There are a number of obvious problems with the draft zoning text amendment (ZTA) that was prepared by Town staff pursuant to Town Councilman Jim Conners’s lengthy motion at the Nov. 7 special meeting on large houses. That draft is on the Town Council’s meeting agenda for discussion tonight.

The Town Council meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.

Overriding them all is this simple question: What effect, if any, would enactment of this draft ZTA, as written, have on the construction of high-occupancy residential structures like the two SAGA Construction & Development has proposed for 98 Ocean Blvd. and 134 Ocean Blvd.?

My own response, upon quick study, is: Not much. Minimal, at best. I believe the draft ZTA functions more as a punitive measure than as a preventive measure. (See my Dec. 9, 2018 blog for proposed requirements to hide trash and recycling cans in “fenced areas” and to create 10-foot-wide landscape buffers with plantings “of a species” known to adapt and survive locally.)

Fortunately, the draft ZTA has a process to go through, including referral to the Town Planning Board and a public hearing before the Council before a vote would be taken.

I detailed in my Dec. 9 blog some of the sections of the draft ZTA, which appears to create an “oceanfront overlay residential district” (called an RSOF-1 district) via a new Town Code section, 36-209. I will not belabor what I presented then, but rather highlight some of what I consider to be obvious problems with it.

PARKING REQUIREMENTS: You Have to Focus Number, not Size

The draft ZTA specifies that, in addition to existing Town Code off-street parking requirements, the following shall apply to single family dwellings in the new RSOF-1 district:

*Parking spaces shall be 10 feet by 20 feet. [Currently, Town Code sec. 36-163(1)(a) requires a minimum length of 18 feet and a minimum width of 9 ½ feet, with no maximum.]

*All parking spaces shall be adjacent to a two-way 18-feet-wide (minimum) drive aisle. [Currently, sec. 36-163(1)(a) requires a minimum of 22 feet.]

*No stacked parking shall be allowed. [The current Code has no provision regarding stacked parking.]

What’s missing from this ZTA, however, is a regulation on the NUMBER of parking spaces. Enlarging the size of the parking space and changing the drive aisle does not necessarily restrict the number of spaces on a land parcel–which, on the oceanfront, can be quite large–and, therefore, the residential occupancy.

The Town Code now limits parking spaces as follows:

*Three parking spaces for each dwelling unit with up to eight-person septic capacity;

*One additional space for each additional two persons of septic capacity, or fraction thereof, over eight people and up to 12-person septic capacity;

*One additional space for each person of septic capacity over 12. (Sec. 36-163(a)(1)(a))

This parking-space regulation made sense when the Town limited septic-use capacity in houses in the RS-1 residential district to 14 people. But when you have a house like the one SAGA is building on 98 Ocean Blvd., which has a septic capacity of 24 people, you can end up with 17 parking spaces.

Under the draft ZTA, you would still end up with 17 parking spaces, albeit of a different size.

This is a problem.

When the Town Council enacted in January 2016 the maximum house-size limit of 6,000 square feet and eliminated the septic-capacity restriction, it should have addressed other areas of the Town Code that were contingent on the septic-capacity limit. It neglected to do so.

DIMENSIONAL REQUIREMENTS: The Restrictions Must Be Complementary 

The draft ZTA also specifies in a section titled “Dimensional Requirements” that “dimensional requirements and analysis of the RS-1 zoning district shall apply except the following requirements shall apply to all single-family dwellings”:

Impervious pavement side yard (setback): 10 feet

First, I have to assume that this is an attempt to draft RS-1 zoning district dimensional requirements onto the new RSOF-1 district, but the language does not say that, and it should. Further, it would appear that this non-porous pavement side-yard setback of 10 feet applies to ALL single-family dwellings, either just in RSOF-1 or throughout some other area. The language should be precise, not vague.

But then, consider this: Beneath this provision appears an exception to what has just been stated to apply to ALL single-family dwellings. That exception applies only to single-family dwellings that are between 4,001 and 6,000 square feet in size. For houses of this size, the impervious pavement side-yard setback must be 15 feet.

So which is it for these setbacks? All single-family houses or just some?

ARBITRARINESS OF DESIGNATING 4,000 SQUARE FEET CUTOFF: And What About Nonconforming 50-Foot-Wide Lots?       

The draft ZTA differentiates between single-family dwellings that are 4,000 square feet or less in size and those that are between 4,001 and 6,000 square feet. This strikes me as an arbitrary and capricious distinction. Here is how the preamble to the draft ZTA attempts to justify it:

“WHEREAS, the Town finds that having a reasonable maximum size limitation of single-family dwellings of 6,000 sq. ft. and providing additional regulation of single-family dwellings between 4,000 sq. ft. and 6,000 sq. ft. is a fair and equitable balancing of the Town’s interests to regulate size and population density and to maintain the historical and residential character of developed areas of Town compared with property owners’ interests in using their property for residential purposes.”

What’s “fair and equitable” about it? Fairness is not achieved by simply calling a regulation fair. Why not put the cutoff at 3,500 square feet? What’s the “equitable” difference?

Pursuant to this draft ZTA, a property owner could build a 3,606-square-foot house, such as the one Councilman Christopher Nason has designed for his clients Steve Love and Kathleen Gorman at 64 Ocean Blvd., which is a nonconforming 50-foot-wide lot, without having to adhere to the ZTA’s new, more restrictive front- and side-yard setbacks, allowable lot coverage, and height restriction. The Love/Gorman house would be treated the same as a comparable-size house on a conforming lot.

How is that fair? The population density at 64 Ocean Blvd., on which a five-bedroom house with five parking spaces is planned, will increase more than at a 100-foot-wide oceanfront lot on which the same size house could be built.

Like I said, the draft ZTA has problems.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, Dec. 11, 2018

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