A zoning text amendment that carves out exceptions for known individuals and their properties to the new nonconforming lots ordinance passed by the Town Council last September received a unanimous endorsement from the five-member Town Planning Board Monday night.
The Board also decided to have two of its members, Chairperson Elizabeth Morey and Andy Ward, meet with Planning Director Wes Haskett to discuss how a special-events ordinance, considered and rejected by the Town Council in January 2016, might be modified to protect the town today.
A report of the Planning Board’s treatment of the special-events ordinance, which is a proposed Town Code Amendment (TCA), not a zoning amendment, follows below.
As The Beacon has previously reported, the TCA requires property owners who host “special events,” as defined by the ordinance, to obtain permits and meet other requirements, depending on the number of guests they anticipate. The ordinance sets a threshold of 25 attendees. See The Beacon, 5/28/19, 6/5/19, and 6/9/19.
You may access the text of the TCA here:
EXCEPTIONS TO NONCONFORMING LOTS ORDINANCE
The Beacon will take up ZTA 18-09PB01, the exceptions amendment, in detail tomorrow. It will come before the Town Council for consideration at its July meeting. You may access the text of the proposed amendment here:
Of the four exceptions that the Planning Board recommended, The Beacon supports only one. It exempts a nonconforming lot that meets or exceeds the Town’s “lot area requirements for the district” and is located “adjacent to a single conforming lot under the same ownership on which is located an existing single-family dwelling.”
After the town’s 1979 incorporation, the Town Council codified minimum dimensional requirements for all lots in the various residential districts. Most of us live in the RS-1 single-family residential district, which is described and regulated in Town Code section 36-202.
In the RS-1 single-family district, as well as in the RS-8 multifamily residential district (sec. 36-203), and the R-1 low-density district (sec. 36-205), the minimum lot area size for a detached single-family dwelling is 20,000 square feet.
Buildable lots in the RS-1 single-family and the R-1 low-density residential districts must be 100 feet wide, whereas those in the RS-8 multifamily district must be at least 75 feet wide. The issue with all of the properties that the Planning Board seeks to except from operation of the current nonconforming lots ordinance, Code sec. 36-132, is that they are too narrow. All but one of them is only 50 feet wide.
The Beacon can endorse the principle that a nonconforming lot located in one of these districts that is at least 20,000 square feet, or even 18,000 or 19,000 square feet, should be considered conforming. The Town Council’s intent in regulating these districts was to restrict the density of development. Building only on 20,000-square-foot-or-larger lots in the RS-1 single-family residential district would preserve the low-density environment and character of the town and would be consistent with the town’s land-use plan.
No such principle underrides the other three exceptions that the Planning Board has recommended. In fact, it is the opinion of The Beacon that if the previous nonconforming lots law—also codified at sec. 36-132 and on the books for at least 30 years before the Town Council replaced it with the current version last September—had been properly enforced, the nonconforming lots the Planning Board is excepting would not have existed and been sold. The Town allowed these nonconformities to occur.
By operation of the former Code sec. 36-132, owners who held title to these lots before the current owners should have been required to treat them, in combination with other adjacent, vacant lots that they owned, as a single lot. The Beacon will explore these properties and their ownership in tomorrow’s blog.
We realize that this area of regulation is confusing, but it’s also very important for the town’s future. When I spoke for three minutes during the public-comment period of Monday’s Planning Board meeting, I encouraged the Board to look at the underlying facts of these properties—not just the immediate facts, but facts going back decades.
Unfortunately, owing to a personal calamity last week that prevented me from doing all of the necessary research, I did not have all of the facts that I wanted to present to the Planning Board and could not have done so in three minutes, anyway. This week I have been able to gather all of the facts—I had to go to the Register of Deeds Office in Manteo—and will present them in an analysis tomorrow.
Now, I return to the matter of regulating “special events” in Southern Shores residences.
DISCUSSING SPECIAL-EVENTS ORDINANCE
Town Attorney Ben Gallop prepared the special-events Town Code Amendment that the Planning Board considered Monday in December 2015. It was intended as a means to defeat SAGA Construction’s plan to build a 16-bedroom wedding event house at what was then 64 Ocean Blvd. and is now 64 and 64A Ocean Blvd.
The Town Council decided instead, by a vote of 3-2 on Jan. 22, 2016, to limit the size of houses to 6,000 square feet. This decision, made during a special afternoon meeting of the Council, which was not videotaped, thwarted SAGA’s proposal
On Monday night Planning Board member Andy Ward showed great concern for the adverse consequences to residents and vacationers if the two houses that SAGA is now constructing on the Southern Shores oceanfront are used for events. Each of these structures is adjacent to a popular beach access maintained by the Southern Shores Civic Assn., which objected to them last autumn when notified by the Town Permit Officer.
“We want to allow events at houses. We don’t want event houses,” Mr. Ward said emphatically.
Mr. Ward further characterized the current Town Code treatment of event facilities as having “no meat.” The Beacon agrees and applauds Mr. Ward for speaking out.
Currently, an “event facility” is defined under Code sec. 36-57 as an “establishment, structure, or property designed, maintained, advertised or actually used for the primary purpose of hosting pre-planned events.” (my emphasis added)
The definition of event in the same section is very broad, encompassing private parties; weddings; corporate meetings; retreats, sporting, cultural, and musical events; and just about any event that is planned in advance.
If a property is used primarily for events, it is considered a commercial property and must be located in the C general commercial district of town. But establishing and proving that events are the “primary purpose” of a structure or property presents a major hurdle for town enforcement of the zoning regulations—especially if the Town continues its unsatisfactory passive approach of enforcing the Town Code only when it receives complaints. (Planning Board: Why don’t you recommend changing this dreadful policy? You have the authority to do so.)
The Beacon would like to remind readers that the 12-bedroom, 24-person septic capacity dwellings under construction at 98 and 134 Ocean Blvd. are the subject of pending litigation. (See nominihotels.com)
But The Beacon agrees with Mr. Ward that, if the homeowners contesting SAGA’s structures lose, the dwellings represent “the door wide-open for a lot of action, a lot of events.”
Chairperson Morey opted to have an informal free-flowing discussion, with no time limits imposed, on the special events ordinance. Unfortunately, that discussion turned out largely to be an exchange between Ms. Morey and Mr. Ward, on the one hand, and Porter Graham, the recently hired “shared” government affairs director for the Outer Banks Assn. of Realtors and the Outer Banks Homebuilders Assn., on the other.
When questioned by Mr. Ward, Mr. Graham, who was hired in May out of Washington, D.C., showed no familiarity with the town of Southern Shores, acknowledging that he does not know our oceanfront. Although Mr. Graham touted Duck’s ordinance on special events, which reportedly kicks in with 100 event guests, he could not answer Mr. Ward’s questions about how that ordinance has fared, i.e., what the effects on the community have been.
Ms. Morey held up the Duck ordinance as a possible prototype for Southern Shores.
Mr. Graham also spoke at the Town Council’s June 4 meeting on the special-events ordinance. He is a lobbyist with no local connections beyond his new employers. At both the Town Council and Planning Board meetings, Mr. Graham described himself in his introduction as being from Kitty Hawk, but he gave no address. Neither public body insisted on one.
The Beacon strongly encourages Mr. Ward to pursue the ideas he brought up at Monday night’s meeting about how to modify the permitting process for special events that the Town Code Amendment proposes. In particular, The Beacon liked his statement that “the larger the event, the fewer you [the property owner] get to have.” The current version of the TCA imposes a limit of three special events per year on a property owner. The limit does not apply to traditional family events.
It is unfortunate that the other three members of the Planning Board did not contribute to the discussion on special events. The Beacon trusts that the smaller group of Ms. Morey, Mr. Ward, and Mr. Haskett will come up with meaningful suggestions for the Town Council to consider.
PLANNING BOARD TERM EXPIRATIONS: The three-year terms of Ms. Morey and member Joe McGraw expire June 30. The Beacon has learned that Ms. Morey would like to be reappointed to another three-year term, but Mr. McGraw would not. The Town Council typically gives first consideration for regular-member appointments to alternates. The Planning Board’s current alternates are Michael Basilone and Leo Holland, who has previously indicated that he cannot take on the commitment of a regular-member term.
If you would like to apply for a Planning Board appointment, see:
AND FINALLY . . .
POTENTIAL SOUTHERN SHORES LIBRARY: The “Exploratory Committee for Potential Branch Library” will meet today at 6 p.m. in the Pitts Center.
HISTORIC LANDMARK HEARING: The Historic Landmarks Commission has postponed the public hearing on the landmark designation application submitted by Dave Mackey for the Mackey Cottage at 218 Ocean Blvd. from next Tuesday to July 23.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 6/20/19