Millville begins ordinance updates

Millville officials are facing booming development; out-of-date, boilerplate ordinances; and increasingly intense scrutiny as the town annexes surrounding areas and becomes home to thousands of new residents. But they’re not sitting idly by and waiting for potential problems to emerge.

In an Oct. 17 meeting with Kyle Gulbronson of planning firm URS, Millville Town Council members began a full review of the town’s ordinances — particularly those related to land-use and zoning. Gulbronson provided the council members with an overview of changes made to town ordinances in his first draft of what will become one of Millville’s primary guiding documents.

Interim Mayor Tim Droney noted that the town had begun an ordinance revamp effort two years ago with updates to a series of ordinances that were particularly in need. Now it’s time for a major overhaul.

Gulbronson emphasized that the current review was intended to update and organize the zoning and subdivision codes; bring ordinances into line with current development trends and patterns; better define the development process in the town; add additional review and development requirements; and improve the format and flow of the ordinance documents to be more user-friendly.

Indeed, many of the changes Gulbronson described were more in the manner of “housekeeping” measures. Existing handwritten notes, for example, will be formally incorporated. Other issues, while overlooked in the past, are increasingly important for the town.

Consideration of town’s future begins in earnest

That includes the ordinances’ reference to an official zoning map — a reference not in current code. And Gulbronson told council members that he’d also added a specific procedure defining how zoning boundaries would be determined if they were in dispute or unclear.

In fact, Gulbronson pointed out, some parcels in the town are actually in more than one zoning district, where the zoning district line does not match a property line. One of those properties includes portions of the Millville By the Sea master planned community, which is zoned both residential and commercial. The same goes for parcels around the town’s Food Lion shopping center, Gulbronson explained.

Gulbronson told them that the official zoning map was nearly ready for council approval, and that raised issues for the council members, who are also looking at a 2008 due date for their next comprehensive plan update.

Droney questioned how much of the work the council is doing now to update its ordinances and zoning map would need to be re-done heading into 2008. And Deputy Mayor Joan Bennett asked whether the town might take advantage of the similar efforts and even start the comp plan update sooner than necessary.

Gulbronson agreed with Bennett’s idea, saying that the things they are discussing now, regarding the town’s ordinances, would serve them well going into the comp plan updates. And he suggested the council could begin the comp plan update early in 2007, ready to complete it early on the 2008 timetable and benefit from near-memory of current topics.

Returning to the draft ordinance document, he noted that language had been added to reflect that the ordinance requirements themselves were to be considered the minimum standard for related activities, with the possibility to encourage higher standards.

More zoning districts the answer?

Gulbronson also said that purpose statements for each of the town’s existing five zoning districts would be added, per a state requirement, to better define how they were to function.

And he recommended at least one additional zoning district — a Flood Hazard, or FH, overlay district that would reflect the area’s 100-year flood zone and serve as a warning to property owners that they might be in for future trouble.

Bennett questioned whether the FH zone might also be used to control development in that area, such as prohibiting commercial use where extensive paved surface might exacerbate the existing water problems. Gulbronson said such steps were indeed a viable use of such an overlay.

Changes to other zones are also made in the draft:

• AR – Agricultural/residential zoning will include additional permitted accessory uses, borrowed from county code, but Gulbronson noted the lack of parcels with AR zoning and questioned whether the town still needed it. On the other hand, he said AR could serve the town well as a “holding district” in the future, allowing it to annex outlying properties that are not currently served by water and sewer, at lower density, with the possibility of up-zoning to a higher density zone once infrastructure is added.

• R – Residential zoning also had permitted uses and accessory uses added, along with special exceptions that could be granted. But again Gulbronson questioned the future of the district, suggesting additional residential districts might be added to reflect varying densities. As it stands, the R district allows a single-family home on as little as 7,000 square feet of land, if sewer and water are provisioned; and a half-acre without them.

Gulbronson said annexation areas to the north could be brought in with larger parcels in mind, and the town should also plan for a future when someone might buy smaller parcels along Route 26 and seek to subdivide a combined parcel. Droney said the town could study that issue.

In a later side discussion, the council addressed those potential northern annexation areas, noting that most are currently in use as mobile-home parks. The R district allows no mobile homes, and council members have generally supported that prohibition, so council members will also be faced with how they might annex to the north without permitting such structures.

“In order to get to some places where people have requested annexation, we would have to annex them,” Droney warned his fellow council members.

Gulbronson acknowledged a trend toward the removal of such homes in favor of stick-built and modular homes, and said that bringing into the R district parcels with mobile homes on them would create a non-conformity — something those property owners would have to accept and be willing to deal with if they were to seek such annexation.

• C – Commercial district zoning likewise brought a recommendation from Gulbronson that the town consider whether additional districts were needed. As reflected in controversy over plans to bring a Home Depot to a parcel adjacent to the Dove Landing community on Route 17, the planner said the town might look to create zoning for smaller-scale, neighborhood-type commercial uses and a separate zone for larger, heavier commercial uses.

In considering future annexation, Gulbronson said, the town might consider a “Hocker corner” district in the Route 17/Route 26 intersection area where supermarkets, shopping centers, big-box stores and other heavier uses could be permitted. And existing commercially zoned properties, such as Millville Town Center could share such zoning. But the old-town Route 26 corridor could be restricted to “smaller” uses, such as service businesses.

• RPC – Residential planned community zoning would be shifted under the draft to a standalone district, versus its current place as a conditional use. Gulbronson noted that the RPC designation was intended to allow developers additional flexibility to design better communities and they could be required to provide proof that certain criteria were met in applying for such zoning. “This is not a giveaway,” Gulbronson emphasized, saying the town could have a lot of impact on development through RPC zoning.

• MPC – Master planned community zoning would be unchanged in the new draft. The new zone was only added 2.5 years ago, and thus is the most up-to-date of the town’s zoning ordinances.

Overall, the suggested changes and considerations were greeted well by the council members. But Bennett had issues with Gulbronson’s suggestion in the draft that the town could limit certain uses in the commercial districts to a maximum size. For instance, the draft suggested a variety store or supermarket could be limited to a certain amount of square footage.

“I think it’s arbitrary to impose that on certain kinds of stores,” Bennett said. “It will set us up for variance applications right, left and in between. I’d just as soon not see it at all.”

Gulbronson explained that the intention had been to keep some areas limited to smaller businesses, such as on Route 26. But Bennett was unconvinced that limiting size by use was the best way to do so. “If we do it for one, we should do it for all of them,” she said. But she agreed that if the town were to look at more than one commercial zoning district, such a method could applied more fairly.

Updates target specificity, covering all bases

Supplemental district regulations also appear in Gulbronson’s draft, with additional regulations designed to cover more situations, he said. The resulting language should, he said, make interpretation less of an issue where uses were concerned and make the whole process more straightforward.

Likewise, Gulbronson made clarifications to ordinances on non-conforming lots, structures and uses, seeking to both avoid leaving areas open for interpretation and, he said, to deal with situations when various combinations of non-conformity might exist, such as a non-conforming use in a non-conforming structure.

There, Droney questioned whether the town could consider an uninhabited dwelling to be a non-conforming use, eyeing several houses in the town that he said were either uninhabited over the long term or entirely abandoned. Gulbronson said he would look into the issue, while Bennett urged caution so the town wouldn’t end up at cross-purposes with its existing blight ordinance.

New signage ordinances were adapted from those in neighboring Ocean View, Gulbronson said. And Board of Adjustment rules, procedures and processes were added and clarified.

The new ordinances also seek to deal with the potential problem of subdivisions whose roads aren’t up to town (or state) standards. Gulbronson said he was concerned that the town would eventually be tasked with having to improve roads within developments.

But Droney said the town was seeking to avoid adopting any roads, instead pushing property owners to ask the county and state to take the roads when desired. Gulbronson said that setting clear standards would protect the town should the county or state refuse such a request.

First step in lengthy process

In concluding his overview of the draft, Gulbronson also laid out the next steps in the process: full review of the document by the council, incorporation of their recommendations, revision of the draft and review of zoning maps and land uses, leading to a final package that would be subject to a public hearing and potential adoption.

Gulbronson also asked the council members to keep in mind their long-term plans for annexation as they review the ordinances. He noted some potential for enclaves of unincorporated property to be created as Millville and Ocean View annex lands over the coming years, and admitted that there is little apparent benefit to annexation of some of those properties to either town or to the property owners at this time. He said Millville’s proposed police protection might one day be such a benefit, though.

Describing his best-case scenario for cleaning up rag-tag boundaries between the towns, Gulbronson said Ocean View might annex properties east of Windmill Lane, while Millville should annex to the west.

Areas of concern to be addressed

As the new environmentalist voice on the council, Don Minyon — who himself volunteers at the James Farm Ecological Preserve and with the Center for the Inland Bays — questioned what the town should do about wetlands buffers. The issue is a hot topic these days as the state endeavors to develop its own revised system of buffer requirements and some property owners have fought to reduce the initially recommended sizes.

Gulbronson’s initial document requires a buffer of just 25 feet, but he said that was merely a starting point. The town, he said, could pick its own minimum and include language to defer to state buffer requirements should they ever exceed the town’s requirements.

And council members also asked Gulbronson to address the issue of subdivisions being created within existing subdivisions, as has happened off Reba Road. Gulbronson said ordinances could be drafted to limit such developments, and agreed with Bennett that additional notification to neighboring property owners of subdivision and zoning change requests could be made through a radius system.

The issue brought to a close the council’s first review session on the ordinance changes. But as they neared the end of a second hour of discussion, it was clear that to delve into the individual questions and concerns each council member had about the extensive full document, additional meetings would be required.

They tentatively set the first of a series of ordinance review meetings for Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 6 p.m. at the town hall. The council members were to continue their individual in-depth reviews of the full document until that time.