After a public hearing last Thursday on a controversial proposal to increase the maximum height allowed in business zones from 40 to 50 feet, Southport aldermen postponed action for another month.
The vote was delayed until the August meeting because alderman Jim Powell was absent and also because the board is considering adding language to the proposal that would further specify which types of developments could build up to 50 feet.
The zoning text amendment was submitted by Southport Marina and Preston Development; however, if approved as written, it would apply to all properties in the business district that meet or could meet the definition of a “marina.”
Alderman Karen Mosteller motioned to reject the amendment, but she was shot down in a 3-2 vote, with Marc Spencer, Lora Sharkey and Robert Tucker in the majority.
Sharkey’s motion to approve the text amendment was seconded by alderman Marc Spencer, but it met some opposition and was withdrawn. Alderman Rick Pukenas made a motion to delay action until the August meeting so alderman Powell, who was away on vacation, could vote on the item. It passed 3-2, with Spencer and Sharkey opposed.
Tucker suggested that rather than approve or reject the proposal as is, the board should add that a marina must have at least 40 wet boat slips to be allowed to build up to 50 feet. That criteria would be in addition to meeting the definition of a “marina,” which is a waterfront structure that harbors two or more boats and provides marina-like sales.
“If the definition were changed so it didn’t create a situation where everybody who had two feet of frontage and an ice bag could become a marina, then I wouldn’t be so concerned about it,” Tucker said.
Some Southport residents voiced similar thoughts during the public hearing. Victoria Matthews argued The River Hotel of Southport, located on East Moore Street, is just one business that might build up and disrupt the waterfront view if given the opportunity.
“How many canoes does it take for a piece of property to qualify as a marina?” she asked.
There is already one 50-foot-high dry storage unit at Southport Marina, which was permitted in August 2008 through a conditional use permit process. It replaced a previous structure that was above the height requirement but was demolished and not built back within 160 days. According to city planner Thomas Lloyd’s memo, the aldermen at the time denied the permit but were overturned for not using quasi-judicial procedures. The board later removed height from the conditional use permit process in the Unified Development Ordinance.
“The board of alderman changed the process so that height could not be determined in a zoning district based on the desires of one business,” Mosteller said.
Just as she did at last month’s meeting, Mosteller stated her opposition to the text amendment. She argued it would not be up for discussion if it weren’t for the impending sale of the old wastewater treatment plant site to Southport Marina at West West Street.
“I hope the next time we sell our zoning principles we get more than $650,000,” she said.
Sharkey, who is in favor of the proposal, described the sale of the wastewater treatment plant as a “win-win” since the “hazardous waste site” would be cleaned up and the city would be working with a commercial entity that has “a proven track record of being a good property owner.”
She added that unwanted developments on the waterfront could be addressed by adopting other conditions in the Unified Development Ordinance, such as a more comprehensive marina definition that limits them to a few locations. She agreed with Tucker’s idea to add that a marina must have a minimum of 40 wet boat slips to qualify for the 50-foot height allowance.
Sharkey received backlash from attendees for some of her comments, such as her statements on a dry storage structure’s impact on nearby residential properties.
“That would be the choice of someone to decide if they wanted to live across from the marina or not,” she said.
“If you owned it, that’s how you would feel?” an attendee responded from the crowd.
The public hearing was mostly made up of citizens who opposed the amendment. Many voiced their distrust in the city’s process.
“I believe that when you sold the piece of property to Preston Development, the aldermen or some subgroup of aldermen with a wink and a nod promised that the height restriction would be changed,” Matthews said.
Other speakers urged the aldermen to follow the Southport Planning Board’s recommendation. That board voted May 16 unanimously to not recommend approval to aldermen since they believed the amendment was inconsistent with the 2015 CAMA Land Use Plan.
“They are the group of people that study things. They are the professionals,” said Quinn Sweeney of West West Street.
According to Lloyd’s memo, the planning board was also concerned that the amendment could have “unintended consequences” in other areas in the business district. There were also concerns about setting a precedent by allowing one type of use to exceed the 40 foot height standard.
There will not be another public hearing on the issue in August when the board revisits the issue.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the aldermen appointed two members to the Southport Planning Board for three-year terms. Richard Sloan was promoted from an alternate to full member. William Hewett was appointed to an alternate position, beating Mostellers’ nomination of Sue Hodgin in a 3-2 vote.
Southport city manager Bruce Oakley addressed concerns brought up at last month’s meeting about violations in the city’s rights of way. Oakley announced the Cape Fear Council of Governments would be taking an inventory of the city’s rights of way and what objects are in them. Based on the results, he will bring recommendations to the board on how to deal with the issue.