The owners of the Yacht Basin establishments are attempting to rezone four grassy lots from single-family residential to business district to allow for more parking.
A decision on the matter could be made by aldermen at Thursday’s meeting. Prior to that, citizens will voice their opinions on the subject during a public hearing at 6 p.m. in the Southport Community Building.
At the August planning board meeting, the members unanimously voted to advise aldermen deny the three applications after some of the board and residents in attendance argued the rezoning could negatively impact the Yacht Basin.
The applicants include James Chirico, owner of Fishy Fishy Cafe, for two tracts, one with frontage on South Caswell Avenue and one at the corner of West Bay Street and South Caswell Avenue; Mark Brisson, owner of Old American Fish Company, for his land at 102 S. Caswell Ave.; and Maria and Paul Swenson, owners of Provision Company and Flavas Ice Cream, for 309 W. Moore St. Those four lots make up the large grassy area that is surrounded by city parking spaces in front of the Yacht Basin businesses.
Although Chirico and Brisson said they want the rezoning so they can create more places to park, all permissible land uses in business zones should be considered by the aldermen. Other factors, including the impact on neighbors and community opinion, could also be assessed.
The Swensons applied for the rezoning to ensure their land conforms with the neighboring properties if those applications pass. Maria Swenson said she’d be willing to withdraw if the others did too.
“Myself and my fellow business owners down there, if we’re sincere about rezoning for parking, maybe we should withdraw until the city has a better-planned vision for the Yacht Basin,” she said, noting that the city’s unified development ordinance, which could address parking issues in the Yacht Basin, is currently being updated.
She and Paul Swenson said Chirico needs the rezoning so he can meet parking requirements for the Yacht Basin Eatery, which he purchased but has yet to open.
When the first two applications were rejected by the planning board, Maria Swenson told the planning board to deny hers as well. Still, the aldermen make the final decision.
The official recommendation of denial states the proposals are inconsistent with the CAMA Land Use Plan and only serve the interest of the landowners. In addition, it says the rezoning may worsen traffic and parking in the area or cause overcrowding of land because business zones have reduced setbacks.
In July, a review committee for Chirico and Brisson’s properties found the rezoning to be consistent with the surrounding area; however, after the Swensons submitted their application, a second review committee became hesitant about the potential for other land uses besides parking, ultimately leading the board to not recommend the rezoning.
“Some uses would really have a significantly negative impact,” said Rich Bandera, a member of the subcommittee for the Swenson’s proposal. He added that correcting parking issues in the Yacht Basin should not be done through zoning requests.
Bill Fairley of West Bay Street said a restaurant could be built in front of his home if the applications are approved.
“Is there a single member of the board that would tolerate a Fishy Fishy opening up across the street from your home?” he asked.
Fairley said while he doesn’t resent the businesses, the nearby homeowners do “pay a price” for the commercialization in the form of loud noise multiple nights a week, stop-and-go traffic on the street, and disruptive pedestrians, sometimes drunk, who litter the yards. He argued the rezoning is only being proposed because it would make the business owners “a lot of money.”
“I don’t have a problem with that, except for the fact that it would be at our expense,” he added, “and the expense of every other residential property owner adjacent to this.”
Bandera and board member John Allen suggested the applicants craft an amendment to the unified development ordinance that would allow for parking on the properties under the current zoning. Board member Scott Jones added that the amendment could be “very specific,” noting how Southport Marina is allowed to build a 50-foot-high dry storage building because of a detailed footnote the company proposed.
Also on Thursday, the aldermen will consider a request from the League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear to waive its fee to use the community building for a forum with candidates in the Southport election. The aldermen approved this in 2017, agreeing with the organization that the event is a service to the city. This year’s forum is planned for Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
There will also be appointments to two seats on the city’s forestry committee. Jean French-Turner submitted an application and Harry Singley is seeking reappointment.