Mr. Harrison explained that commercial enterprises were laid out in Emerald Isle for general public use, and almost always they provide some sort of asset—drugstores, grocery stores, clothing stores, etc. There are times when they become a detriment, either in terms of traffic generation, stormwater, aesthetics, on and on. There are things that businesses can do that cause a problem to the health and welfare and safety and property values. The commissioners asked the Planning Board to look into this issue. This past Friday, both people from the Planning Board and Board of Commissioners met to discuss this with Mike Harvey of Benchmark Engineering, and they talked at length of the need for this proposal, what it should encompass, what items should be in there, what sort of details should be in there, etc. They started looking initially into what was already in the Code of Ordinances, and in there, there is a lot of what they need currently in place; specifically, the Code of Ordinances says that the commissioners have the right to limit anything (in an application for a special use) which might be injurious to public health, welfare, or safety, that might injure the property values; in fact, most everything they were trying to cover is already in there. There was a small handful of things that did not quite pigeonhole what they wanted, but most everything else did. The one thing that this section does say is that the commissioners have the right to require, and the group thought it was important to mandate that the commissioners HAD to require, to charge them with the responsibility to make certain that any development that is done in this town did not injure public health, safety, and welfare and did not injure property values. That should be by definition part of their job. They went farther to add a couple of comments.
Mr. Harrison said that what is currently in place says that "permission may be granted for the establishment of uses listed, special uses if the Board of Commissioners finds through the evidence, maps and documents filed or produced after a study that complete records and following a hearing regarding the application for a special use permit, that every condition below, of items 1 through 7, is adhered to." That is currently in place. Further, "the Board of Commissioners is required in its review of any special use application, to ascertain that the use and requirements of the proposed development will adhere to the following conditions", and it enumerates items 1 through 7. These pertain to public health, safety, welfare, and property valuation. The few items that did not pigeonhole are the following, and these were written up by Benchmark and modified by Mr. Harrison and would be discussed by the Planning Board: that any development maintain a full parameter 12-foot-wide fire lane access purely for reasons of safety; that a boardwalk or sidewalk that provides some sort of grade separation between pedestrians and vehicular traffic be constructed; that the Board of Commissioners determine the number of allowable points of access and their spacing; that the developer shall install a pedestrian sidewalk along the full length of each public right-of-way to which the development abuts; that the Board of Commissioners shall impose additional requirements to assure the development’s compliance to section 19-84, which is basically what he had just read.
What development would this pertain to? They looked at all the business zones and all the potential uses within each zone and tried to feel out numerically what traffic volumes, stormwater volumes, etc., would be injurious to the town. They came up with the following two zones that they feel should be restricted to special use: B-3 and B-2. What size building? 5,000 sq. ft. How did they come up with that number? They started looking at the traffic that could be generated by varying building sizes. They looked at everything from 2,000 sq ft on up to 16,000 and above and tried to find out if you put a business at a bad intersection, what would be some sort of injury. This would allow, not mandate, the commissioners to stop it and allow them to review it to see if it is going to injure public health, safety, welfare, or property values. What they did is lower it down to 5,000 sq. ft. That seems small, but it is almost anything that is going to happen in B-2 or B-3, but this allows the commissioners to look at and very quickly pass on, for example only, the CVS to say this is no problem because their outflow is here and the traffic volume is going to be such and such, the stormwater plan is no difficulty. There may be other issues where the buildings are fairly small that are quite a difficulty. The fellow from Benchmark Engineering pointed out to them that they might be talking about something initially of 8,000 sq. ft., but if they have a McDonald’s of 8,000 sq. ft., that will generate a whole lot more vehicles in a day on a square footage basis than anything else they could have in town. So they reduced the threshold so they could encompass a lot of things and hopefully have the commissioners pass on the majority of the developments but be able to catch in that sieve the ones that do pose a problem to the town.
The wording is still somewhat loose at this point. They had someone in the audience asking for the exact wording, but they are not quite there yet. They will be submitting this on Friday morning to the Board of Commissioners should it pass approval by the Planning Board this evening.
Mr. Rick Farrington mentioned the 12-foot border around the property. He asked about the side and rear setbacks in B-3 zone. He said there was a 0 side setback, and now they have made it a 12-foot side setback. Mr. Harrisonsaid the rear setback is 15 now. The rear would be the only one with any difficulty and would short them by 2 feet. Mr. Harrison said the idea of this is to have it be reviewed by commissioners and to make sure that it accomplishes the objectives that are already in the Code book about injuring public health, safety, welfare, and property values. If there is a commercial building abutting another commercial building and there is no way you can get a road in there, the Board of Commissioners will have the good common sense to look and say this is obviously not required. If it is physically possible, then the notion is, for public safety, to be able to have fire access on all possible sides.
Mr. Bill Holz said he always thought that one of the purposes of writing ordinances was to eliminate this committee review of everything that goes on. You write your ordinances, you have the book, setbacks, heights, parking requirements, then somebody who wants to do something comes and deals with the building inspection department, which hopefully are professionals, and they show them what they are supposed to do and make sure they comply. What they have done with the B-3 overlay is make every project in B3 be approved by committee, and that opens things up for mischief; and if the commissioners like this project, this person, they will be more inclined to think it conforms to their public safety requirements. If the commissioners are against this developer or another t-shirt shop or whatever it is, they will find ways to stop it. Good ordinances, good planning, eliminates this very thing they are creating, which is by committee. That is why you have the ordinances and an ordinance book, so that somebody can come in, see what the requirements are, design for them, and apply for a building permit. Now they have everybody in B-3 who wants to do anything will have to go through this series of vague committee meetings. There is nothing black and white that somebody can plan a project, building, etc. for.
Mr. Harrison replied that he cannot speak for any commissioners or Planning Board members, but he would hope like crazy that it never happens that people will be prejudicial to anything they do. Mr. Holz said they are making it a law and are correcting laws that were passed 20 years ago because they don’t think they’re any good.
Mr. Harrison said his second point would be that if the Board of Commissioners are not looking out for public health, safety, welfare, and property values, then they have no business, in his opinion, sitting up there at all. That is a priority, what the definition of their job needs to be. The third thing, when talking about a review, they already have a review of every commercial project that has ever happened in Emerald Isle and ever will happen. Mr. Holz said that is to make sure they are conforming to the written down printed ordinances. Mr. Harrison replied that this will be written down. Mr. Holz said it has judgment factors all over it, so that committees decide if they think it is going to meet it or not meet it. Mr. Harrison said it would not be committees, it would be the Board of Commissioners.
Ms. Saunders said that right now the Board of Commissioners has the final say anyway. If 10 years down the road, a new board comes in, everything changes, but that is nature.
Mr. Holz said the ordinances do not change unless they are rewritten as the Planning Board is doing, and then go to public hearing, then they are changed. If they have a new group that comes in and they start making these judgments based on this overlay where every single building has to come and be approved by committee, then you might not get the same interpretation you get from this board that you do in 5 years. Mr. Harrison said if they are not using as a measure of their passage of any development those basic tenets that look after the public health and welfare and safety, then something is missing. That is all this ordinance asks them to do, it charges them to do that.
Mr. Holz said the ordinances they have, if he came over and asked for the requirements for building a house, they would give him those to take home and study and conform to. And the health and safety is taken care of because it should be in the ordinances in black and white. Mr. Harrison said Mr. Holz is asking for quantitative things, when this is actually a qualitative issue.
Mr. Holz said what they are doing is making every building permit for every B-3 development a decision by committee based on interpretation of the people who happen to be on that committee.
Mr. Farrington said that prior to doing any type of development of any size, there is a lot of money spent on planning, and a lot of decisions made prior to construction actually beginning. Gray is not good when it comes to bankers and things like that. The average investor or person with engineers should be able to lay out on paper without having to go talk to 50 people in the town what they can and cannot do on a piece of property.
Ms. Saunders asked if he didn’t think also that sometimes they get builders in that activate that gray area, too. What the Planning Board is trying to do is make sure that everything is the way it should be, and she is sure things will not deviate by going to the Planning Board with the drawings, getting the building permit, and the same type of procedure. Mr. Harrison added "unless there is an inherent problem with the development," in which case this will hopefully catch that problem. If they want to come and put a McDonald’s on the busiest intersection in Emerald Isle and have a super-size McDonald’s, he can almost guarantee them that it will be in black and white that they will probably have difficulty with this proposed ordinance.
Mr. Holz said that in the real world, that is where McDonald’s are built, the busiest intersections. They could say there is an intersection 5 miles down the beach where there isn’t anybody, go build the McDonald’s down there. Mr. Harrison said that for anybody who lives on this island, they will be concerned if there is a McDonald’s pouring out whatever number of vehicles into the traffic pattern every single day.
Mrs. Paxon Holz said it kills her when they talk about a McDonald’s when they have no There is not going to be anything generating that amount of traffic for we have no sewer. Mr. Harrison said that he is not certain that he necessarily agrees with her, that is something they discussed the other day. There are already Swedish firms and other people aware of the pressures on land, and to be able to put McDonald’s on street corners in places like Emerald Isle and to be able to come up with a technology that would allow them to buy the filtered sewage onsite is not by any means an impossible dream anymore. Mrs. Holz suggested that the stormwater study take that technology into account and use it. If there is such technology available, she recommends that those considering the awful problems we have with stormwater in that section of the island utilize that knowledge to treat stormwater effectively because it is not going to go away.
Mr. Gus Farmakidis said he applauded the Board for taking an initiative in writing this, and he is sure they went to a lot of other places and checked out what they have. He is a citizen, pays taxes, started coming down here in 1953 to Atlantic Beach, and what does that look like when you go across the bridge. This town still is beautiful, and they have to do these sorts of things. These developers come up here and everyone is against them. In Cedar Island [sic], Cape Carteret, you need 20,000 square feet to build a duplex. Here it could be 11,000 and 15,000. You have to start improving all this stuff. These people aren’t going to do anything for you, they’re not going to make this a better place. They’re going to level it. They don’t want any restrictions. That’s bull, and he applauds the Planning Board.
Mr. Holz replied that the people Mr. Farmakidis was talking about, the developers, are the ones that created this island that he is so proud of. Mr. Farmakidis responded, "I am? And what have you done for it? You haven’t made any money? You’re broke, right?"
Mr. Harrison stopped the argument and asked if there were any more constructive questions.
Mr. Dowling said he would like to add that the Jacksonville Daily News reported "Council pushes beautification." They want a prettier place to live, and there is a picture of what you can put in the B3 area—self-storage, U-Haul, a pawn shop. And now they are trying to roll back what they have. Mr. Dowling quoted from the article, "‘Otherwise,’ Jones said, ‘we’re going to condemn the next generation to what we are already apologizing for.’" This is the trend of the United States urban sprawl.
Commissioner Farmer asked about the stormwater ordinance. The Board of Commissioners can turn to that, as will the Planning Board, to look at stormwater problems. She is glad they will be looking at that ordinance. She is concerned about the traffic impacts; that is what got this whole thing started. There is nothing in this ordinance that specifically directs the Planning Board and Board of Commissioners to look at traffic impacts, and therefore, they need to have an educated Board of Commissioners and an educated Planning Board that will think health, safety, that means traffic. Or is she missing something?
Mr. Harrison replied that is one of the concerns they had early on. They started talking about 1) how these things pigeonhole, and 2) how somebody is going to be aware. There is a learning curve that happens with anybody elected to an office. He agreed with Commissioner Farmer that there has to be some learning curve, but this has to be a mutual process. That is why they wanted to charge them and require that the commissioners HAD to do all these things, not that they may do it, but that they had to. That would allow anybody in the room to come up before the commissioners and say, "Excuse me, you are not following the code. You are not looking at this traffic issue, for instance, which you should be addressing. If you are going to bottleneck this road up here and that one down there, how are you going to get an ambulance to the beach."
Commissioner Farmer said her suggestion would be to give them a hint, and that is to put in that paragraph in parentheses "i.e. traffic, stormwater, noise," whatever. Mr. Harrison said they had started doing that, and called it their first level of detail, because it was a question of how much they wanted to mire in the details. This was something they intentionally wanted to avoid. They could have written volumes on how big the vegetative buffer should be, how deep it should be, how long it should be, etc. And what they tried to do was avoid the details and follow the inherent logic of what the commissioners are supposed to be doing. They are supposed to be here for the community. Commissioner Farmer said she would drink to that, they are supposed to be there for the community, but she is not convinced that that is the way it always turns out. She feels that if they give them a nudge in black and white to be looking at traffic and stormwater, they will be the two biggest, they should give them a gentle nudge. Mr. Harrison said they could add the first order level of details in there. Benchmark had written volumes of information, but the committee backed off the details and tried to make it an inherently simple ordinance that had an inherently simple objective. He agrees that it would not hurt to have that. Hopefully nobody would look at the details so much if they get the big picture of what they are supposed to be doing.
Mrs. Holz said she had referred previously to the Emerald Isle 2000 survey that was given out October 10, 2000. She asked who formulated the survey. Commissioner Farmer answered that she, along with a couple of other citizens, sat down and took the 1990 survey that was done in conjunction with the land use plan, and updated it.
Mrs. Holz said that is interesting because the survey generated some responses with respect to this district that she asked the Planning Board to keep in mind. Most of Emerald Isle’s business zones "run from the bridge to Town Hall on both sides of Emerald Drive and remain only partially developed. Areas zoned for business should be: increased, 60; decreased, 183; remain the same, 623; no response, 45. The overall appearance of the business district is: good, 304; fair, 464; poor, 132; no response, 12." So overwhelmingly, the citizens who cared enough to answer the survey said they feel the area zoned for business should remain the same. And said the overall appearance presently is fair and good. So where does the impetus come from for all these changes?
Mr. Harrison asked her what her point was. If the people basically said do not increase the volume of the business district and don’t decrease the volume of the business district, keep it the same . . . . Mrs. Holz said they are saying don’t decrease the property zoned for business. Mr. Harrison added, "And don’t increase it."
Mrs. Holz said they were not saying don’t increase it. The point is that the business district is a necessarily strictly limited district. And they are proposing to put even more limitations on it that adversely impact the use of the property.
Mr. Harrison said the proper implementation of what they are talking about will not adversely impact in excess of 95% of the developments that come before the Town. It will probably adversely impact 5% of the ones that will necessarily be adversely impacted in the community. Mrs. Holz said that is no comfort to those 5%.
Mr. Phil Gagnon, resident, said he answered that question on that survey but said his understanding of the question was, is there enough business development as is in Emerald Isle. That is why he answered don’t change it. Mr. Harrison said that was his implication. Commissioner Farmer said the question before that indicates that there is quite a bit of concern about and interest in the commercial development in Emerald Isle.
Mrs. Holz said the highest number is "The following statement best describes the rate of growth." The most answers were 300 saying it is the right pace. Commissioner Farmer said there is another question, too. Commissioner Trainham said Mrs. Holz was taking the questions out of context. Commissioner Farmer said she would bring the survey results to the workshop on Friday.
Mr. Gus Farakidis, resident, said in rebuttal to the developer, the same thing was brought up before. She read the same statement. They are mixing apples and oranges because at that time, there was no threat of development along there. At this point in time, if they took the same survey, he doesn’t think they would get the same results.
Mr. Mark Brennesholtz, resident, said he agrees with Mr. Gagnon. When he filled out the survey, he read it too quickly. His interpretation was do we have enough commercial development on the island, and the answer was "yes." That is what he checked, it was not would you like to see the entire area from Langston Bridge up to Town Hall fully developed commercially. The answer to that would have been most definitely "no."
Commissioner Trainham said it had been his finding that this has been the consensus of people on the island. They are very concerned. We have already been built out in many areas, and he is questioning whether they are building out in so far as the business area is concerned. We plan for the future, and we have buildings right now standing empty. To keep these open and to keep them vibrant during the year is not easy for the merchants to do.
Commissioner McElraft asked how the special use worked. Does the person who builds the building have to come back every year to get it renewed? Mr. Harrison replied that was an excellent question, and this is the one problem they stumbled into last Friday. A special use permit is good for a maximum of 24 months. They had remarked that they will likely have to amend that statement in the Code that it is good for a maximum of 24 months except as the commissioners may approve it an appurtenant use. Nobody is going to go and say they would like to build a 15,000 foot store, go to the bank, apply for a loan, and tell them that they may yank it in two years. They won’t get the loan. It is something they will have to address.
Commissioner McElraft said that after it is built, they don’t have to go back in two years. Mr. Harrison said that in the case of all special uses for all the time they are listed as such. If somebody is found in absolute violation, there is a direct procedure already in the book that says they will be notified, there will be a public hearing, and then the special use can be removed. That is not likely to change. This is not designed to hamper development. This is designed to identify the problematic development that is going to injure this community in whatever way, shape, or form.
Mr. Harrison continued that it would be a virtually invisible process. It is not another step, it is not another set of meetings, it is not another month. It is something that is an additional review, and it is additional by empowerment of the commissioners to look at things they consider to be problematic development. It also removes the burden from the Town to defend their lack of support for any development.
An audience participant, who did not identify himself, asked if they could go through the process. There is not a proposed ordinance that they will adopt tonight. Mr. Harrison said they may well adopt the wording for passage on to the commissioners. The participant, an attorney, said it is hard to address what they are proposing when he hasn’t seen it, his client didn’t receive any notice that this was going to be happening. They do own B-3 property. This is the time when you need comment from the B-3 property owners. It makes it difficult.
Mr. Harrison said they don’t serve half-baked eggs. If they get the wording together, it will be made available to everybody. Also, nobody directly notifies all property owners. There are posted notices in the newspaper and on the board outside and on the website. These are public meetings. The attorney said it would be good as far as having a discussion about proposing an ordinance that it be out there. Mr. Harrison said it is out there and he hopes people do see it. The attorney said somebody will make a motion and say we propose to send this to the Board of Commissioners. Mr. Harrison said the issue is out there, not the wording of the ordinance. That is not on the website or on the bulletin board or on the back table. The agenda item is out there.
The attorney asked if a motion were adopted, would the motion adopt language that will then go to the workshop. Mr. Harrison said they would look through it, as this does not all necessarily fit in one place in the ordinance but three or potentially four places, on a piecemeal basis, discuss it, accept these, then pass it or not pass it on to the commissioners. The wording will be on tape and will be available before the Board of Commissioners meeting.
Mr. Dowling mentioned the sidewalks. From past history, a developer or owner of new property wants to come in and modify them, it can take them out. (Change to tape 2) He would make a recommendation that wording be included in the statement, because right now this is a weak statement in that they can be removed within a year, 2, or 3 years. He also mentioned page 2, the bottom paragraph. Do they want to tie down any more of the statements with a stronger "may" or "shall" or "will" or "must."
Mr. Harrison commented that this would be under section 19-83, "Notes, requirements, and conditions for certain permitted and special uses." This would be a subsection, a denotation off the zoned use table that already has 23 denotations, and this would be number 24. "That all commercial and retail structures within the B-3 and B-2 zoning district greater than 5,000 square feet in area are a special use and subject to the following conditions: