5/18/22: HOMEOWNERS SEEK INCREASE IN MAXIMUM LOT COVERAGE FOR LOTS SMALLER THAN 20,000 SQ. FT., A ZONING CHANGE THAT WOULD REDUCE OPEN SPACE, COVER MORE GROUND: TOWN PLANNING BOARD TO HEAR THEIR ZTA APPLICATION, ONE FROM SAGA INVESTORS TOMORROW.

New homeowners in Seacrest Village are seeking to amend the Town zoning ordinance to increase the maximum allowable lot coverage for lots that are smaller than 20,000 square feet from 30 percent to 35 percent.

The Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) submitted by Stacia and Marc LeBlanc of 9 Tenth Ave. will be heard by the Town Planning Board at its regular monthly meeting tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the Pitts Center. (The Board usually meets on the third Tuesday, which, this month, was primary day.)

The Planning Board is also expected to take up a Zoning Text Amendment submitted by Sumit Gupta, Principal Partner and Chief Executive Officer of SAGA Realty & Construction, that would amend the Town zoning ordinance to permit and define a mixed commercial-residential use development. The SAGA investment group, Ginguite, LLC, owns a large tract on U.S. Hwy. 158 in Southern Shores that it has targeted for such a project.

PROPOSED LOT COVERAGE INCREASE

Stacia and Marc LeBlanc purchased their then-vacant 17,500-square-foot lot on Tenth Avenue in October 2018 and built a house, swimming pool, pool decks, and driveway in 2020, according to data on the Dare County GIS. All of this construction is included in a calculation of lot coverage.  

The LeBlancs’ Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA 22-05) seeks to add an exception to the “maximum allowable lot coverage” requirement of the Town Code, found at Sec. 36-202(d)(6), that would read:

“For lots less than 20,000 square feet as set forth in Section 36-202(d)(1), the maximum allowable lot coverage is 35 percent, provided total lot coverage does not exceed 6,000 square feet.” (proposed subsection f)

See ZTA 22-05 at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/ZTA-22-05-Lot-Coverage-for-Nonconforming-Lots.pdf.

Town Code Section 36-202 specifies the dimensional requirements and restrictions of development in the Town’s RS-1 single family residential district, which is the primary district in town. According to Section 36-202(a), the RS-1 residential district provides 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.”

That same Code section specifies that the RS-1 residential district was created to promote “stable, permanent neighborhoods characterized by . . . abundant open space.”

Section 36-202(d)(1), cited in the LeBlancs’ ZTA 22-05, says only that the “minimum lot size” in town is 20,000 square feet. Section 36-202(d)(6)(a), about lot coverage, states that the “maximum allowable lot coverage shall be 30 percent, except for town-owned facilities and fire stations,” where the lot coverage is capped at 85 percent.

The intent of the development requirements for the RS-1 single-family residential district is clearly to promote low-density housing, to preserve the natural environment, and to ensure “abundant open space.”

The 30 percent lot coverage requirement does this, as well as prevent stormwater runoff.

Seacrest Village, which consists of the avenues east of Duck Road, is comprised principally of lots that are not 20,000 square feet and, thus, are “nonconforming.”

If one were to argue that the maximum lot coverage for nonconforming lots should be different from conforming lots because of the size disparity, the obvious adjustment would be to reduce the maximum lot coverage, not to increase it. In advocating for a 35 percent maximum lot coverage, the LeBlancs are advocating for a destruction of more of the environment, a reduction in open space and stormwater absorption, and a promotion of higher density.

NUMBERS AND RATIOS

This result is well illustrated with numbers and ratios.

The language of the LeBlancs’ ZTA 22-05 increases maximum lot coverage to 35 percent, but caps total lot coverage at 6,000 square feet, which is the total lot coverage permitted for a 20,000-square-foot lot.

If a 20,000-square-foot lot is maxed out on coverage (6,000 sq. ft.), it has 14,000 square feet of open space, a ratio of 2.3 to 1 in favor of uncovered land.

If a 17,500-square-foot lot were to be maxed out at 35 percent coverage, 6,125 square feet would be covered, except for the LeBlancs’ proviso of limiting total lot coverage to 6,000 square feet. Maxing out lot coverage of the 17,500-square-foot lot at 6,000 square feet means that 11,500 square feet would be uncovered, a ratio of 1.92 to 1 in favor of uncovered land.

The LeBlancs are moving the equation in the wrong direction. If lot coverage on their 17,500-square-foot lot were capped at 28 percent, they could build on 4,900 square feet, leaving 12,600 square feet uncovered. This would produce a ratio of uncovered land to covered land of 2.57 to 1, which is comparable to the ratio preserved on conforming lots. Twenty-nine percent would get them a little closer to the 2.3-to-1 standard ratio.   

For another comparison, consider the much smaller 10,000-square-foot lot, which the Town Planning Board, Town Council, homeowners, and other residents did through most of 2018, when we all confronted the unwelcome trend by sellers and developers of dividing single 100-foot-wide lots into two 50-foot-wide lots and thereby doubling the density.

The nonconforming lots fiasco was eventually resolved with a rewrite of Town Code Section 36-132, which some of us thought should have been interpreted to prevent the sale of 50-foot-wide lots splintered off from combined 100-foot parcels; Town Attorney Ben Gallop, however, did not agree. Thanks to the fiasco and its resolution, we now have many more nonconforming 10,000-square-foot lots than we did before the trend, such as the three on Porpoise Run, east of Duck Road, where new multi-story townhouse-style homes now sit.

If the LeBlancs’ 35-percent lot coverage amendment were enacted, homeowners could cover 3,500 square feet of 10,000-square-lots, a coverage that computes to a ratio of uncovered land-to-covered-land of 1.86 to 1. If two such lots were side-by-side, 7,000 square feet of the total combined 20,000 square feet could be covered. This is 1,000 square feet more than would be permissible with 30 percent lot coverage.

We do not support ZTA 22-05 and trust the Planning Board, having gone down the lot-coverage amendment road many times in recent years, will agree with us.

As an aside, we note that during Planning Board meetings in 2018, we advocated for limiting the maximum house size on nonconforming lots, suggesting a staggered scale of square-foot house sizes according to lot sizes. While there was mild interest in this idea from some Board members, the consensus opinion was that the maximum 30-percent lot coverage limitation would keep nonconforming lot development in check and in line with the vision of the town as set forth in the Land-Use Plan. This is a test of that opinion.     

SAGA DEVELOPMENT ON U.S. 158

We are not familiar with the nature of the mixed-use development that Ginguite, LLC would like to construct on the 226,269.21-square-foot property it owns at 6195 N. Croatan Hwy. (U.S. 158) in Southern Shores. This tract is next to the rear of the Southern Shores Landing housing community and across the highway from the flag store. A SAGA sign marks the spot.

Ginguite’s ZTA 22-06 seeks an amendment of the conditional uses of the C commercial district, listed in Town Code Section 36-207(c), to add “Group development of commercial and residential buildings” as a new subsection 11. The ZTA speaks to the minimum size of buildings, residential density, and the lot coverage of the “net parcel area” that can be associated with building footprints containing residential uses and residential parking.

Quible & Associates, P.C., a construction engineering firm, is representing Ginguite on its ZTA application, which can be found at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/ZTA-22-06-4-28-22-Comm.-Res.-Group-Developments.pdf.

SIGNS

According to the public notice for tomorrow’s Planning Board meeting, the Board also may reconsider ZTA 36-165, which concerns regulations of signs in town. This ZTA, which rewrites the current sign ordinance, has been kicking around for a while.

**We encourage everyone to attend the Planning Board meeting or to live-stream it on the Town’s YouTube website. The Planning Board is Ground Zero for public discussion about changes to the Town zoning ordinance, which affects all of us.   

ANN G. SJOERDSMA, 5/18/22

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