Millville discusses accessory structure ordinance

At their workshop early this week, the Millville town council discussed the town’s ordinance regarding accessory structures in the R-1 Residential District. Town Engineer Kyle Gulbronson of URS presented a draft ordinance to the council, following their earlier request.

“Back when the zoning code was drafted six years ago,” said Gulbronson. “There was a lot of discussion at the time about accessory structures and what would be appropriate — particularly in the Residential District. Within the town of Millville, there’s only about 15 percent of the town zoned Residential.”

Gulbronson noted that most residential areas in Millville are either Master Planned Communities (MPC) or Residential Planed Communities (RPC), which allows for a much smaller and condensed style of development.

“Maximum size for an accessory structure in the Residential District is at 600 square feet, which would be a tool shed, potting shed, very large dog house, a tree house — something of that nature,” he explained. “Living where we live, a lot of people have additional cars, boats, Jet Skis… Several residents had approached the Town about looking at a way that we could expand the maximum size of an accessory garage.”

In the draft, URS recommended that the Town allow accessory structures in the R-1 District but have the maximum size scaled to the size of the property, as opposed to the town’s current maximum size of 800 square feet.

“We’ve put in a little bit of a better control mechanism in the draft before you, that the maximum size of the accessory garage would be limited to 20 percent of the rear yard.”

Councilman Jon Subity said he thought it was a good idea to scale to the size of the yard and asked if any consideration had been made to have the accessory structure scale to the size of the home.

Gulbronson said that, currently, the draft ordinance did not include such scaling. He said that “accessory,” in this case, means the structure is an accessory to the primary structure and should as such be smaller. However, the town code currently does not include definitions for garages or accessory structures.

Gulbronson said that the draft ordinance addressed the setbacks of the accessory structures, as well, with structures of up to 800 square feet having a setback of 5 feet, structures of 800 to 1,000 square feet having a setback of 10 feet, and structures of more than 1,000 square feet would have a setback of 15 feet, with the maximum accessory structure size to be capped at 1,200 square feet.

Councilman Harry Kent aid he was concerned about the setbacks in the drafted ordinance.

“To me, less than 10 feet should be the bare-bones minimum.”

Councilwoman Joan Bennett said she also had concerns regarding the draft’s setbacks, in relation to noise.

“If that big building is 5 feet off the property line and is sitting up-close onto a property line and someone is in there, banging wrenches or running compressors, doing what people do — they work on cars, they fix their lawnmowers — I’m hearing that through my house wall at 5 feet… The consideration for the neighboring properties is an issue for me at 5 feet. I can’t go with that.”

Kent added that other potential issues on a 5-foot setback could be refracted heat.

“Every time you keep encroaching closer to somebody’s property line, it challenges the neighbor.”

Bennett said that, perhaps the town’s Board of Adjustment should consider accessory structures on an individual basis.

“This may be fraught with peril on too many levels,” she said.

Gulbronson reminded Bennett that, to be granted a variance from the town code, there needed to be a proof of physical restraints regarding the property that required a variance, such as an odd shape.

“A variance should never be granted because of use,” he explained. “Use variances are a real no-no, if you don’t want to end up in court.”

Kent questioned whether the ordinance would be prohibitive for people outside of the R-1 District.

“The reason we have zoning is so there are different categories of land use. All of us have free will and the option to buy wherever we want to buy. I think it’s a person’s individual choice as to where they choose to buy their property,” responded Gulbronson. “If an individual wanted to have a house with a large garage in the back yard, if he’s shopping for property, he knows he can’t do that, for example, in Millville By the Sea. So he’s going to look for a property somewhere else, where he can do that.”

He added that, in general, if the council does decide to go the route to allow for large accessory structures in the R-1 District, the sliding scale proposed would be “one of the better ways to go.”

Bennett went on to say that she needed to be given a definitive number of citizens who have asked the Town to look into revising the current code.

“What’s several? Are there multiple people asking for this? And, if so, I’d really like to know how many,” she said. “I need that information before I do anymore consideration… It’s important to me.”

Mayor Gerry Hocker said that he has been approached by two people, one of whom wanted a place to store his antique tractors and boat. He added that he would speak with Town Manager Debbie Botchie to see if she had been approached by other residents, as well.

Gulbronson said if the Town has been approached by residents regarding the code, it’s good that they are taking action to look at revising it.

“My experience is there’s no perfect zoning code that’s ever been made. When you have an issue in your code that requires a lot of interpretation … or you’re asked to reevaluate it, that at least merits a reevaluation of that.”

The potential accessory structure ordinance will be discussed further at the town council’s Oct. 22 workshop.