March 19, 2006

CRC in town

The CRC is in town this week meeting Thurs and Friday at the Ramada Inn. The agenda is posted on the CRC website. Much of the action at these meetings takes place in the two standing committees. These are joint committees of the CRC and the CRAC. The Implementation and Standards Committee and the Planning and Special Issues Committee are where the fundamental issues get sorted out. Staff and the stakeholder groups represented on the CRAC sort out how values will be prioritized. There are 2 topics in the I&S committee that look interesting in light of this question asked in a comment to a recent post:
And, whats you take on what appears to be a big push by some appointees within CAMA to relax the rules and give oceanfront property owners more leeway in building (once more) too close to the ocean following beach nourishment?
It appears they want to use the argument that nourished vegetation on nourished beach should become the new marking line for building setbacks. Quite foolish, I would say, given that even CAMA acknowledges that a nourished beach washes away quicker than a natural beach. With that said, will they also increase the expected annual erosion rates accordingly? Bet not! And, surely this action would not lead to more development, would it?
The I&S Committee will be discussing both "Static Vegetation Line (I&S-06-07) - Jeff Warren" and "Structure Repair vs. Replacement Rule" and both of these play into the discussion of this issue. Let me start by saying that I do not know what will be discussed at the meeting and neither of these topics may involve the issue I am going to talk about next, but they sure sound like it.

Lets start this discourse by establishing a scenario. There is an oceanfront lot with a natural beach. The owners of the lot build a house on the lot and comply with the CAMA setback rule. The house as constructed complies with all local and state rules. TIme passes, erosion occurs. The house is now located within the CAMA setback and could not be reconstructed in it present location if damaged more than 50% of its value. A beach nourishment project is undertaken to protect the home and its neighbors from erosion. After the nourishment project the setback line remains where it was prior to nourishment, following current CRC rules, it does not shift east with the expanded beach. The house is still nonconforming but now further from the surf and the first line of natural vegetation than it was when it was constructed. There is a fire, the house is 48% damaged. The house is rebuilt in its current location with no decrease in setback or increase in size. The house burns, is rebuilt and the status quo is restored. Now the house burns again but is 70% damaged. Now the house cannot be rebuilt unless it completely complies with CAMA rules (this is the famous 50% rule) but the lot is too small and no house can be built on the lot under the strict interpretation of CAMA rules because the setback rule does not leave enough lot area to build a house. What should the policy be in this situation?
I support the current rule maintaining the pre-nourhsment vegetation line. It makes no sense to use nourishment as a reason to allow development that could not have occurred prior to putting sand on the beach. Using nourishment as an excuse to increase density of development is a path to disaster. However, the scenario I laid out asks a different question, what happens to properties made nonconforming by the static vegetation line, properties that now are safer from erosion than when they were constructed. Does it make sense not to allow them to be rebuilt to their previous condition? The goal of the setback line is to insure that newly developed properties have a minimum useful life. That useful life is pegged at 30 years for residential property (the setback is 30 times the annual erosion rate). That goal is met for the property I described because of beach nourishment. It will have a reasonable life expectancy, probably even greater than the 30 years. It was destroyed not by flood or erosion but by a peril CAMA does not address, fire. CAMA rules would have let it remain indefinitely if it had not been destroyed what changes if it is reconstructed. Finally, if reconstruction is not allowed, the state may be "taking" the lot (denying all reasonable use without compensation). So why not let them rebuild? Well, first off their neighbors couldn't build the same house on a neighboring vacant property and equal treatment under the law is a very important constitutional principal. Secondly nourishment is a temporary solution, erosion will continue and presumably the house could again be less than 30 times the erosion rate from the first line of vegetation and be threatened by erosion. Also, If the house is not rebuilt the risk of general flood damage is reduced for the state and federal governments, reducing the risk of flood and storm damage is the intent of the setback policy.
Good reasons on both sides, what is the answer? I have spent some time mulling this over and still have not balanced all the values. Here are a couple of minimum standards that I believe should apply,
  • No reconstruction should be allowed if reasonable use can be made of the lot and all CAMA rules met. (build the plan that meets the rules.

  • No reconstruction for large structures under the 60 times erosion rate rule (convert the property to conforming residential property if possible

  • Reconstruction cannot encroach into current (nonconforming) setback of the builidng

  • Reconstruction cannot increase the size of the structure inside or outside the setback area

If all of these conditions are met then I think a variance of the setback rule should be considered on a case by case basis with a general guideline being the house can be reconstructed to its original design with the maximum setback from the vegetation line that can be achieved on the lot. (if you were at 50 feet of a 60 ft setback but can rebuild at 55 ft. then you must rebuild at 55 ft.) That said I am still not sure that every variance under this scenario should be granted. The depth of the setback, size of the house and other nonconformities are all elements to be considered. I can see a scenario, however, when I might vote to grant a variance to the setback rule to allow reconstruction if there was no other reasonable use for the lot. The alternative is to condemn the property, pay the owner for it and then use it to provide public access. A good goal but an expensive one unless NC DCM is ready to pick up the tab.
The actions from the last CRC meeting show this entry:
Granted a variance to
Charles and Ellen Darrigrand of Brunswick County, who sought relief from the commission’s rule requiring the use of a pre-nourishment static vegetation line to calculate setbacks in order to construct a single family residence on a lot in Oak Island.
I do not know the particulars of the case so I can't say whether it was a case similar to the one I described of not. This indicates that the CRC was not asked to consider changeing the rule, only to review how the rule affects a specific property under the CAMA rules variance process. We'll have to wait and see what happens.
The same writer also asked "What's your take on what has been success of CAMA's 2000 study whereby it attempted to define weakness and improve the effectiveness of its statewide land use plan?"I have not had any experience with the new process. I am waiting and watching both Nags Head and Southern Shores experience to see how the changes play out. Some of the changes will not be be changes for Nags Head. The Town had already made its plan a Land and Water Use Plan and it included an achievements section that detailed actions taken to implement the plan (this for the last 2 LWUPs). More on this topic as the process goes along.


At 7:56 AM, Blogger Bob Muller said...

I am adding 2 comments posted below that were attached to other postings that I think make sense to be posted here. Sorry if the author doesn't want his/her work further disenminated.

At 7:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is a dangerous slippery slope and our present rules are not enforced enough. In one hand you have towns clamoring and begging for federal and state monies to dump unsavory dredge sand on their beaches year after year to "save their homes" and in the next breath after they receive nourishment, and the vegetation/property lines are extended (temporarily of course) they want to change the rules to their advantage. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Enough is enough. CAMA and our beach towns need to better enforce existing rules and stop this senseless sand bag city that is engulfing our beautiful beaches. These sandbags that are "approved" by CAMA as temporary measures are NEVER temporary and rarely taken off the beach, but continually replaced with more. These sandbags are nothing less then seawalls and are further encouraging beach erosion and they are unsightly. They are not helping property owners or towns, they're only making it worse. And one needs to look no further then to the Town of NH, where south nags head has been ruined by them. The Town of NH needs to say enough is enough. Beach pushing, a popular occurance in SNH is alo given a blind eye when town officials do not do anything to stop it. These folks in SNH and the Town even, continually use bull dozers to push sand from the water line up around their "castles". This pushing is making their beaches worse! When beach pushing occurs, you are making a narrower, steeper beach. Yet this practice goes on year after year without any one from CAMA or the Towns to do anything to stop. But, these same property owners expect public money to be spent on nourishment projects. I say end the beach pushing. If beach nourishment ever happens on the Outer Banks, our town leaders need to be PRO_ACTIVE and pass legislature NOW that forbids this practice. After all, what good will beach Nourishment do if property owners pull out their Bobcats and push it up around their homes? Our town officals pushing for Beach Nourishment keep promising a wide beach that everyone can enjoy as a benefit. What wide, public beach will be left if owners are allowed to carry on like they have been with no oversight or enforcement? What wide beach will be left if owners continually push the beach and continually make the beach steeper and narrower?

Both rules against beach pushing and increased set-backs are legislature that is smart for the Towns. After all if BN is supposed to "save infrastructure" like it's touted, why not encourage INCREASED set-backs and outlaw any "scarping" or beach pushing? That would be smart, long-term planning if beach nourishment is EVER to happen. If public monies and taxes are going to be used to pay for these projects then that would be the smart thing for Nags Head to do. And people also need to realize that yes, even with BN, someone MAY (god forbid) loose their home(s). It's not a guarantee, cure-all. And it certainly isn't going to work like these towns are promising.

Posted by Anonymous to View from the Ridge at 3/19/2006 09:42:07 PM

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Bob Muller said...

[ADDED COMMENT- J. RIDGE- I am not sure what post this comment was originally appended to]
The reason our communities will not accept retreat as a viable option is that becuase someone, somewhere, will be a "loser" and loose their home/property. retreat is definately a viable option. retreat would save the towns and their residents a fortune and would honestly bring the dangers and risks of building on the oceanfront to the surface. people purchasing and selling real estate should be better educated on the risks and the risks that you assume when you purchase high-risk property on the dynamic oceanfront. The tax monies spent on continually "bailing out" people from these risky endeavors coulod be better used to develop better shoreline management strategies. Better educating buyers, residents and tax payers. And ultimately, a better, natural public beach, cleaner water and lower taxes/infrastructure costs. Retreat could be a good thing for Dare County, it is an option. Kitty Hawk is a good esample. Yes, it did buy peoples homes, which isn't always a popular choice. But, in the long run, every person in US benefitted. Lower taxes, a wider, natural beach for everyone to enjoy and lower insurance payments. We have the opportunity now to accept the fate of the ocean's eminent domaign and to pro-actively deal with better solutions, to better address the effects of erosion and to come up with sound local legislature the backs a retreat plan and provides a better approach to just slapping band-aid over sand bags and the cost of the bn projects is just way too prohibitive to protect our 60+ miles of natural beaches on the outer banks. And even with bn, there will still be some "losers" who will see their property succomb to the mighty ocean. Something our towns still refuse to acknowledge. That 30 million could be used to purchase affected property, used to stabilize dunes after the property is procured and develop an intelligent solution that really protects public infrastructure.


Posted by Anonymous to View from the Ridge at 3/19/2006 09:57:59 PM

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