Proposed ZTA 18-04, which alters the calculation of the Town’s 30-percent lot coverage requirement, is déjà vu for the Southern Shores Town Council.
It is also partially nouveau vu, to coin a new phrase.
The zoning text amendment, which will be the subject of a public hearing and a first reading by the Town Council at its meeting tomorrow night (Tuesday), was defeated, 3-2, in a slightly different form last September.
For the amendment to be adopted upon its first reading, a 4/5 majority vote is required.
Former Councilman Leo Holland joined with Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald at the Council’s Sept. 5, 2017 meeting to defeat what was then ZTA 17-03.
Five months later, newly elected Councilman Jim Conners joined with Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Chris Nason to resurrect the measure, with insubstantial minor changes, as ZTA 18-04.
The Beacon believes the Mayor and Councilmen Conners and Nason were playing politics, at the expense of the public, when they revised the defeated ZTA 17-03 during the Feb. 6 Town Council meeting–just three months after Mr. Conners’s election
OPINION: They should not have been allowed this second attempt to influence house sizes in town. Maneuvering like this undermines the integrity of the lawmaking process and trust in government.
Thanks to the Town Planning Board, which held a hearing on the lot-coverage ZTA on April 16, the amendment now has “nouveau” elements.
ZTA 18-04 would amend Southern Shores Town Code sec. 36-202(d)(6), which defines “maximum allowable lot coverage,” by adding language about exemptions.
Currently, this section contains no exemptions. It defines maximum allowable lot coverage in the low-density single-family residential district as 30 percent, except for town-owned facilities and fire stations, which are permitted 85 percent coverage.
As written now, ZTA 18-04 would eliminate from the building footprint, and, therefore, from the lot-coverage calculation the following:
*The outermost 4 feet of [roof] eaves
*Up to 500 square feet of the water area of a swimming pool
*Open-slatted decks that allow water to penetrate through to previous material (not to exceed a total of 25 percent of the total footprint area)
ZTA 18-04 also would exempt from lot-coverage calculation 50 percent of the area consumed by pervious materials and turfstone/pavers for driveways and parking areas.
Lot coverage is the ratio of the total footprint area of all structures on a lot to the net lot area. The footprint typically includes principal (your house) and accessory structures, such as garages, carports, covered patios and roofed porches, decks, swimming pools, driveways, and parking pads.
The chief objectives of lot-coverage laws are 1) to ensure stormwater retention in the ground, so that runoff into streets and adjacent lots doesn’t occur; and 2) to protect open space, which is a critical element of Southern Shores’ land-use plan.
In its April 16 consideration of ZTA 18-04, the Town Planning Board largely focused on the stormwater issue. The Planning Board voted, 3-1, to remove an exemption for gravel and grass driveways with a pervious base and unanimously voted to qualify the open-slatted decks exemption, as italicized above.
Although Board members unanimously voted to approve ZTA 18-04, as they amended it, they split, 2-2, on eliminating the swimming-pool exemption.
Town Planner Wes Haskett advised that his report to the Town Council would include mention of the tie vote on this critical provision. (See The Beacon’s report of April 20.)
Unfortunately, both regular member Joe McGraw and alternate member Carlos Gomez were absent for the vote, and the Town Council did not appoint someone to the alternate’s seat that Glenn Wyder vacated when he was appointed to the full Board.
Chairman Sam Williams and Board Member Elizabeth Morey favored exempting up to 500 square feet of the water area of swimming pools from lot coverage; Mr. Wyder and Board Member David Neal did not.
“A pool should not be used as a catch-basin,” Mr. Wyder said, noting that his swimming pool overflows after a heavy rain.
The Beacon agrees with Mr. Wyder and Mr. Neal. There should be no exemption for swimming pools.
We also object to any exemption for driveways, parking areas, and walkways and are apprehensive about the effect the other exemptions might have on total lot coverage. If the eaves provision leads to increased roof size, roof stormwater runoff will be increased, too.
In their comments April 16, three Planning Board members left little doubt that they recognized that the proposed changes in lot-coverage calculation would lead to larger homes being built. The Beacon opposes such a result.
Ms. Morey actually stated: “They [the Town Council] want bigger houses.” Mr. Neal, who is a builder, said he wished he could “visualize the potential,” voicing concern that this amendment “is not going in the direction that we want to go in.”
Ms. Morey later cast a dissenting vote, indicating that she did not believe the proposed lot-coverage changes were consistent with the town’s land-use plan.
ZTA-18-04 differs from ZTA-17-03 in two only minor respects:
It adds 1) the provision about open-slatted decks, which The Beacon believes is a de minimis change, and 2) a provision stating that only those building/zoning permit applicants (for a single-family home or adjacent swimming pool) who present “a survey with all applicable requirements, including plan certification, for a Lot Disturbance and Stormwater Management Permit” may avail themselves of the swimming-pool and open-slatted deck exemptions to lot coverage.
The “survey with all applicable requirements” proviso strikes The Beacon as business as usual, certainly not a substantive change.
At the Feb. 6 meeting, Councilman McDonald objected to the proposed amendment’s reconsideration as a violation of the Council’s rules of procedure. According to meeting minutes, Town Attorney Ben Gallop apparently said reconsideration was permissible because of the new language.
OPINION: More should be required for the reconsideration of a defeated zoning text amendment than mere “tweaking,” as occurred in this instance. Southern Shores property owners should be able to rely upon the outcome of the notice-and-hearing period for a proposed ZTA and the Council’s final vote to pass or defeat it.
The Beacon is also concerned about the Planning Board’s decision last year to send ZTA 17-03 to the Town Council ahead of a report to the public about the Board’s review of the Town Code update and rewrite.
In an Aug. 11, 2017 memorandum from Chairman Sam Williams to Mayor Bennett, Mr. Williams advised that the Planning Board, which had been painstakingly reviewing the proposed Town Code rewrite submitted by paid consultant, Codewright, would be making recommendations to the Council for possible Code changes on a piecemeal basis, before its full review was finished.
Mr. Williams zeroed in on two zoning changes that the Board decided to take up: 1) the manner in which building height is calculated; and 2) the manner in which lot coverage is calculated. These zoning restrictions are of great importance to Southern Shores property owners.
Three property owners spoke in opposition to ZTA-17-03 during the Sept. 5 hearing, including former Town Council candidate Geri Sullivan, who noted that 62 percent of those who completed the survey conducted by Codewright said they did not want to change lot coverage.
Does the Town Council care about Codewright’s public survey? Or public opinion, at large? Does the Planning Board?
To give elected officials who individually favor the lot-coverage exemptions proposed by ZTA 18-04 two bites at the same apple is unseemly. Such second chances erode public confidence in the decision-making process and in the decision-makers themselves.
ENDORSEMENT OF NEAL AND BASILONE TO PLANNING BOARD
Town Manager Peter Rascoe will recommend at tomorrow’s meeting the following four applicants for appointment to the Planning Board: 2015-18 Planning Board member David Neal, firefighter Michael Basilone, former Councilman Leo Holland, and builder Andy Ward.
There are two vacancies for regular-voting, seated members, and two vacancies for alternate members, who do not vote unless called upon in the absence of a voting member.
While all applicants possess the necessary qualifications, the Beacon endorses Southern Shores builder David Neal for another three-year term on the Planning Board and Kitty Hawk firefighter Michael Basilone, who lives on Sea Oats Trail in Southern Shores, to the seat held until recently by Board Chairman Williams, who decided not to seek reappointment for another three years.
During his first term on the Planning Board, Mr. Neal consistently displayed thoughtfulness, intelligence, open-mindedness, and preparedness. In his application for the Board, Mr. Neal writes:
“As a residential home builder for 34 years I have watched the Outer Banks grow and change. I would like to help with not only preserving the quality, space, and individuality of our beloved Southern Shores, but also to try and accommodate the inevitable continued growth with an appreciation for quality construction, preservation of space [and] trees, natural growth where possible, and respect for the individuality of those who now live here and those to come.”
Town residents and property owners cannot ask for more than this, but Mr. Neal also brings three years of Planning Board and Board of Adjustment experience/history with him. He represents continuity.
With Mr. Neal’s reappointment, the five-member Planning Board will have two builders on it. The Beacon strongly believes that a non-builder should be appointed to the seat that Mr. Williams held, and, in Mr. Basilone, the Town Council has a stellar applicant. His four-page volunteer application, which can be found in tomorrow’s meeting packet, jumps off the page. It attests to a strong commitment to public service and a facility with both community and human relations.
Besides being a fire captain in the Kitty Hawk Fire Dept. since 2010, a position that has wide-ranging responsibilities, Mr. Basilone worked for five years in Virginia Beach as an environmental scientist and did part-time residential and commercial construction work during his high-school and college years. He earned a BS degree in geography, with a minor in environmental science and oceanography, from Old Dominion University in 2001 and is currently working on a master’s degree in public administration, with a focus on emergency-services management.
Mr. Basilone would bring a wealth of relevant knowledge and experience to the Planning Board and would complement the backgrounds of Mr. Neal, Mr. McGraw, and Ms. Morey. I encourage you to read his impressive application in the meeting packet, which can be accessed at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2018-07-10.pdf.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, July 9, 2018