A request from developer A. Sydes Construction Inc. to increase the number of building lots in the Swansgate subdivision has led Swansboro to reconsider traffic, sidewalk development and recreation space application, among other things, at the subdivision.
Swansboro Planning Board considered the revised plat submitted for the 21.95-acre subdivision at the corner of Main Street Extension and Swansboro Loop Road at its meeting on June 1. The meeting was the first in town hall with spectators since early-March when the coronavirus pandemic forced Swansboro to schedule meetings online as a way to stem the flow of COVID-19. CDC safety measures, including social distancing, were applied.
Members of the planning board expressed collective displeasure with not only the increase in the number of lots but also the project’s apparent problems in dealing with stormwater. Still, members voted 4-2 to recommend approval of the revised plat.
A plat is intended to be an accurate rendering of how a tract of land will be developed.
First approved by town commissioners in May 2019, Swansgate’s plat originally included 35 lots on 21.95 acres, according to information from Jennifer Ansell, town planner. The revised plat was submitted in February by Bell and Phillps, a consulting firm, seeking 37 lots.
Jonathan McDaniel of Bell and Phillips represented the developer at the June 1 meeting.
Swansgate was approved under the residential cluster development standards of the town’s Unified Development Ordinance. The developer agreed to dedicate 4.49 acres of the tract – of which 4.22 acres is wetlands – to the town for open space. In return, individual lots might be smaller than the 20,000 square feet normally required in the Residential-20 zone, but would meet the terms when calculated in the tract’s entirety. Swansboro negotiated the plan with the intent is to preserve as much wetlands as possible and perhaps develop a greenway, or trail, on these lands as others become public domain and can be linked.
It is the task of the planning board to review the preliminary plat and the findings of the town staff and Technical Review Committee, “and any other reports or recommendations pertaining to the plat,” in order to provide recommendation for the board of commissioners to consider.
Perhaps because of the project-in-development being cited for numerous water quality violations, planners were reluctant to allow two more building lots. Doing so would mean more hard surface – roof areas and driveways – further impacting stormwater runoff, according to Ralph Kohlmann, planning board chairman.
Questioned by the planners, McDaniel said the intent was to develop 37 lots.
“Based on conversations with Jonathan McDaniel, they had always planned to develop it with 37 lots,” Ansell said. Submitting a 35-lot subdivision allowed the developer to avoid a town requirement for a traffic-impact analysis. “(They) reduced it just below the threshold for the TIA (35 lots) to gain approval,” Ansell explained.
When the revised plat went to the Swansboro Technical Review Committee – made up of public works, police, utilities and various town departments – in March, discrepancies were uncovered in a few areas, according to Ansell. Not only did the change triggered the need for traffic-impact analysis, it also resulted in re-calculating the open-space/recreation space requirement and sidewalk requirement, among other things.
The developer hired Ramey Kemp Associates for the TIA. The subdivision at full development, will generate about 420 trips a day between its two intersections, one on Main Street Extension and one on Swansboro Loop Road, in a typical 24 hour period, according to the study. “Based on the findings of this study, no roadway improvements have been identified as necessary to accommodate future traffic conditions,” the Ramey Kemp report states. The Timmons Group, the town’s traffic engineering firm, reviewed and agreed with the Ramey Kemp report.
In the review, it was determined that 4.22 acres was allowed in lieu of the required recreation payment, according to Ansell’s information. But the UDO states that the dedicated property shall “consist substantially of usable space with no more than one-fourth of said property consisting of floodplains, wetlands, or any area the topography of which renders it substantially unusable for typical recreation activities.” As a result, a payment in lieu is required.
“Staff believes the intent of the ordinance is to require this area to be reserved for the residents of the community to enjoy recreational opportunities,” Ansell explains in a memo to the planning board. “(As) 4.22 acres of the 4.49 acres proposed to be dedicated as open space consists entirely of 404 wetlands, … the use or improvement of this area is severely limited.”
Under the revised plat, if allowed the two extra lots, the developer has agreed to pay the alternative payment in lieu of recreational space, which is $540 per lot, totaling $19,980. “The parks and recreation director and the parks board support this proposed alternative payment,” Ansell states.
According to the plat, a 15-foot wide pedestrian easement has been provided between Lots 5 and 6 for access to 4.49 acres of open space/wetlands. The area is also accessible from Main Street Extension and through an easement along the property’s northern border from Swansboro Loop Road.
“Sidewalks have been proposed interior of the property line along Main Street Extension and Swansboro Loop Road due to the location of an existing roadside ditch,” Ansell states in the memo.
A payment in lieu of sidewalk construction is being requested for the portion of sidewalk required along the wetlands portion of the site which fronts on Main Street Extension, approximately 167 linear feet, Ansell said. That payment was apparently not included in the initial plat.
After considering the alternatives, the planners reluctantly, and not unanimously, came to the conclusion that the town would be best served by approving the revised plat.
Looking to Ansell, Scott Chadwick, planning board member, said, “Let me see if I can sum this up.
“In exchange for the two lots, they are now doing what they should be required to do to begin with.”
Christina Ramsey noted that by adding lots, the lots would be smaller. Ansell said that even with the additional lots the project would meet the residential cluster development standards. In following up on that, Kohlmann pointed out that two lots would mean additional hard surface, which would add to the amount runoff generated.
“There is definitely a problem with managing the stormwater runoff from that site,” Ramsey said.
Both Chadwick and Kohlmann pointed out that the project had been cited for several erosion and sedimentation control violations by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources. In response, McDaniel said the violations had been dealt with.
Ed McHale, a planning board member, appeared unconvinced.
“I have a hard time approving something when we don’t have any documentation,” he said.
Chadwick provided some background on the project’s stormwater control issues.
“I talked to Jennifer a couple of days ago,” he said. “The state has jurisdiction over this and we don’t.”
In essence, by approving the revised plat, the town would be able to collect the $19,980 in recreation fees plus about $10,000 worth of sidewalks, according to Chadwick.
“I’m inclined to say let’s give them the two lots and get the money we should have gotten,” he said.
A motion to recommend approval of the revised plat passed by a 4-2 vote, with McHale and Jeffrey Conaway voting against. Kohlmann, Brad Buckley, Chadwick and Ramsey voted in favor.
The request now goes to the town commissioners for final consideration.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.
For more on this story purchase a copy of the June 17, 2020, Tideland News.