STONE HARBOR – The public hearing on Stone Harbor’s new side-yard setback ordinance was still two weeks off, but many residents couldn’t wait to tell the council what they thought about the proposed changes.
The public comment period at the Tuesday, Oct. 17, council meeting was dominated by speaker after speaker who opposed the new ordinance and urged council members not to vote for it.
The ordinance change was introduced at the Sept. 19 council meeting, with the council departing significantly from the setback rules recommended by the Planning Board. The most significant change from the Planning Board version was the council’s removal of any grandfathering provisions. The new setback rules would apply across the borough.
New setback distances would vary with the size of the lot frontage, but the council increased the sizes over those proposed by the Planning Board.
In altering the Planning Board’s recommendations, the council was following the lead of council member Bernadette “Bunny” Parzych.
Parzych argued at the Sept. 5 council meeting that zoning is what makes Stone Harbor unique and that there was a special need to create a “better look,” with more open space in the side yards.
She said that the proposals from the Planning Board did not go far enough, and urged the council to remove the grandfathering provisions and to increase setbacks based on lot size. With very little discussion, several other members followed the lead of council President Frank Dallahan, who said he would support Parzych’s proposed changes. The ordinance as proposed by Parzych was introduced at the council’s following meeting.
Prior to the Oct. 17 meeting, a card was mailed to several Stone Harbor property owners warning that the council was considering changes that would “ENLARGE SIDE YARD SETBACKS On ANY Slightly Oversized Lot.” The card contained no identifying information about the sender.
The card cited the upcoming Oct. 17 council meeting and stated that “This is Your ONLY Opportunity To Voice Your Opinion.” Technically the warning was incorrect, since a public hearing on the ordinance must be held before any vote to adopt, and the hearing and vote are scheduled for the council’s meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7, which is Election Day.
Former Mayor Suzanne Walters said at the Oct. 17 meeting that the increased setbacks constitute a “taking away” of people’s property. She said the council actions “disrespected” the Planning Board.
Walters argued for a position taken by current Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour at a Planning Board meeting: Davies-Dunhour said that the borough should hire a consultant to look at the complex of zoning regulations.
Following Walters, who spoke in-person, a dozen residents and property owners used the public comment period to express their views, most of them via Zoom. One of the speakers pointed out that this was happening at a time of year when many property owners who are not full-time residents are not physically in the borough.
All of the comments were in opposition to the proposed changes; speakers argued that their impact would be to create straight-wall architectural “boxes” in new construction. Some expressed concern that the rules would reduce the sizes of the homes themselves. Many called the ordinance a “taking” that would devalue their investment in their property.
A number of speakers were critical of the council’s seeming willingness to make significant changes to zoning, changes not recommended by the Planning Board, without sufficient discussion and analysis. Some called for a commission to look at zoning rules as a whole; others suggested hiring a consultant.
Many of the speakers also chastised the council for not making the introduced ordinance available in a conspicuous place online. When a council member pointed out that the ordinance copy was in the meeting packet placed online for the Sept. 19 meeting, it calmed the waters a bit, but most still argued that a change of this magnitude needed more notification to property owners and an easy way to find and download a copy of the proposed ordinance.
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at email@example.com.