Memo-11-08-2016-Item-10

November 8, 2016

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 Regarding Setbacks in the Business Zoning District - (Summary & Suggested Motions)

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider the attached amendment to the Town’s Unified Development Ordinance that would reduce setbacks for commercial buildings in the Business zoning district to 10 feet.  A public hearing is required prior to Board consideration, and has been scheduled for the November 8 meeting.

As noted in the attached memo from Josh Edmondson, Town Planner, the UDO currently requires a front setback of 40 feet, a side street setback of 30 feet, and a double frontage setback of 40 feet in the Business zoning district.  The UDO also includes a provision whereby certain buildings along NC 58 may be located as close as 5 feet to NC 58.  The attached ordinance amendment would reduce all three setbacks to 10 feet (with the exception of a slight increase along NC 58 – from 5 feet to 10 feet), which would match the current setbacks in the Village East and Village West zoning districts and result in greater consistency among the Town’s commercial and mixed-use zoning districts. 

The attached ordinance amendment would provide greater flexibility for all property owners in the Business zoning district in the future (new commercial buildings could be located as close or as far away from the street as desired), and would also promote (but not require) the placement of commercial buildings closer to the street.  The location of commercial buildings closer to the street would likely promote a more “downtown” or “village” design in the Business zoning district, promote more rear and side parking designs, and be more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly.  This concept is also consistent with recent and ongoing discussions at the staff level and the Comprehensive Plan / Land Use Plan Steering Committee about allowing mixed-use development in the Town’s Business zoning district (the Business district is currently limited to commercial use only), and there appears to be strong support for expanding the concepts in the Village East and Village West zoning districts to the Business zoning district in the future.

Initially, I had intended to recommend the reduction in setbacks in the Business zoning district to the Planning Board and the Board of Commissioners sometime in 2017 after the Comprehensive Plan / Land Use Plan Update is completed.  However, because of the apparent support for the mixed-use concepts in the Business zoning district from the Comprehensive Plan / Land Use Plan Steering Committee and others, and also in an attempt to address concerns expressed about the proposed grocery store project / Crew Drive closing and redesignation that was approved at the Board’s October meeting, I decided to recommend the attached ordinance amendment now.  If the Board approves the attached ordinance amendment, it would apply to all properties zoned Business in Emerald Isle (see the attached excerpt from the Town’s official zoning map; all Business properties are indicated in red), including the proposed grocery store project.  If the proposed grocery store project is only required to meet a 10 feet front setback from Crew Drive, rather than the current 40 feet front setback, it is possible for the developer to essentially achieve the desired site layout (which appeared to be favored by everyone who commented at the October meeting) without the closing and redesignation of Crew Drive (i.e., Crew Drive would remain a public street, but still be improved as presented at the October meeting).  As you recall, nearly all of the concerns expressed at the October meeting were associated with the closing and redesignation of Crew Drive.  Thus, if the attached ordinance amendment is approved, it should therefore be possible for the Town and the developer of the proposed grocery store to address nearly all of the expressed concerns, which would be a desirable outcome for our entire community.  Because of the potential for this desirable outcome, I decided to recommend the attached ordinance amendment now rather than wait until sometime in 2017.  (As you know, I hope to begin a comprehensive review and update of the entire UDO sometime in 2017 anyway.)

Although the attached ordinance amendment would immediately benefit the proposed grocery store project (and those who expressed concerns about Crew Drive), I believe the ordinance amendment will ultimately have even greater benefit for all commercial property owners and our entire community in the future.  As noted, the attached ordinance amendment will provide greater flexibility for all commercial property owners, thus enhancing the potential for future quality commercial development.  Additionally, the potential future allowance of complementary residential uses in the Business zoning district will only enhance the marketability of existing commercial property and should make it easier for future commercial development to be profitable.  Additionally, the allowance of residential use above new storefronts should increase the customer base for any new or existing businesses located in the Business zoning district and also promote more bicyle and pedestrian activity.  Most importantly, the implementation of these concepts in the Business zoning district should ultimately promote a more “downtown” or “village” design along the NC 58 / Reed Drive / Crew Drive corridors, and ultimately result in a more attractive and vibrant community.  Because of the overall community benefits, I would recommend the attached ordinance amendment even if the proposed grocery store project does not ultimately proceed.   

Josh Edmondson and I look forward to discussing the attached ordinance amendment with the Board at the November 8 meeting.