CEDAR POINT — In the face of protests from residents, the planning board voted 5-2 Tuesday night to recommend town commissioners approve a request to rezone a 0.4-acre lot on the northeast side of the intersection of Highway 24 and Dolphin Bay Estates from R-15 (residential) to B-1 (general business) conditional.

The proposal, from property owner Francis Lane, now goes to the commissioners, who next month could schedule a public hearing.

The applicant has said he wants to sell the property for use as a “professional office,” such as a tax service. If the rezoning passes, that would be a condition.

The property is directly across Dolphin Bay Estates Road and from a 1.2-acre tract commissioners earlier this year refused to rezone to business after hearing protests from residents. That dichotomy, plus the fact commissioners last week rejected a unanimous planning board recommendation to rezone a 5.18-acre tract farther west on Highway 24 from B-3 (planned business) to B-1, caused some consternation among planning board members, who before and after the vote said commissioners were not being consistent.

One longtime planning board member, John Zimmerman, said after the meeting that he planned to resign.

“That’s it. I’m done,” he said as he left town hall.

He and board member Paul Garavaglia voted against the motion to recommend commissioners approve the request for the 0.4-acre lot, agreeing with Dolphin Bay Estates residents it was an encroachment of business zoning into the neighborhood.

Board members Jerry Riggs, Josh Reilly, Larry Bragg, T.J. Williams and Joe Marello voted to recommend approval Tuesday night. Chairwoman     Jennifer Heironimus, who led the discussion, votes only to break ties.

Those who voted to recommend approval of the request contended the professional office use was the best outcome, since the property owner has tried to sell his property for residential use but has been stymied by the fact that the county won’t approve a septic tank for anything larger than a one-bedroom home.

“He (Mr. Lane) can’t sell it … and it (the existing modular home) is just going to deteriorate,” Mr. Williams said. “None of us would want to be in that situation.”

Mr. Bragg agreed and said he’d hate to see that happen because there are already a number of deteriorating properties along Highway 24 “and we don’t need another one.”

“I’m torn,” Mr. Riggs added. “It’s hard to decide.”

But he said he’s already seen vines grow over the modular home and is worried about further deterioration.

Before voting to recommend approval of the rezoning, he suggested the residents might want to consider chipping in and buying the relatively small lot.

David Ward, speaking on behalf of the property owner, said the owner, who uses the home part-time, is in a bad situation.

“He lost his wife and he’s looking to sell it,” Mr. Ward said. “He’s got an offer on it for commercial (use).”

The property, he noted, had at one time been used commercially by an eye doctor and was long listed, incorrectly, as being zoned for commercial use. A tax service office, Mr. Ward said, would probably not generate much more traffic than a full-time resident.

But Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Garavaglia disagreed strongly and agreed with neighborhood spokesman Michael Shucher, who contended a business on the lot would increase traffic and result in more stormwater runoff and pollution of the neighborhood canals, which lead to the White Oak River.

Mr. Shucher also mentioned the location of the property, at the apex of a long curve on the highway.

Mr. Garavaglia, who ran unsuccessfully for the town commission in November, agreed.

“The speed limit has been lowered from 45 mph to 35 (mph), but safety is still an issue there,” he said, “and we’ve got the same problems with pollution of the canal. To me, that doesn’t benefit the town. I’m not for it.”

Mr. Zimmerman said he opposed business use of the lot and indicated the town had grown too commercial, with too many zoning changes along the highway.

The staff report from Town Administrator David Rief supported the rezoning, as the highway is a commercial corridor and the lot has very limited use a site for a residence.

Mr. Shucher, who led successful opposition to the rezoning on the other corner of Highway 24 and Dolphin Bay Estates Road earlier this year, said he and his neighbors would continue their opposition when the request goes to town commissioners.

Even before the rezoning issue came up, planning board members expressed some consternation over the town commission’s recent reversals of their recommendations.

Mr. Zimmerman was particularly concerned about the commission’s decision last week not to rezone the 5.18-acre tract adjacent to the Magens Bay development to B-1 to allow construction of an upscale mini-storage facility.

The property owner, an Emerald Isle investment company, discussed the idea with Magens Bay residents and said they supported it as the least problematic commercial use of the highway property beside them.

Mr. Williams said he, too, was concerned by that town commission vote.

“If the neighbors are happy, and the staff (recommendation was favorable), I call BS on some of it,” he said.  “But they (commissioners) make the call, they’re the elected officials.”

Commissioners, in rejecting the rezoning request, said, in part, they didn’t think a mini-storage facility is the best use of the property, which is fairly close to the intersection of highways 24 and 58, the eastern entrance to the town. Mr. Zimmerman called that reasoning “ridiculous,” as there’s already a Bojangles, a Go-Gas and a recreational vehicle park in the same area.

Mr. Reilly said the planning board thought the mini-storage facility was an appropriate use and met the town’s land-use plan.

He noted the planning board had been told the town can’t “pick and choose” what businesses go on commercially-zoned properties.

“I think we want a little more guidance (from commissioners)”, he said.

Mr. Rief said the planning board’s role is more technical, while commissioners make policy decisions. But he also told the planning board that if members think some allowed uses in some zones are not appropriate, it’s up to them to recommend changes to town commissioners.

Ms. Heironimus asked Mr. Rief to place the discussion on the agenda for the planning board’s January meeting.

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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