[5/15/18 CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog incorrectly stated that the Board of Adjustment had approved a side-setback variance for only one of the two 50-foot-wide lots that comprise 155 Ocean Blvd. In fact, the Board approved setback variances for both lots. The Beacon regrets the error.]
Mark your calendars for the next Southern Shores Planning Board/Board of Adjustment meeting on May 21, starting at 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center behind Town Hall. At issue is an important amendment to the section of the Town zoning ordinance that is designed to regulate development on “nonconforming” lots of record, meaning lots that do not conform to minimum zoning requirements—such as the minimum lot width requirement of 100 feet in the RS-1 residential district.
Is Southern Shores going to start looking more like the beach towns to the south of it, where there are more houses on less land, and the population density is greater? Will the zoning amendment, ZTA 18-07, drafted by the Town prevent that from happening?
You may have noticed that the construction at 103 Ocean Blvd., pictured above, is no longer a quaint old brick duplex that sat centered on a 100-foot-wide lot. In its place, thanks to a variance granted by the Town Planning Board, serving in its capacity as the Town Board of Adjustment, are two new detached single family homes, each on a 50-foot-wide lot. (The powers, duties, meetings, and all other matters pertaining to the Board of Adjustment are spelled out in the Town Code, sec. 36-360 to 36-369.)
Since 2016, the Board of Adjustment has been granting minimum side-setback variances to property owners who would like to build on 50-foot-wide lots. Instead of conforming to required 15-foot side setbacks, these property owners, often through representatives, have sought, and received, the Board’s approval for a reduction to 12-foot-wide side setbacks, thus permitting the construction of 26-foot-wide houses, instead of 20-foot-wide homes. (I’ll elaborate upon these variances case-by-case in a blog next week. The Board has understandably struggled with these applications and with interpreting the Town Code.)
Town Planner and Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett has repeatedly said in public meetings that there are only 10 vacant 50-foot-wide lots in Southern Shores. It, therefore, would seem that these setback variances are not a big deal. The rub, however, is that many 100-foot-wide building sites in town, especially on and near the oceanfront, are actually recorded as two 50-foot-wide lots. That was standard procedure in the old pre-Town Zoning Ordinance Southern Shores. If property owners were to raze their old homes and sell their 100-foot-wide tracts as two separate 50-foot-wide lots, density would fast become an urgent concern.
(Full disclosure: My family’s oceanfront rental cottage, built in 1971, precisely fits this situation, as does the development to the north and south of our house.)
On March 19, 2018, the Board of Adjustment opened a Pandora’s box when it approved side-setback variances on two 50-foot-wide lots that comprise 155 Ocean Blvd. The two lots are #9 and #10 of block 29, section 3. Since the 1950s, a modest bungalow has occupied 155 Ocean Blvd., overlapping both of these lots.
Applicant Gray Berryman, representing property owner James A. Miller, succeeded in getting side-setback variances for lot #9, which, according to minutes of the hearing, he told the Board he intended to buy and develop, and for lot #10, which he informed the Board that Olin Finch, his friend and associate, would be purchasing for development. Thus, there would be two houses on a building site where there once was only one. At the time of the variance approvals, no property sale had occurred. (Mr. Berryman was a member of the Planning Board/Board of Adjustment when it approved the other side-setback variances on nonconforming lots.)
The Beacon seeks your assistance in addressing this zoning and building trend. There has been much discussion in public meetings about when two adjacent nonconforming lots–such as the two recorded for 103 Ocean Blvd.–must be (re)combined into one single lot of record. Ownership of the lots has been viewed as key to this determination. ZTA 18-07 attempts to settle the recombination issue. It also establishes a lower side setback requirement for 50-foot-wide lots than the Board of Adjustment has thus far approved: That of 10 feet, not 12 feet.
Please read the Town’s proposed zoning amendment to the Code and tell us what you think. Do you understand the legalese? Will it ensure the kind of development that you think the majority of Southern Shores property owners want? Here it is:
We will tell you what we think next week, after we’ve had time to read your comments and do more homework.
Ann Sjoerdsma, May 11, 2018