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Town of Sunset Beach adopts conditional zoning

The Sunset Beach Town Council voted during its Jan. 9 meeting to establish conditional zoning regulations in the town.

Conditional zoning allows for the town to impose conditions on development approval to regulate uses and future development on a specific property.

The Town of Sunset Beach is currently in the process of updating its Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), but because this process will not be completed for some time the town moved to amend its existing ordinance to allow for this type of zoning.

Conditional zoning affords municipalities more control over development that occurs, largely because it allows a government to attach conditions and regulations to an approved development, as well as requiring applicants to submit site-specific plans outlining the intended use of the development.

“All applications must include a master development plan, supporting information and text which specifies the use or uses intended for the property, dimensional standards, and any development standards to be approved concurrently with the rezoning application,” the amendment states. “Development standards may include, but not be limited to such things as parking, landscaping, design guidelines, and buffers.”

Conditional zoning districts also limit the type of future development allowed on a property. If, for example, a conditional zoning request for a fast-food restaurant is approved, no other uses can operate on that property unless a request is brought to the town to change the allowable use, which would require the applicant to go through the entire conditional zoning process.

The zoning allows the public to have input in the matter, as well. In municipalities without conditional zoning, conditions on development come about through special use permits (SUPs), which require a quasi-judicial procedure that does not allow for comment from the general public.

“The conditional voting process is a legislative approval process,” Wes MacLeod, local government service director with the Cape Fear Council of Governments, said. “The key for that is twofold. One, the legislative decisions affords the council fairly broad discretion on approving or denying a project. Then, two, it allows anybody from the general public to participate in these types of decisions, whereas before with a quasi-judicial [hearing], you technically needed legal standing to provide testimony.”

Conditional zoning also requires a public input meeting to be held prior to the proposal going to the planning board, MacLeod added, ensuring adequate public input is gathered.

The zoning would not be allowed in either of the town’s Beach Residential (BR) districts, nor in the Conservation Reserve (CR) district, all three of which are located on the town’s island. The only district on the island that conditional zoning would be allowed in is the Beach Business (BB-1) district.

The zoning is allowable in all other town zoning districts on the mainland.

The council voted to establish a one-acre minimum acreage threshold for conditional zoning requests. Town staff recommended the one-acre threshold because at that number it will “weed out improper uses.”

“From our standpoint, we believe that by setting a one-acre threshold, it precludes a lot of the property that we would find to be problematic for someone to submit a proposal to you,” MacLeod said. “What you really don’t want to have is someone that has a developed single-family property to be able to utilize this tool. It’s out of character.”

MacLeod noted that most residential zoned areas that have been developed in the town are made up, largely, of lots of a half-acre or less.

Councilman Charles Nern said he agreed that a one-acre minimum threshold is called for, because of how exclusionary a two-acre threshold would be. He added that in deciding on conditional zoning, the council should put the current residents’ needs first.

“None of this should have an impact on any individual homeowner,” Nern said

Councilman Mike Hargreaves said he felt that the UDO amendment must refer back to the town’s land use plan, and that projects must be evaluated based on that land use plan.

“Anytime that someone submits a conditional zoning request, the land use plan has to sort of come right into it,” Hargreaves said. “[The project and the land use plan have] to work together in order to be something that the planning board and this council can support.”

Councilman Tom Bormann asked MacLeod if ownership of a property played a role in what use would be allowed. He was asking, for example, if a request was approved to construct a gas station, would the allowable use change if the property changed hands?

“Any of the entitlements would pass through ownership, meaning that it could be bought and sold six different times and, again, the only thing that could be there if it was approved for a gas station is that gas station,” MacLeod said in response.

Councilman Jamie Phillips voiced support for adopting the zoning because it gives the town “more control” over the types of development brought into Sunset Beach.

“In our current quasi-judicial system, if the applicant meets all the requirements, even if the town doesn’t want to, the town would not be able to deny it, they would have to accept it,” Phillips said. “So what this does is, in some ways, gives the town more control.”

Phillips added that public input on council decisions is important to citizens in the town, and this type of zoning allows for more of that.

Councilman John Corbett reiterated that this gives the council “responsibility for making this effective,” adding that the council must evaluate conditional zoning projects “in terms of the benefit to the town, the impact on the neighbors and on the community.”

All five councilmen agreed that a one-acre minimum threshold would be ideal.

Amendment’s connection to Sea Trail revitalization

Riptide Builders out of Sunset Beach has been working at revitalizing the Sea Trail community for some time now. And the developer said this zoning amendment will help move that process forward.

“We’ve been working on several projects, specifically in the town, revitalization projects that can enhance and push forward a lot of great things within the Sea Trail community,” Riptide Community Planner and Public Relations representative Todd Rademacher said during the public hearing. “We see this as an opportunity to use a tool that will help us get there with the neighbors in the community, get them involved in the process.”

In August, the town council voted to amend the UDO to allow for no required setbacks for non-residential buildings abutting non-residential buildings within the town’s MR-3 zoning district, which encompasses much of Sea Trail.

This allowed for Riptide to subdivide the lot that the Jones/Byrd Clubhouse and the Sea Trail Convention sits on, which the developer feels will make them more apt to attract businesses.

Then in September, the council voted to alter the town’s land use plan to reclassify the property adjacent to the Sea Trail Golf Club Clubhouse from Recreational uses to a split of Mixed Use and High Density uses.

The developer shared plans to build additional residential units in the High Density area, while a hotel, driving range and food, beverage and other amenity options are planned for the Mixed Use portion.

Rademacher also said during that meeting that Riptide has been working to improve the golf courses in the community, adding that they have “potential investors” looking to make those improvements.

During that Sept. 20 meeting, Riptide also requested to amend Articles 6 and 7 of the town’s UDO, which would’ve changed the allowable uses in the MR-3 district making uses such as restaurants and bottle, coffee and ice cream shops permissible.

The council tabled that request at the request of the applicant after various councilmen voiced concern about approving the amendment because they felt it would give the developer too much freedom to develop a wide variety of commercial uses in the district by right.

Conditional zoning will allow for Riptide to apply to develop properties for commercial uses, such as a restaurant, in the MR-3 district at the council’s discretion.

Eight residents spoke during the public hearing for the proposed change at last Monday’s meeting in favor of the zoning amendment. All spoke in favor of the amendment.

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to approve the zoning amendment, with the one-acre minimum threshold added into the language, along with language that specifies uses must tie in with the adopted land use plan.


News
Board of Education members hear out issues concerning schools

Fellow Brunswick County Board of Education members David Robinson and Steve Barger teamed up host an informal town hall style meeting on Jan. 11 at the Civietown Fire and Rescue to listen to concerns and thoughts from parents and the public about the Brunswick County School System.

Problems and worries by parents, as well as local advocates, were spread across the table as they all gathered in a casual setting to share with Barger and Robinson.

Much of the conversation revolved around communication between staff and parents, school safety and student drug use.

Several parents of West Brunswick High School (WBHS) students spoke out about their troubles with communication among school staff and parents.

“The survey that the county sent out about communication, I found that to be pretty much useless because you can’t answer survey questions about communication that doesn’t happen… But that option wasn’t in there to say, ‘I don’t have any communication…’,” one WBHS mother said.

The mother explained that the questions seemed to assume that there was already open communication between teachers, staff and parents when she felt like there wasn’t any.

“I started [the survey] then I was like there’s not even a way to really properly answer the question because there is no communication,” she said.

She noted that the only time she received notifications from WBHS are in times of emergency situations or if there is an issue with her child.

Multiple parents said that WBHS teachers only reached out to them when a bad situation or bad behavior occurred and disciplinary action were being discussed, instead of reaching out to them for a sit-down meeting to talk about why the situation happened or how the student was doing in general.

Robinson said that he and Barger have addressed the importance of parent-teacher meetings recently. Robinson said he has gone as far to meet with WBHS Principal Jonathan Paschal and Superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates.

“Steve and I both have an expectation that these staff meet with parents when they ask to be met with, period,” Robinson said.

Another concern of attendees was parent involvement, or the lack thereof, in high schools.

Shallotte residents and WBHS student parents Sara and Kyle Sellers shared concern over the number of fights and amount drug use happening in the school and school bathrooms.

Sara said that she doesn’t hear about the fights from the school administration like she would like to, but instead sees it plastered on social media.

She suggested that the schools allow adult volunteers inside the facility to keep an adult presence in the hallways and other areas. She said she would be more than happy to volunteer to do that.

One parent felt the high volume of fights and issues within the high schools could be because of overcrowded schools.

A few attendees told Robinson and Barger that school staff need to be more consistent, aware and disciplinary in enforcing rules to keep children safe and in line behaviorally.

One Civietown local and father said he feels as though teachers are scared to upset parents if they are strict with children.

Several parents agreed with him, and said that they will stand behind the teacher and will support them if their children were to misbehave.

“These kids have got to feel safe when they go to school,” the father added.

Barger and Robinson said that the board is working on strengthening policies and rules to make them consistent among all of the schools and on all buses. Robinson noted that the changes are to keep both students and staff safe.

“I’m going to be involved and I want to be involved,” Robinson said. “I know there’s some things I can’t fix, I can’t necessarily do anything about, but we’re going to do our best to try and address things as we can.”

Students using drugs in and out of schools was a big topic of discussion during the meeting.

Two local residents in attendance were there to inform parents about student mental health, the drug epidemic inside of schools and the importance of drug education.

They said they want to make addiction and drug education accessible to students at an early age. They also stressed the reality and need for students to know how to help in overdose or crisis situations if one were to occur at school.

Barger and Robinson said that Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is not mandatory for teachers right now, however, they have recently put emergency and medical training as a top priority.

“Everything that we do, it needs to have ‘put the kids first,’ ” Barger said. “… Any decision we make we have to make putting the kids first. And that’s not cutting the parents out of the equation but part of putting the kids first is involving the parents…”

Robinson noted that they have also been actively working to improve staff preparedness and resources for the Exceptional Children Program (ECP).

One parent, who has a child in the ECP, shared her experience with staff.

She said that she feels ECP teachers do not have enough staff support in the classrooms to properly support every child’s needs. She said understands that it is an overarching problem for many schools, but that ECP teachers need help.

“… Even two teachers with 14 kids with anger aggression, you know, it’s a lot,” the parent noted.

“I totally hear you and I want more staff in the school to be able to appropriately interact with your [child] and everybody else’s children,” Barger replied.

Parents noted that it is a necessity for students in ECP to not only have the proper teacher support, but to have other resources like occupational therapy and speech therapy active and available in the schools.

Barger explained in regards to staffing, the school system is looking at the current job vacancies and at how many positions need to be made in order to meet student needs.

Robinson and Barger told attendees that they want to have these intimate and personal conversations with parents and guardians because they are not supposed to respond to the public during public comments at the monthly board meetings.

The two board members told attendees that they are more than willing to meet with parents and guardians one-on-one because they want to listen and figure out how to make the school system better.

“If you have an [problem] with your child that you want to talk to David about or me about, I’ll meet you at a coffee shop and we can talk one-on-one,” Barger said.

Although all board members were informed of the meeting, only two were able to meet with the group. Three or more board members would turn the conversation-style meeting into a formal board meeting, Robinson explained to attendees.

“It’s safe to say [that] we like to be in touch with the people… So, we’re not going to have solutions, we’re only two members of the board. It takes a full board — it takes at least a majority to make a decision,” Robinson said. “But we’re just trying to learn what’s on folks mind and see what we can do.”

In the posted Facebook event, Robinson said: “Meetings will be conducted throughout the County over the next several months with the goal of improving communications among stakeholders and learning more about the concerns of the parents and guardians in Brunswick County.”

Robinson said that he plans to have meetings in different areas of Brunswick County including Leland, Boiling Spring Lakes and Calabash.

No set date has been released as to when future meetings will take place or where it will gather.

For more information or to contact Barger, email him at sbarger@bcswan.net. For more information or to contact Robinson, email him at darobinson@bcswan.net.

Savanna Tenenoff is the staff writer at the Brunswick Beacon. Feel free to reach out with comments, questions and tips at stenenoff@brunswickbeacon.com.


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