6/7/18: EVENTFUL TOWN COUNCIL MEETING: 3-2 VOTE IN SUPPORT OF NON-CONFORMING LOTS ZTA, SECOND READING REQUIRED; BUDGET APPROVED, 4-1, WITH STRONG DISSENT: Planning Board Chairman Sam Williams Announces He Will Not Seek New Term

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In a 3 ½-hour meeting Tuesday night at the Pitts Center that featured four public hearings and a surprise announcement by Planning Board Chairman Sam Williams, the Southern Shores Town Council split 3-2 on approving ZTA 18-07, a zoning change intended to halt a recent trend in town to develop nonconforming lots, in particular, lots that are 50 feet wide. Councilmen Fred Newberry, Gary McDonald, and Jim Conners voted in favor of the ZTA, and Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Chris Nason opposed it.

A second reading of ZTA 18-07 will likely be held at the Council’s July 10 meeting, although a special meeting could be held earlier. According to Town Attorney Ben Gallop, the ZTA did not “pass.” The vote to approve it on first reading fell short of the required majority. On second reading, only a simple majority is required.

As expected, the Town Council also unanimously approved two other zoning text amendments recommended by the Planning Board, including one that changes the Town Code to allow “small” drive-through facilities to operate in the commercial district, if they front on U.S. Hwy. 158 (ZTA 18-05), and was before the Council on a second reading; and another pertaining to the installation of small-cell facilities in residential districts to improve cellular-phone signals (ZTA 18-06).

Mr. Nason, an architect and owner of Beacon Architecture & Design in Kitty Hawk, did not participate in the drive-through facilities matter (ZTA 18-05), because of a financial interest. He described ZTA applicant 5415 OBX LLC, represented by Spiros Giannakopoulos, who also sought a conditional use permit (CUP) to operate a drive-through ice cream shop on the 18,260-square-foot commercial lot at 5415 N. Croatan Hwy., as “a client.”

The Council voted 4-0 to grant Mr. Giannakopoulos’s CUP.

After a robust discussion led by Mr. McDonald about how Town Manager Peter Rascoe balanced the proposed FY 2018-19 budget that was filed May 1, the Town Council approved the budget, 4-1, with Mr. McDonald dissenting.

Mr. McDonald questioned a transfer of $282,828 from the Capital Reserve Fund, which is used for capital projects, to FY 2018-19 revenues in order to make up for a shortfall in revenues and expenses that appeared in preliminary figures presented April 17 by Mr. Rascoe in a “draft” budget. (See The Beacon, “FY 2018-19 BUDGET SESSION: Preliminary Figures Show Expansion of Capital Projects, Staff; Major Investment in SSVFD, Employee Compensation,” April 24.)

“We’re using money that was designated for a specific project”—in this case, $195,000 for work on Yaupon Trail that was delayed—“to balance the budget,” Mr. McDonald argued.

The Beacon will explore Mr. McDonald’s concern, and Mr. Rascoe’s response, in an upcoming blog post.

In other budget discussions, Councilman Newberry brought up future payments for the proposed new fire station, which has been estimated will cost up to $6 million and has yet to be approved by the Town Council.

Noting that revenues are unlikely to increase, Mr. Newberry asked: “Do we start trimming the budget, or do we raise taxes?”

Councilman Nason agreed that next spring, when the FY 2019-20 is prepared, “A tough discussion [will] be had.”

The May 1 proposed budget differed only minimally from the April 17 draft budget, showing bottom-line expenditures of $6,355,401, compared with $6,388,835 in the draft.

And finally, Planning Board Chairman Sam Williams, who presented the Board’s recommendations on all of the ZTAs and answered Council’s questions, announced that after nine years as chairman, he will not be seeking another three-year term on the Board when his current term ends June 30.

Mr. Williams, a dedicated and diligent public servant who has worked extremely long hours as Board chairman, expressed an interest in having more time with his family.

The Beacon extends its best wishes to Mr. Williams and his family. We hope Mr. Williams enjoys his grandfather time, but also continues to share his knowledge and experience with the Town.

Mr. Williams’s decision creates a certain vacancy on the Planning Board, which the Town Council must fill by majority vote. The three-year term of Board member David Neal is also expiring June 30. He previously has indicated an interest in continuing for another term. In addition, a vacancy currently exists in one of the two Board alternate positions, and the term of alternate Carlos Gomez is ending June 30.

NONCONFORMING LOTS—ELABORATED

I will conclude this post with a few more comments about the discussion on ZTA 18-07, which proved to be confusing and somewhat divisive. To say the least, the issues raised by the ZTA are complicated.

It is unfortunate that the public hearing on ZTA 18-07 was the last one on the agenda, rather than the first, because so many people had left by the time it started. It is also unfortunate that Mr. Gallop did not explain to the remaining public the meaning of the vote.

After the Town Council voted, 3-2, to approve the ZTA, as written, without any changes—on motion by Mr. McDonald, seconded by Mr. Newberry—members of the audience were left asking, literally: What happened? Did it “pass”?

When I posed this question to Mr. Gallop after adjournment, he explained that, to be enacted, the ZTA needed to be approved by a “super majority” of four of the five Council members. On second reading, a simple majority, or three of the five, will be sufficient. Mr. Gallop would not characterize the ZTA as having “passed.”

Southern Shores’ low-density character is a key feature of its land-use plan and of its unique appeal. The Town’s zoning laws specify a minimum lot width of 100 feet and a minimum lot size of 20,000 square feet. These dimensional requirements are listed among those for setbacks, lot coverage, and building height, etc., in Town Code section 36-202(d), which covers the RS-1 single-family residential district.

But many lots in Southern Shores were platted and recorded as 50-foot-wide lots, and then typically sold in combinations of two or more, before the Town was incorporated and the Town Code was enacted. To my recollection, they were sold as “package deals” and developed as if they were single lots of 100 feet or more in width. It is because of this development history that Southern Shores has been able to preserve its open spaces.

It’s also because of this history that the nonconforming-lot dilemma has arisen.

When my parents purchased oceanfront property in Southern Shores nearly 50 years ago, they were offered one tract of land consisting of two 50-foot-wide lots: Take it or leave it.

They were not given the option of buying only one of the 50-foot-wide lots. I don’t know why their land wasn’t platted as one 100-foot-wide lot because, clearly, the developer’s intent was to preserve large lot sizes.

The neighbors to the immediate south of my parents’ property, who were a generation older than they, bought three adjacent 50-foot-wide lots and built a marvelous flat-top house on two of the lots, leaving the lot between my parents’ property and theirs, vacant. (Part of a dune deck overlaps the third 50-foot-wide lot, however.)

In the discussion about ZTA 18-07, Mayor Bennett seemed most concerned about the interests of people like my parents’ original neighbors: The ZTA would prevent such property owners—actually, now their grandchildren and great-grandchildren—from selling their third vacant 50-foot-wide lot.

LOW DENSITY, ABUNDANT SPACE

I think it is relevant to quote in full paragraph (a) under sec. 36-202, which expresses the intent of the regulations:

“The RS-1 district is established to provide for the low-density development of single-family detached dwellings in an environment which preserves sand dunes, coastal forests, wetlands, and other unique natural features of the coastal area. The district is intended to promote stable, permanent neighborhoods characterized by low vehicular traffic flows, abundant open space, and low impact of development on the natural environment and adjacent land uses.”

I found it very disconcerting to hear Councilman Nason say during the hearing on ZTA 18-07 that he has “no problem” with developing 50-foot-wide lots and increasing density. He may not, but the Town does and has since its 1979 incorporation.

Mayor Bennett worried about “punishing people”—such as my parents’ original neighbors and their descendants—who would be compelled by ZTA 18-07 to “recombine” their lots into one single lot if they tried to sell a nonconforming lot separately. But, if they were permitted to sell their third 50-foot-wide lot, their buyer would build on the lot, with the aid of variances, in contravention of the intent expressed in both sec. 36-202 and the Town land-use plan.

Mr. Gallop’s explanation that “over time,” the Town’s intent “is to reduce nonconformings” did not seem to resonate with the mayor.

“We need to put more work into [the ZTA],” Mr. Bennett said.

Councilman Conners spoke for Mr. Newberry, Mr. McDonald, the Planning Board, and property owners who publicly supported the ZTA, when he said that it was about “stopping runaway development so [Southern Shores] doesn’t look like Kitty Hawk or Kill Devil Hills.”

He exhorted his Council colleagues: “Let’s move forward.”

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, June 7, 2018

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