April 11, 2017

MEMO TO:           Mayor Barber and Board of Commissioners

FROM:                  Frank A. Rush, Jr., Town Manager

SUBJECT:           Ordinance Amending Chapter 5 – Density, Intensity, and Dimensional Standards – of the Unified Development Ordinance to Eliminate Residential Density Limits in the Village East, Village West, and Marina Village Zoning Districts - (Summary & Suggested Motions)

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider an ordinance amendment that would eliminate the residential density limits in the Village East, Village West, and Marina Village zoning districts, and simply rely on the cumulative application of the Town’s other development regulations to govern residential density in these districts.  A public hearing is required before Board consideration, and has been scheduled for the April 11 meeting.

The Town’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) currently allows commercial, residential, and mixed uses in the Village East, Village West, and Marina Village zoning districts, and these districts were specifically created to provide additional flexibility and promote quality redevelopment in these areas of Emerald Isle.  The UDO limits residential density to 6 units per acre in the Village East and Village West zoning districts, and 4 units per acre in the Marina Village zoning district, but allows for up to 10 units per acre on a case-by-case basis if “significant public amenities” for parking, access, and/or recreation are provided as part of the proposed development (authorized via approval of a conditional zoning overlay district).  Essentially, the developer is eligible for a “density bonus” by incorporating significant public amenities in any new project.  These residential density limits were established in the mid-2000s when the “Village” districts were created, and were determined after considering  a) the fact that these areas were previously zoned Business and no residential uses were permitted,  b) the desire to promote mixed-use development in these areas,  c) the fact that the Town’s other zoning districts limited residential density to approximately 3.6 units per acre, with existing condominium complexes and one large parcel allowing up to 8 units per acre, and  d) to specifically make redevelopment in these areas more lucrative in order to encourage quality redevelopment in these underutilized areas of Emerald Isle sooner rather than later. 

For whatever reasons (the real estate market crashed soon after the creation of the Village districts?), the Town has not experienced the desired redevelopment of these areas over the past decade, and much of these areas remains underutilized.  In an effort to further promote quality redevelopment in these areas, Town staff proposed and the Board of Commissioners was receptive (at the January budget planning workshop) to simply eliminating the residential density limits in these areas altogether.  Our hope is that the elimination of these “artificial” limits will make it feasible for a creative developer or land owner to design a residential or mixed-use project that further maximizes their economic return while still adhering to the Town’s other development regulations - and thus encourage redevelopment sooner rather than later.  The attached ordinance amendment would rely on County/ State wastewater requirements and the Town’s building height limits, storm water management requirements, parking requirements, vegetation requirements, and building setback requirements to achieve the desired community design, and the Town would not place any “artificial” limits on residential density.  Essentially, if a building complies with all other development requirements (height, parking, setbacks, etc.), then why should the Town care how many residential units are included inside of the building?  The Town’s ultimate goal is to create a vibrant and attractive community, and the other development regulations should enable the Town to effectively achieve these goals without placing an “artificial” limit on the number of residential units. 

The Board should note that only approximately 125 acres of the more than 3,200 acres in Emerald Isle are zoned as Village East, Village West, and Marina Village.  This figure represents only 3.9% of the total land area of Emerald Isle, and each of these areas is underutilized (and in some cases, not as aesthetically pleasing as the rest of our beautiful community) and specifically targeted for redevelopment in the Town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  The elimination of the residential density limits in the Village districts would not impact the other 96.1% of the Town’s total land area, the vast majority of which is already developed as attractive single-family residential neighborhoods.  Additionally, the Board should note that this ordinance amendment would not eliminate density limits that apply to any mobile home parks or recreational vehicle parks that might be proposed for the Village districts.  Any mobile home or recreational vehicle park proposals would be subject to the applicable minimum lot sizes, density limits, and other requirements for those uses.  

With the growing confidence in the local real estate and construction markets, the Town’s previous efforts to promote quality redevelopment in the Village districts, and new initiatives (like the proposed ordinance amendment), I remain hopeful that the Town may finally realize the vision for the Village districts in the near future.  I believe that the Town’s careful consideration of overall community values (small-town atmosphere, family beach image, low building heights, quality aesthetics, bicycle and pedestrian amenities, public beach and sound access, and others), the continued application of other development regulations, the recognition of the need for quality redevelopment in underutilized areas, and other creative approaches will ultimately enable us to achieve a positive outcome in the Village districts that will enhance our entire community.

As noted in the attached memo from Josh Edmondson, Town Planner, the Planning Board has thoughtfully considered the attached ordinance amendment, and unanimously recommends approval.

We look forward to discussing the proposed ordinance amendment with the Board at the April 11 meeting.