, however, which, if a certain amount of permeable pavement is used, can be up to 67 percent, according to Town Code sec. 36-207(d)(5)(b).
The Town Code currently allows a maximum of 40 percent lot coverage for multifamily dwellings in the commercial district, but not for single family homes or duplexes, which are limited to 30 percent coverage. (Sec. 207(c)(4))
Mr. Gupta argued last week that a developer of a mixed-use property should be able to use the maximum lot coverage permitted for commercial property, provided its residential buildings and parking do not exceed 40 percent of the net parcel area.
He seemed to view residential property as a “substitute” for commercial property, saying: “It would be nice to take some of the allowable commercial space and trade it for residential.”
Mr. Ward took a different approach, advocating that the maximum allowable lot coverage of the net parcel area should be evaluated in the aggregate, without regard to whether a building/structure footprint is residential or commercial, and proposing a maximum of 50 percent.
Board Vice Chairperson Tony DiBernardo further advanced the idea that a minimum lot coverage should be set for residential development. He cited a minimum of 25 percent and a maximum of 40 percent lot coverage of the net parcel area.
(There has been much discussion about mixed-uses behind the scenes, as well as at previous Board meetings, and we are unsure when these percentages arose and who originated them.)
The Town Zoning Ordinance defines “net” acreage as the total area to be developed, “minus any area covered by waterways, marshes, or wetlands.” (Code sec. 36-57) The Ginguite property has all three.
Mr. Gupta said the Board’s aggregate 50 percent lot coverage “penalized” Ginguite “for bringing in residential” development.
The investors’ group bought the property on U.S. 158 in June 2014, and, according to Mr. Gupta, “The plan was to develop it within the current rules,” meaning strictly commercial, “which we can still do.”
He declined to agree with the 50 percent mandate at last week’s meeting, saying “Our current plan wouldn’t work” with it, and, further, that the “net” parcel area restriction “hurts us.”
RECOMMENDED REQUIREMENTS FOR MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENTS
As part of its recommendation to the Town Council, the Planning Board set forth requirements for future mixed-use developments, which pertain to allowable building size, residential density, and other common dimensional regulations in addition to lot coverage. They were largely culled from other sections of the Zoning Ordinance, but some are new. We quote them verbatim below:
*Minimum size of any building shall be 2,500 square feet. (This was in Ginguite’s version of the ZTA.)
*All buildings constructed within 35 feet of another building within the development are to be connected by a breezeway or covered walkway. (Also in Ginguite’s ZTA.)
*Lot shall be serviced by an existing community wastewater treatment facility permitted by NC DEQ DWR. (N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources. Also in Ginguite’s ZTA.)
*Residential density shall be limited to RS-8 District allowances as established in Town Code sec. 36-203(a). (Note: The density requirement in the RS-8 multifamily residential district is eight dwelling units per net acre. The Town Council enacted this requirement, which was initiated by Mr. Haskett, at its May meeting. Ginguite agreed with it.)
*A minimum of 25 percent and no more than 40 percent lot coverage of the net parcel area can be associated with building footprints containing residential uses and the required parking for residential uses.
*Minimum front yard (setback): 25 feet.
*Minimum side yard (setback): of 15 feet. An additional 5-foot-yard adjacent to the street is required for a corner lot.
*Minimum rear yard (setback): 20 feet.
*Maximum building height shall be 35 feet, measured from the average of the existing, undisturbed grade at the building corners
*No building or other facility (such as parking spaces, incinerators, trash collection areas, etc.) shall be located nearer than 50 feet to boundaries of residential districts
*Where a mixed use group development abuts a residential zone, a buffer of dense vegetative planting or natural vegetation is required (see Sec. 36-207(8))
*Maximum allowance lot coverage of the net parcel area by principal use and all accessory structures, in the aggregate, for the entire mixed use group development, shall be 50 percent.
*Mixed use group developments which incorporate the use of permeable pavement, as outlined in Section 36-207(d)(5)(a), in excess of 5 percent of the total lot coverage shall be allowed a maximum allowable lot coverage by principal use and all accessory structures, of no greater than 55 percent. (This compares with 67 percent if the development is strictly commercial.)
According to Mr. Haskett, the Town Council will hold a public hearing on ZTA 22-06 at its June 7 meeting, and he will report that the Planning Board recommended denial of it, as presented, but recommended approval of it with these additional conditions.
30% LOT COVERAGE IN RS-1 DISTRICT: Before the Planning Board considered mixed-use development, it took action on ZTA 22-05, which was an application by Stacia and Marc LeBlanc of 9 Tenth Avenue, to increase maximum allowable lot coverage from 30 percent to 35 percent for nonconforming lots in the RS-1 residential district of Southern Shores.
The Planning Board unanimously denied the LeBlancs’ application, although Board member Robert McClendon said he would consider increasing lot coverage throughout the district to 35 percent.
The LeBlancs’ lot on Tenth Avenue is 17,500 square feet, 2,500 square feet smaller than what is considered a conforming lot in Southern Shores. They built their 3,330-square-foot house, swimming pool, and other outdoor structures in 2020 and ran up against the 30-percent limit when they tried to add decking and walkways of their choice.
The LeBlancs argued their case for changing the lot coverage in a well-organized Power Point presentation that predominantly focused on how a change would benefit them and did not address how it would affect the town as a whole.
In evaluating the ZTA, Mr. DiBernardo said, “I just don’t see how this helps Southern Shores one bit. I don’t see any positive. . . . It will take away from the environment and also make lots look more crowded and closer together. . . . It might help individuals, but it doesn’t help the town as a whole.”
He later added, “Aesthetically and environmentally, there’s no plus to it.”
Planning Board member Lynda Burek said that there should be “no surprise [to property owners] if you’re over lot coverage” because of the permitting process. The Town will not approve building plans that are not in compliance with the Town Code.
Chairperson Ward, whose opinion has been key in defeating efforts to expand building lot coverage by exempting from its calculation certain structures (such as 500 square feet of a swimming pool), gave a history of the limitation, noting that the 30 percent restriction dates to 1981, when the first Town Code was enacted.
He also illustrated numerically how the benefit of a 5 percent gain in lot coverage increases as nonconforming lots get smaller. (See his chart at the 35-minute mark of the videotape.)
“We are slowly relaxing lot coverage,” Mr. Ward told the LeBlancs, “but we’re doing it very incrementally.” The Board, he said, is “very protective” of Southern Shores.
SHOUT-OUT: We would like to conclude this report by giving an appreciative shout-out to Councilman Matt Neal, who attended all 2 hours and 40 minutes of the Planning Board’s May 19 meeting. Thank you, Councilman Neal. You are a dedicated and informed public official.
Mr. Ward’s description of the lengthy meeting as “a little bit better than a root canal” was spot-on, and you didn’t budge from the endodontist’s chair.
We also thank Stasia LeBlanc for giving The Beacon a shout-out when she said that she and her husband did not anticipate the negative response that their ZTA would receive.
Even “The Beacon is complaining about it,” she said.
We’re glad she’s reading us. Next time, perhaps, we’ll be on the same side.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/26/22