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Dare County to revise planning, zoning and building code regulations in 2021

Over the next six months, Dare County’s commissioners will deal with numerous changes in county planning, zoning and building code regulations for unincorporated Dare County.

On Dec. 7, county planning director Donna Creef briefed the commissioners on changes that she has identified so far.

In 2019, General Assembly legislation combined various statutes to create Chapter 160D in NC General Statutes.

Dare County and all local governments in the state have until July 1, 2021, to update local ordinances. Creef’s memorandum to the board also states that state regulations supersede local regulations and prevail if the county takes no action. However, “it is a good practice to have the local regulations in sync with the state laws to avoid confusion and to provide clarity in our processes and procedures.” New Chapter 160D is effective Jan. 1, 2021.

So far, Creef has identified seven areas that will need attention.

Zoning and subdivision ordinances

Conditional Use permits will be called “special use permits,” requiring numerous terminology changes in zoning regulations.

The commissioners approved a conditional use permit at the Dec. 7 meeting.

Waves Retreat LLC received a conditional use permit for a cluster home development with a dozen residential structures. Eleven of those structures will have conditioned space not exceeding 1,200 square feet. One structure is an existing historic residential building that is 1,330 square feet which is allowed to remain. A gravel road capable of supporting 75,000 pounds is required by the county’s fire marshal. Road maintenance is the responsibility of the developer or any homeowners association. A fire hydrant is required. No access to estuarine shoreline from adjoining properties is one condition. Building permits must be obtained within 24 months.

The ordinance changes will not affect this or other existing conditional use permits.

A minimum square footage for structures cannot be set. One subdivision exception in the county’s current rules refers to a four-bedroom limit that must be removed.

Bona fide farms must be recognized in zoning regulations. Such farms are exempt from local regulations.

The county rules must state that development approvals run with the land.

The county’s wireless communication tower ordinance will require definition updating and possibly standard changes.

A developer cannot be required, as a condition of subdivision approval, to bury power lines.

Zoning map and text amendments

As to notification of proposed amendments, the state legislation clarifies that notice should be given to abutting property owners as well as those separated by transportation improvements.

Third-party down-zoning is prohibited. Third-party down-zoning is some other property owner or organization applying for more restrictive zoning on an individual’s property.

Such amendments must be adopted on first reading of the proposed ordinance.

Quasi-judicial decisions

The Waves Retreat conditional use permit hearing was conducted as a quasi-judicial item. All participants were sworn in. County manager Robert L. Outten asked the developer a series of standard questions for the record.

Under the new state rules, procedures for special use permits and appeals of permit decisions and variances before the Board of Adjustment must have evidentiary hearings, testimony and written finding of facts. Planning board can serve as a preliminary forum and may make recommendations, which are non-binding.

Boards in general and Planning Board, Board of Adjustment

Dare County is required to adopt a broadened conflict of interest standard for elected officials and advisory board members.

Members of the Planning Board and Board of Adjustment must take an oath of office when appointed and re-appointed. The boards must have record keeping, which is already practiced by the Planning Board. Minutes are posted on Dare County’s website, darenc.com.

Administrative decisions

Conflict of interest standards must be adopted for planning staff members who issue permit decisions. Approval procedures when there is a family relationship are to be established.

All development approvals by staff must be in writing.

Violation notices must follow state law.

Planning staff decisions are appealed to Board of Adjustment, which is already the case. A 30-day period for filing an appeal is now in place in Dare County and required by the state.

Development agreements and vested rights

The state now requires development agreement standards. Such agreements are between the county and developer on large scale projects that take multiple years to develop. The county does not have development agreement standards. The county does have vested rights language “but this needs to be updated for consistency with state law,” states the Creef memorandum.

Comprehensive plan

The state rules require plans to be “reasonably maintained.” For Dare County, the plan is the land use plan required under the Coastal Area Management Act. Board of Commissioners actions must declare that decisions are consistent with the land use plan, which is already accomplished. A statement of “reasonableness” for zoning map amendments must be adopted.

The state’s new combined legislation is found in Chapter 160D of the North Carolina General Statutes. Outten said the General Assembly’s goal was to “create uniformity throughout the state.”

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