Southern Shores addresses concerns with retaining walls

Published 3:44 am Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Southern Shores Planning Board gathered at the Pitts Center on November 18 to review regulations pertaining to town banks and retaining walls.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, a few town residents came forth with their thoughts and concerns on retaining wall usage.

Tony DiBernardo, alternate planning board member, felt that retaining walls are put up, most of the time, for construction purposes instead of aesthetics. Looking at the lots that are left in Southern Shores to build on, DiBernardo thinks they could pose a “challenge to builders” because of the uneven land. “My fear is, inadvertently, by putting restrictions on this, we’re going to end up with problems like non-conforming lots,” he said.

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Doug Boulter, resident and property owner of Southern Shores, said, “at a time where there are fewer and fewer buildable lots, retaining walls can be useful by making marginal, buildable by sculpting or terraforming the land to make it flatter.” However, he pointed out that the addition of a retaining wall can come at the expense of neighbors. He hoped that the board would be able to establish some parameters, such as standards on height, location and maintenance, for retaining walls allowed in the community.

Following Boulter’s concerns, Mark Martin came before the board with options as to how his company has made retaining walls work in certain situations. In some cases, he had to lower the height of the retaining wall to 4 feet. In other circumstances, he made brick retaining walls meandering down the slope a residence that were 3 feet tall. “While you’re making your deliberations, just keep in mind what we have had to do for some of that stuff,” Martin ended with.

After the public comment portion ended, Wes Haskett, planning director, addressed the board. He stated the conditions that were in place for walls and fences within the town code: “retaining walls can go up all the way up to a property line and that their maximum height is 6 feet.”

Elizabeth Morey, chair, had asked for where the problems were within the town pertaining to this issue. Up until the time of the meeting, she had only heard about an issue in Martin’s Point, which had already been addressed. “We still don’t have an example of a problem,” Morey said.

Don Sowder, board member, expressed that he felt there was a problem due to what he had heard from “builders and others.” “The problem is the remaining lots in Southern Shores are not flat lots,” he said.

Sowder felt the amount of ingenuity, building and planning required for those lots may not even work. He thought limiting or regulating retaining walls would “impede quite a lot of the opportunities for lot owners to build on these properties.” He was also not aware of any identified problems pertaining to this issue.

Andy Ward, board member, found one negative with not regulating retaining walls in terms of height. He mentioned that someone could put 6’ high fence on top of a 3’ tall retaining wall. After adding the fence, there would be 9’ of structure on or near a property line. “I wouldn’t want to look at that if I was a neighbor,” he said.

To address this problem, Morey and Ward agreed that if the town were to make adjustments to these regulations, they could consider adding a setback. Morey suggested the board “gather some more input from stakeholders” and then discuss the options at a later meeting.

“I just don’t sense that we have any kind of strong feeling that we should change anything at this time,” Morey said to end their discussion. After gathering more insight, the board agreed to bring this issue back up during one of the upcoming meetings next year.

A short discussion on the height of town banks followed. Hackett presented the newly adopted terms involving height restrictions on certain buildings, including banks. He said that banks exceeding a height maximum of 35 feet are no longer allowed.

Should there be a natural disaster, an already existing bank could rebuild in their same footprint. However, newly built banks, watch towers and other buildings under this regulation are not allowed to exceed the height requirement.

After the board listened to Haskett, Morey made note that all structures are now under this height requirement, except for schools, country clubs and churches. All board members were in agreement that this was the best decision for the town.

The planning board decided to not meet in December. Their next meeting will be Tuesday, January 21.



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