Tuesday, November 20, 2007

News From Congress

HR3915 Passes to Full House for Consideration
A bill designed to curb abusive mortgage lending practices was passed out of the House Financial Services Committee this week with a favorable vote of 45 to 19. To become law, the bill needs approval of the full House; then would need to be passed by the Senate; and finally signed by the president.
The bill, a response to the crisis in the subprime mortgage market, tightens lending regulations by requiring lenders to consider a borrower's ability to repay an adjustable-rate mortgage after monthly payments reset higher than introductory rates, and also ensure that borrowers receive a "net tangible benefit" to refinanced mortgages. It also would require mortgage brokers be licensed, prohibit lenders from being compensated for steering borrowers toward certain high-cost products and assign some limited liability to secondary market investors that finance certain subprime loans.
Opponents said the legislation would make it harder for borrowers to obtain a house and increase the cost of credit. But supporters said the problems in the mortgage-finance system allowed excesses and abuses to hurt homeowners. They said lenders were able to exploit a patchwork of state and federal laws to trap borrowers in unaffordable loans using questionable underwriting practices.

Fire Sprinkler Debate

The recent fire in Ocean Isle earlier this month that claimed the lives of seven South Carolina college students was a terrible tragedy.
The fire has stirred up debate once again about whether or not sprinkler systems should be mandatory under the State Building Code or if local governments should adopt their own sprinkler requirements.
*Attached is information for your review regarding residential sprinklers that was prepared by the North Carolina Home Builders Association based on data from the National Association of Home Builders, US Fire Administration, National Fire Protection Association of Home Builders, NAHB Research Center, Public Opinion Strategies and the US Census Bureau.

Kill Devil Hills Atrium Replacement

After months of debate and the ultimate denial of Carolina Beach Builders’ application to replace their nonconforming atrium with new materials, the Planning Board will be considering a proposed amendment to the Nonconforming Structures section of the zoning ordinance to address nonconforming atriums and sunrooms at their meeting next Tuesday. The amendment would allow new materials to be used to replace a sunroom or atrium that does not expand the existing footprint of a structure.
The Board will also be working on an amendment to clarify requirements for wall signs; considering an amendment to add requirements for commercial, industrial and
multi-family accessory structures; and considering an amendment to allow planned unit development and townhouse subdivisions (this is in response to workforce housing financing opportunities).

Corolla Sign Ordinance

Apparently, there have been some violations of the Currituck Outer Banks Overlay District Sign Ordinance. Please remember the following when placing signs in the Corolla area:

There is only one “For Sale” sign allowed per property and it may not be on state or public land.
“For Rent” signs may only be placed on the exterior wall of the unit for rent – not on a post on NC 12.
Any construction company or realty company that flies the American flag 24 hours a day must have it properly up lighted during the night to comply with the US Flag Code.

In other Corolla news, Commissioners gave approval last week to an amended sketch plan for the Corolla Bay subdivision of Monteray Shores citing the need and market for multi-family housing. The amended sketch plan increased the density for Corolla Bay from 115 units to 256 units that will include detached condo units. Although a substantial increase, the plan still met the overall density and space requirements for the Planned Unit Development.

Duck As-built surveys

Last week, Town Council members considered scheduling a public hearing on an ordinance that would remove the requirement for as-built surveys within 9 months of an application for building or land disturbance permits. Town Council decided more information was needed and the item was sent back to the Planning Board.
Members of the Planning Board this week decided that staff needed to do some more work on a “matrix” that would outline exactly when a survey would be necessary.

Community Development Director Andy Garman also presented Planning Board members with information on the newly adopted Tree and Vegetation Preservation and Planting Ordinance. He stated that the ordinance seems to be working well; the public is now thinking about vegetation on their property and understanding the importance of preserving native vegetation. He did state that an issue has come up with oceanfront properties, whereas the ordinance does not give credit to grasses in the 15% coverage calculation requirement. The ordinance requires oceanfront homeowners to plant trees or shrubs that are not as well adapted to the ocean dune environment as some of the plants currently growing on the property. Board members agreed that grasses need to be added to the approved list of vegetation and directed staff to come up with a formula for coverage credit.

There was lengthy discussion on sign ordinance regulation discrepancies and violations. One main concern that staff brought forward is that “building frontage” is not clearly defined. Owners of Scarborough Faire raised many concerns about the ordinance including how wall area is measured to determine sign size allocations. Staff was directed to review the sign ordinance and make recommendations from Board suggestions at a subsequent meeting.

Is the Bonner Bridge Crumbling Down?

WAVY TV 10 aired a special report this week on the need to replace the aging Bonner and the stacks of paperwork that continue to build on how to go about doing it. It was noted that exposed rebar, cracked pilings and plenty of patch jobs are just some of the problems with the Bridge. The report highlighted Governor Easley’s August 2007 letter to the Secretary of the Interior in which he stated the bridge is “one of the most deficient bridges across the state.” Although state and federal agencies were prepared to sign off on a 17.5 mile long bridge to Rodanthe in July of 2003, Dare County Commissioners and Senator Marc Basnight stepped in and opposed the plan. They then proposed building a shorter bridge, parallel to the Bonner Bridge in a phased approach – a series of bridges to built over 30 years. NC DOT rep Ernie Seneca was quoted during the broadcast, “We feel the phased approach is the best way to deal with the changing environment and this allows for flexibility and how best to proceed throughout the process.” Senator Marc Basnight was also featured saying that the issue to replace the bridge boils down to cash – “the state has the $300 million to build the short bridge but the $1.4 billion price tag is out of the question.” The report ended with information that a final environmental statement on the project is expected next Spring and that the state is going to spend $40 million to make repairs to the bridge to extend its life by 10-years.

Make Plans to Attend Stormwater Management Workshop!

A seminar to help you gain a better understanding of how to apply a “low impact development” approach to your own backyard will held on Wednesday, November 14th from 3 to 5 pm at the Kitty Hawk Town Hall. Low impact development basically is landscaping with an objective - the objective being to manage stormwater runoff on your site instead of trying to move it away. Low impact development (LID) is a relatively new approach to stormwater management with a basic principle that is modeled after nature. Before an area is developed, most rainwater that falls to the ground is absorbed and filtered by the soil, soaked up by the plants, or evaporates and becomes rainfall again. However, built structures contain many impervious surfaces, such as rooftops and driveways, which cannot be penetrated by rainwater. Surface water then collects and flows downhill, accumulating sediment and pollutants before reaching a body of water such as a stream, estuary or ocean. (Therefore, all the discussion on stormwater rules!)
The seminar will feature three local experts: Kathy Mitchell, Horticulturist at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island; Susan Ruiz-Evans, Dare County Extension Agent; and Robert McClendon, Sustainable Design Specialist at the Coastal Studies Institute. For more information, contact the Planning Department at 261-2552.

Nags Head Building Height

The Commissioners voted unanimously to deny a zoning text amendment request to modify the definition of height. The proposed amendment would have allowed total height of structures with the VE zone to be measured from 3 feet above average grade or 3 feet above the base flood elevation, whichever is greater. The public hearing was very lengthy with several comments made from the applicant’s attorney, Bobby Outten, and others in attendance. Town Planner Tim Wilson agreed that there are height measurement issues - not with the 42’ total limit - but with what came be done to the interior and the top plate measurement requirement. The Board directed Planning staff to come back to them in December with alternative language to the zoning ordinance dealing with height that would allow the top plate to be measured from the first finished floor and be no more than 28 ft while complying with an 8/12 roof pitch and only having up to 3 habitable floors. The issue will then go to the Planning Board and from there it will go back to the Board of Commissioners to schedule another public hearing.

Dare County Emegency Management

Emergency Management Director Sandy Sanderson and the Director of the Coastal Studies Institute, Dr. Nancy White, gave a presentation on the feasibility and opportunity for Emergency Management and 911 Communications to co-locate with the new Coastal Studies Institute at their site near the Manteo Airport. Mr. Sanderson spoke about the need for a new Emergency Operations Center and how the costs would be much less if Emergency Management only needed to pay for the construction of the facility and not the infrastructure costs associated with the development because CSI would have already covered those costs. He proposed a 2-story, 10,000 sq. ft. facility detached from the CSI building, constructed to 130 mph wind standards; the cost would be approximately $3 million to build. Dr. White expressed that this is “an amazing and nationally unique opportunity for CSI”. In an era of global warming and homeland security issues, CSI facility researchers could work closely with the Emergency Management group. The BOC said they will consider the proposal and discuss it at their Capital Improvement Projects meeting and add it for discussion to their November 19th meeting agenda.

The Board did not reach a decision on building height and gross floor area for structures in unzoned areas of Dare County. They referred back to the Planning Board language that would allow buildings up to 45 ft. in height and a maximum of 20,000 square feet. Hotels, motels, County owned facilities, and other government facilities would be exempt from the gross floor area limitations. A motion was made by Richard Johnson to move forward with language that limited height to 35 feet but that motion failed with Commissioner Shea casting the only other favorable vote.

Southern Shores Eminent Domain

Oct. 23 – The Town Council reversed its decision from early this year that allowed the Town to exercise its eminent domain powers on property in Chicahauk. The town condemned property owned by the Chicahauk Property Owners Association to use as a dredge spoil area for the planned Town canal dredging project. Cost, permitting issues and environmental impacts were stated as the reasons to rescind the decision. They may revisit needing to use the area at a later time.

Duck Amendments To Zoning Ordinance

Defining “free and clear of obstruction” in structures in a V-zone: this in now described as a distance of two feet measured from the finished grade or average finished grade below the structure to the bottom of the lowest horizontal structural member of the lowest floor. Non-bearing solid breakaway walls, open lattice panels, and insect screening are not considered obstructions that will impede the free flow of floodwaters and may be allowed below the lowest floor of the structure. The two-foot free and clear requirement will not count towards the maximum height requirement of the structure.

Addressing fill on irregular lots and defining the footprint of a dwelling – no more than 3-feet of fill may be added to a lot above the pre-disturbance ground elevation; the building footprint is defined as the plan view of the heated area of the dwelling unit. Pre-disturbance elevations will be taken at the four corners of the building footprint; if the footprint is irregular and has more than four sides, pre-disturbance elevations shall be taken using the four building corners closest to the four corners of the smallest square or rectangle that could be drawn to encompass the footprint. When fill/grading is not necessary to raise a house to base flood elevation, a maximum of 3 feet of rise in ground elevation from the lowest pre-disturbance ground elevation beneath the house as a leveling factor. Any amount above three feet that is not necessary to raise a dwelling to base flood elevation shall be counted toward the height of the dwelling.

Defining height as the distance from the tallest roofline of a building to the top of the slab at the approximate center of the structure or to the finished grade where no slab is present. More information on height and other zoning text amendment changes can be found at www.townofduck.com.

The Town of Duck Planning Board gave full support this month to removing the 9-month as-built survey requirement and agreed to leave it open to staff as to the need for an as-built survey. This is great news for property owners just wanting to do small improvements to their homes such as replacing treads on exterior steps, etc; they now may be able to save the $600+ survey cost. Town Council will be reviewing this amendment at a future meeting. The Planning Board also decided to put fence regulations that were under consideration on the back burner.