The Southern Shores Planning Board meets today, 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center, to consider two zoning text amendments of consequence to property owners and the future of the town’s development: one concerning how the 30-percent lot coverage limitation is calculated, and the other addressing “nonconforming” lots, in particular, lots that do not meet the Town’s minimum requirements for width and size.

For the first time since July 2009, someone other than Sam Williams will be chairing the meeting. Newly elected board chairperson Glenn Wyder will be presiding, and newly appointed board member Andy Ward will be sitting in the seat held by Mr. Williams, who chose not to seek another term.

The Beacon has written extensively about ZTA 18-04, the proposed lot coverage change, which dates to August 2017 and has been the subject of multiple public hearings in the Planning Board and the Town Council. Resident property owners have been vocal in opposition to the ZTA, which they believe will lead to larger houses, denser development, and less open space in Southern Shores.

The original text of ZTA 18-04, styled as ZTA 17-03, was recommended by the Planning Board and defeated in the Town Council, 3-2, last September. The zoning text amendment resurfaced as ZTA 18-04, by motion of the Town Council, 3-2, which had changed by one member, and was approved by the Planning Board, with amendments. The Town Council’s hearing on ZTA 18-04 in July resulted in the measure being tabled and sent back to the Planning Board for further consideration.

I no doubt will delve more into the history of ZTA 18-04 in my report on the Planning Board’s action tonight. My primary purpose in writing this blog, belatedly, however, is to give you a closer look at the proposed nonconforming lots regulation, ZTA 18-07A, which is a revision of an earlier, more comprehensive ZTA, known as ZTA 18-07.

Although a majority of the Town Council was enthusiastic about ZTA 18-07 at its first reading, it did not garner the super majority needed to pass it. Subsequently, it became clear that Councilman Jim Conners, who usually votes with Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Chris Nason, but had aligned with Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald in this instance, had withdrawn his support for the measure; and the Town Council voted to send the ZTA back to the Town Attorney and Town Planning Director for revision.  Upon receipt of the revision, styled as ZTA 18-07A, the Council voted to refer it to the Planning Board for consideration.

If approved by the Town Council, ZTA 18-07A would replace current Town Code sec. 36-132(a). It pertains only to single-family residential districts.

Earlier, I wrote that I would not analyze the merits of ZTA 18-07A. I since have decided to engage in a little analysis of the language of the Town Code change and to invite you to comment.

ZTA 18-07A consists of two significant paragraphs:

1. The first paragraph seeks to permit construction of a single-family dwelling and customary accessory buildings on:

“any single lot which met all legal requirements at the time of its creation and recording in the Dare County public registry.”

It further states that “All applicable dimensional requirements other than lot area and lot width shall be met . . . except that a lot having a lot width of fifty (50) feet or less may use a side yard setback of twelve (12) feet.” [Otherwise, the Town requires 15-yard setbacks.]

I have decided that without a definition of “single lot,” I am uncomfortable with the wording of what might appear to be a fairly straightforward provision.

More troublesome to me is the second paragraph of the amendment. I insert in the text of the paragraph (below) bracketed letters [a], [b], and [c], so you may more easily read it.

2. The second paragraph seeks to prevent the division of 100-foot-wide lots that have been developed as single lots into two 50-foot-wide lots for purposes of new development. This is how the key provision reads:

“Prior to [a] demolition of an existing principal building, [b] redevelopment exceeding 50% of an existing principal building’s value, or [c] construction of a new principal building when such existing or proposed principal building is located or proposed to be located on two or more lots any of which are non-conforming, all lots underlying the existing or proposed principal building shall be recombined into a single lot.”

Would anyone care to take a crack at what this provision means? It is too much legalese for me, and I am a former lawyer. (Actually, my law license is active in Maryland, which doesn’t require continuing legal education, and inactive in North Carolina and the District of Columbia, which do. So, you could say that I’m a Maryland lawyer.)

More problematic for me than its meaning is what it permits. I ask you: Does option [c] above permit my siblings and me to sell a VACANT 100-foot-wide oceanfront piece of property that we own, separately, as the two underlying 50-foot-wide lots that are on record? I think it does.

I was certain that predecessor ZTA 18-07 precluded such a division, sale, and development, which I believe is as it should be. Low-density development on the oceanfront is essential to the preservation of Southern Shores’ character, look, charm, and commercial appeal.

I also believe that each of the 50-foot-wide lots comprising the oceanfront property that my family owns is arguably a “single lot.”

I am one of four siblings, and we are not unanimous in our views on what to do with the Southern Shores property that our parents gave us. We’re not all similarly situated financially. There’s also another generation behind us that does not have the affection for and attachment to Southern Shores that my siblings and I have

I trust the Planning Board, under Mr. Wyder’s direction, will thoroughly explore what the language of ZTA 18-07A prohibits and what it permits, and whether this language serves the Town’s land-use plan and objectives. A majority on the Town Council may not wish to engage in “what-if?” analysis, which ZTA 18-07 sought to do, but I believe the Planning Board has an obligation to do so. Southern Shores’ future depends on its careful deliberation.

Please let me know what you think.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/20/18


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