January 25, 2006

More on setback exceptions

Here is a long article from the Carteret Times explaining the Emerald Isle NC view on the issue.

Town wants setbacks relaxed

Carteret County News Times by Kathleen Bliley (1/16/06)

EMERALD ISLE - This town's eastern beach is lined with 171 oceanfront lots considered too small under state and local setback rules for new construction or major repair, but a review of regulations could provide relief for owners. Once plagued with severe erosion, the lots from Emerald Isle's boundary with Indian Beach west to the Ocean Reef subdivision have grown since the town's 2003 eastern beach nourishment. However under the state Coastal Resources Commission's rules for nourished areas, the lots still retain the same first line of vegetation designated before the project as the starting point for the required 60-foot oceanfront building setback. Since the town also requires a street-front setback, all but three lots in the eastern section of town are nonconforming, meaning they could not qualify for new construction permits or be repaired if damaged beyond 50 percent. The irony is that the beach fronting these lots, many occupied by older homes, is much wider now with an enviably strong dune line, according to Town Manager Frank Rush. "I think the area is in good shape, particularly the dunes," he said Friday. Emerald Isle commissioners have agreed to push for a rule change that would allow the first line of vegetation to be shifted in cases where beach nourishment has taken place, an amendment that beach nourishing communities such as Oak Island and Surf City also support. In November, the state Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) agreed to review the rules regarding oceanfront setbacks over the next several months. Easing the setback rule would certainly improve property values and give owners the opportunity to redevelop or sell, Mr. Rush said. Phil Gagnon, an agent with Realty World, represents two owners of undeveloped, nonconforming lots, which have been slow to draw interest given their present status as unbuildable, he said. "People are not willing to take that kind of gamble," Mr. Gagnon said Friday. They are more willing to buy nonconforming lots with existing homes, he said, pointing out that many have been sold in recent years. Even so, those people are taking a chance on homes that if destroyed completely by hurricanes or fire couldn't be rebuilt. Even if the lots kept their nonconforming status, the CRC could help owners by allowing homes that have suffered more than the current rule of 50 percent to be repaired or replaced, Mr. Gagnon said. Also, "the fact that beach nourishment likely will continue needs to be taken into consideration," he said. For her part, former commissioner Doje Marks opposes any rule changes and told commissioners Tuesday during their regular meeting that the town should never have invested in eastern beach nourishment. "We spent millions of dollars to protect a handful of homes more than 30 years old," Mrs. Marks said. "We shouldn't have been bailing them out." That perspective is flawed, Commissioner Nita Hedreen said, in that it doesn't take into account the town's responsibilities to maintain Emerald Isle's viability. "I will do everything I can to keep houses from falling into the ocean," she said. In addition to supporting the CRC rule changes, the town could reduce streetfront setbacks to help nonconforming lots gain some size, but a comprehensive look revealed only a handful of lots that would be helped by that amendment, Mr. Rush said. The lots' market values now are about half that of oceanfront lots in the central and western sections of the town's beach, he said.


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