Swansboro Planning Board, asked by town commissioners to consider downzoning a section of Water Street, has recommended a change.

Now it is up to town commissioners to decided if that section of waterfront between Through the Looking Glass and Casper’s Marina should be changed from Business-2 Historic District Overlay to Residential-6.

The planning board, meeting with four members, considered the request on Nov. 1.

The meeting marked the return of Andrea Correll as town planner. Correll, who served as Swansboro planner from March 2016 to October 2019, was hired for a second time and started last month, on Oct. 7. Scott Chadwick, board chair, welcomed her back when he opened the meeting. In reply, Correll said she was pleased to be back in Swansboro, “And I promise to be your planner for the rest of my professional career.”

She offered information on the downzoning.

“You are considering rezoning property from Drudy Lane to Casper’s,” she said.

Currently, the waterfront side of Water Street is zoned for commercial use. The B2HDO designation offers a limited amount of commercial uses and, only with commercial, residences are allowed.

But the commercial requirement has created a problem for Debbie Wilson, who owns 209 South Water St. along with a sister. She has told town officials it would be easier to sell the waterfront lot, vacant since 2018, if it was zoned residential.

Correll said the town is proposing changing the entire side of the street, between Through the Looking Glass and Casper’s Marina, to R-6, which allows single-family homes on lots with a minimum of 6,000 square feet.

The town is allowed to take this action on its own, according to Correll. She also said that adjacent and abutting properties would be notified prior to a public hearing on the change.

Under Swansboro policy the planning board acts in an advisory capacity to the board of commissioners, which has final say on matters of rezoning.

“The land-use plan supports the small traditional single-family lot,” Correll said. According to the Swansboro Land-Use Plan – required under the Coastal Area Management Act – Water Street is in a Traditional Town Center. And, Correll added, “The rest of the Historic District is R-6 single-family.”

“It is consistent with existing development in the area, it is consistent with the land-use plan, it is consistent with the Waterfront Access Plan,” she said.

Chadwick then pointed out that the HDO designation had a purpose, “It was to create the potential for having a boardwalk down to Casper’s.”

“If we were to recommend approval of this, with the condition that they adhere to the waterfront access plan, that would still be a possibility,” he noted, referring to the Dock Walk. “Is that your understanding?” he asked Correll.

Correll said that is not the case.

“This is not a conditional rezoning,” she said, “And if you change it to conditional you will mess it up.”

Correll then said that the Swansboro Waterfront Access Plan, which was citizen-driven, approved about 10 years ago, recommends a sidewalk on Water Street, rather than a boardwalk.

“I don’t think Deborah or any of the other residents would be unhappy with a sidewalk,” Correll added.

Planning board member Christina Ramsey had one question: “What is the town’s goal or purpose for asking for this?”

In reply, Correll said she had a concern over “consistent development” on the street. And she said that under the B2HDO, there would be potential for a large commercial usage.

Laurent Meilleur, planning board member, was concerned with how the change would be perceived by the adjacent business, Casper’s Marina. “Have you heard from Casper’s?” he asked Correll. “What kind of feedback have you heard?”

Correll said that in an informal discussion, Susan Casper, owner of Casper’s, expressed concern that the waterfront access plan would be abandoned.

Following a series of other questions and answers from Correll, Meilleur said that with the change there would be no requirement for a boardwalk or a sidewalk.

He also referred to the fact that on that side of the street, all but one of the homes are relatively moderate in size; the exception being one that was replaced a few years ago.

Then Meilleur asked Correll what would prevent replacement structures from being much larger?

The area is within the Swansboro Historic District, according to Correll. And, she added, the Swansboro Historic Preservation Commission relies on comparisons in granting permission for replacement structures.

However, “There have been so many demolitions on Water Street that there is not the structures to compare,” Correll said.

Correll did say that she would be looking at ways to limit mass through enacting town policy.

Meilleur said, “At this juncture, there is really nothing to prevent it.”

Correll did say that there are techniques to reduce the visual impact of large replacement structures, such as requiring setbacks related to height.

But, Meilleur said, “We don’t have a means of preventing or restricting that sort of density.”

Correll agreed. She said, with the rezoning, there could be replacement houses on that side of the street, all built to 35 feet, which is the town’s building height limit, “all the way across.”

Given an opportunity to speak, Wilson, owner of 209 South Water St., said she would welcome a residential designation.

She and others speaking on her behalf decried the commercial designation. The lot at 209 South Water Street is small and there would not be much area for parking. The structure would still have to be raised. And commercial permitting process has been confusing and difficult.

“Nobody is going to buy that,” Wilson said. “Their return on investment would be nothing.”

“If it was a single-family home, we think we would have better luck selling the property.” She added. “We already have permission to do a tear down.”

As for adhering to the waterfront access plan, she said neither she nor three or four of her neighbors want to allow a boardwalk.

“We all talked about that.” Wilson said. “I wouldn’t want somebody walking in my backyard.” And, she added, “I would not object to a sidewalk,” she qualified that by noting the buyer of her property might object.

Chadwick was sympathetic.

“I certainly feel for Debbie and how hard it would be to sell that property as commercial,” he said.

Meilleur said he would support the change despite about potential development.

Ed McHale, planning board member, agreed and said that he too had concerns. But he also said he did not believe commercial is viable due to lack of parking.

A motion to recommend the zoning change be approved passed by a 4-0 vote.

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy@tidelandnews.com.

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