Showing posts with label zoning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label zoning. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Oriental Town Board Meeting June 5

A few things learned at last night's meeting of Oriental's Town Board.

1. The town manager has advertised for two full time police positions for the town;
2. The town manager is interviewing applicants for a position as assistant clerk;
3. The town board approved the issuance of a special use permit to the Steamer restaurant to add gaming as a category of use, subject to keeping the front door closed and removing the sidewalk tables, in order to reduce noise in the neighborhood. Some board members and members of the public attempted to expand the discussion to the question of whether the Steamer should be allowed to remain open to serve liquor as late as 2:00 a.m. At least two commissioners thought that was too late and one has promised to introduce a measure that would close all bars in town at an earlier hour. The mayor rightly ruled that such a discussion was outside the scope of last night's public hearing, which was a quasi-judicial proceeding limited to the special use permit request.

In side discussions after the meeting, some observed that the town's requirement for two police officers is somewhat driven by the fact that Oriental is the only municipality in Pamlico County allowing sale of liquor by the drink.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Appeasement in Oriental?

There were some curious aspects to last night's meeting of the Oriental Town Board.

1. Although many members of the public attended, apparently hoping to learn more about South Avenue property negotiations, only two members of the public commented during the comment period. Neither appeared to be enthusiastic supporters of the proposal as it apparently exists. Grace Evans reminded the Board that back in the 1980's when she served on the Board, the Board adopted a policy not to transfer any more street ends to private ownership.

2. Perhaps one of the reasons more members of the public did not speak is that the proposal received from Mr. Fulcher has never been introduced at a business meeting of the Town Board nor was it tabled at Tuesday's meeting. Neither has it been posted on the Town's official web site. Following the public comment period, the mayor gave an exposition of his views of the issue, but there was no explanation of the procedure to be followed in considering the proposal, and the facts provided were sketchy at best.

3. Comments by the mayor and a few by members of the board seemed to constitute a discussion, but No Motion Had Been Made. There should be no discussion without a motion. The board did vote on a motion to go into closed session to deliberate on negotiating strategy. But we still have no official introduction of the matter to be negotiated.

4. Most curious, the mayor spent about fifteen minutes (I didn't time it) explaining that an important benefit of the proposal is the intangible benefit of improved relations with the Fulchers and the Henrys. He implied that a history of strained relations between the Town and Mr. Fulcher and the Town and Mr. Henry was caused by the Town Board's insensitivity to the concerns of both families.

I think it is a mistake to personalize policy disagreements. It is the duty of the Town Board, acting as our governing body, to protect and defend the long term interests of the residents, acting in accordance with state law. To that end, the Town has adopted a zoning ordinance (GMO) and has accepted responsibility for public rights of way established under North Carolina law. These laws apply to everyone in the town. Equally.

I wasn't here at the beginning of policy conflict between the Town of Oriental and Mr. Fulcher or the conflict over right-of-way law with Mr. Henry. But I have read the files. The conflicts weren't personal - they were business.

Both Mr. Fulcher and Mr. Henry have been successful businessmen. There was a time when businessmen were seen as "hard-nosed," meaning rational in action, making decisions on the basis of cold, hard fact. And on the basis of both personal and business interests. It would be good for the Town Board to assume this is still true.

I hope the Town Board will pursue negotiations concerning South Avenue in the same spirit - that is, in a rational effort to pursue the best long-term interests of the citizens of Oriental, protecting public access and use of the water.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Should the Town of Oriental Disincorporate?

The recent retirement of Oriental's police chief, who was also the only paid member of the police department, has caused some to ask whether we need a police department. Can't we just let the county do it?

Good question.

If our taxpayers want to save money, there is an even more effective way to do it. Just cease to be an incorporated town.

What distinguishes an incorporated town from any other part of the county is the services it provides. Here is the list of services, some or all of which NCGS 136-41.2 requires municipalities to provide, along with the status in Oriental. The state's criteria is whether the town's budget appropriates funds for the service:

(i) police protection - not currently provided - some have proposed we just let the county do it;
(ii) fire protection - not currently funded by town - provided by Southwest Pamlico Volunteer Fire Department (no town appropriation);
(iii) solid waste collection or disposal - provided - town pays contractor. Some advocate changing to contracts by individuals instead of the town;
(iv) water distribution - provided - some have proposed selling our water plant to the county and letting the county distribute the water;
(v) sewage collection or disposal - not provided by town - the town sold its sewage treatment plant to Bay River Metropolitan Sewer District many years ago and no longer offers that service to its citizens;
(vi) street maintenance - some by town some by DOT - NCDOT already maintains some of the streets (e.g. White Farm Road, North St. and Broad Street) that would otherwise be our responsibility. Why not just let them do it all;
(vii) street construction or right-of-way acquisition - not provided - I have found no record in town minutes that the town ever purchased a street right of way or constructed a street (developers do that);
(viii) street lighting - provided - (many of the lights don't work);
(ix) zoning - provided, but controversial - the town's GMO is the source of great controversy. If we unincorporated, we would come under the county's land use regulations.

So, as it turns out, we do not completely provide or have abandoned a number of services normally provided by municipalities (six out of the nine listed services).

State law requires that municipalities levy an ad valorum tax of at least 5% per $100 of valuation in order to receive certain funds.

We could just lower everyone's taxes by 5% by unincorporating.

Not that there wouldn't be grumbling. Some would say we need a quicker police response than the county would provide. Some developers would chafe at the county's rules for waterfront property. Roads might deteriorate. Local ordinances would no longer apply. The town would no longer exist, so there would be no authority to sell liquor by the drink.

Operators of lodging would no longer have to collect and remit the occupancy tax. But something would have to be done with accumulated funds.

There would be no need for town hall and its staff. No public works department to fund.

So there would be complications and grumbling.

But look at the money we'd save.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Religious Exception to Zoning

I was pleased to learn this evening that the Oriental Town Board had decided to postpone the public hearing on the five amendments to the Growth Management Ordinance proposed by the town's planning board. There was a recognition that maybe the public notice hadn't been as clear as it might have been.

The board decided this evening to schedule public hearings on all five proposed amendments at the July meeting. I would have been happier if they had decided to act first on the proposed amendment on how to amend the ordinance, but that's ok.

In the meantime, we should all be thinking about the proposal to exempt "religious institutions," including buildings owned by such institutions, even if they otherwise resemble ordinary houses, from some of the dimensional regulations affecting other structures in the zone.Link
A point to remember is that, just because a religious institution owns a building today doesn't mean it will own that building tomorrow, next year or ten years from now. In the meantime, an allowed deviation from dimensional restrictions could have significantly changed the look of the neighborhood and affected the housing value of neighbors.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Zoning in Oriental

I previously mentioned proposed changes to our zoning ordinance. I just transmitted the following e-mail to the town manager:

"Dear Bob,
I just came across a School of Government handout prepared by Professor David Owens of the Institute of Government concerning Published Notice for Hearings on Rezonings and Zoning Text Amendments. On rereading that handout, I wonder if the notice published May 18 in Pamlico News and the week of May 26 in County Compass meets the requirements of NCGS 160A-364. The relevant portion of Professor Owens' handout says "the notice must be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the community once a week for two calendar weeks,...." The wording seems to imply that the notice would be published in the same newspaper. I assume you checked with the Town Attorney on this point.

More to the point, Professor Owens explains, "The notice must be sufficiently detailed to allow citizens to discern what is being proposed and whether they would be affected." He goes on to say, "The notice should clearly indicate: (1) what property is potentially affected; (2) the nature of the proposed regulation; and, (3) the time and place of the public hearing." Arguably, the notice as published only meets requirement (3).

Before addressing the substance, it seems to me that, if Article XV concerning amendments to the GMO is so deficient and confusing as to require amendment, the hearing on this amendment should be held separately. Any amended version of Article XV should then be followed in considering the other amendments.

I believe the public notice is inadequate in the following respects:
Article IV: Table of Permissible Uses - The proposed amendment introduces three new or modified categories of uses - Religious institutions including associated residential structures and buildings. Taken together with other amendments, this will affect other property owners; Travel Trailer/RV; Residential Nursing Care Institutions.
Readers of the public notice will have no idea that these measures are under consideration.

Article VI: Development Standards for Section 80 - introduces standards for town houses, exempting them from minimum lot width, minimum lot size and setbacks.
This is a significant new departure, to which the public notice calls no attention.

Article VIII: Signs - This is a complete rewrite. It is almost impossible from the version published on the town's web site to ascertain which provisions of the proposed ordinance are new. I notice the draft requires new signs to comply with the building code of the town. I have been unable to find a copy of the Town of Oriental's building code.

Article XV: Amendments - I believe this draft should be considered first. If changes are adopted, the procedure as amended should be used for considering the others. Even though it is possible to access a very helpful compilation of the suggestions incorporated in the proposed amendment, it is not possible to tell from the published notice what is being proposed and how it would affect individual citizens.

Article XVI: Word Interpretations and Basic Definitions - The major innovation here is to provide definitions for a townhouse and a townhouse development. It is not possible to tell this from the public notice. There are significant issues associated with the adoption of this amendment in conjunction with the proposed amendment to Article VI.

I believe we have time to do this right.