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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Carolina Beach resident asking to rezone her neighbors’ land sits on town committee, others cry foul

Members of Carolina Beach's Planning and Zoning Board denied a request to rezone 25 properties in the town by a neighbor who did not want duplexes in her neighborhood (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
Members of Carolina Beach’s Planning and Zoning Board denied a request to rezone 25 properties in the town by a neighbor who did not want duplexes in her neighborhood. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

The request by a resident to rezone her neighbors’ properties (which she did not own) was unusual. According to a realtor involved in the situation, it also seemed like an abuse of power by the resident, who sits on Carolina Beach’s Ad Hoc Land-Use Plan Steering Committee.

CAROLINA BEACH — Carolina Beach’s Planning and Zoning Board were not supportive of a proposed rezoning of 25 different properties owned by 22 different owners off Sumter Avenue in an effort to stop the construction of duplexes on a few of the vacant lots left on the street.

A rezoning that was proposed by a neighbor who does not own the property in question but said she wanted to preserve her neighborhood’s current feel — that is, single-family homes with mostly full-time residents.

Karen Graybush applied to rezone her neighboring property after plans to construct duplexes on three of the seven vacant lots on the street were submitted to the town. The request would have rezoned the land from R-1, which does allow for multi-family units, to R-3, which would only allow single-family homes.

“R-1 and duplexes are not consistent for the conformity of the single-family neighborhood in that area,” Graybush said during the Planning and Zoning Board Meeting.

But the land has been zoned R-1 for years and rezoning the land to R-3 would actually make several of the current properties non-conforming uses due to smaller lot sizes.

Neighbors came out in support of the rezoning request citing things like the ‘transitory nature’ of multi-family units and the need to preserve the current neighborhood feel. Some claimed that the construction of duplexes on Sumter Avenue would decrease their own home’s value, although, no actual evidence was provided to this point.

Resistance from realtors, neighbors

The proposed zoning would make several of the existing properties nonconforming uses (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Carolina Beach)
The proposed zoning would make several of the existing properties nonconforming uses (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Carolina Beach)

Not everyone that came out to the meeting was supportive of the proposed changes; Alicia
Devereaux, the real estate broker who recently sold the three vacant lots that are being proposed as duplexes, offered the board her thoughts on the rezoning.

“Ms. Graybush purchased her property, which is directly across the street from these three lots in June of 2013. At that time that she purchased her home, those three vacant lots were still zoned for single or two-family,” Deveraux said.

Graybush, also a real estate broker, reached out to Devereaux when the vacant lots went up for sale and said she might have interested buyers and asked what the lots were zoned for, Devereaux informed her they were in fact single or two-family lots; Graybush never brought any clients forward.

The lots eventually went under contract in May and on the last day of the due diligence period, Graybush sent Devereaux a letter informing her she intended on moving forward with the rezoning request.

After officially applying for the rezoning, Devereaux claims Graybush sent out “misinformation” about the rezoning to her neighbors.

“During the next few days, she also presented to people who lived on Sumter documents with regard to her pursuit of the rezoning which contained not only misinformation with regard to the rezoning but also a request for assistance with the zoning application fee. She was under the misunderstanding that she could go to the Technical Review Committee, the Town Council meeting, and the Planning and Zoning Committee meeting all in June and get the properties rezoned within two weeks’ time,” Devereaux said.

She went on to call the rezoning request a simple case of “spot zoning purely for the applicant’s personal benefit.”

However, the town staff did clarify that the request was not considered spot zoning due to the fact it encompassed so many properties.

If the rezoning were approved it would effectively take away property rights of landowners that have already purchased their real estate and require larger lot sizes, further setbacks, and limit the footprint of new construction.

“Allowing nonowners to dictate other’s property rights is a slippery slope and approving this request would set a precedent,” Devereaux said.

While there were some neighbors covered by the request in support of Graybush, there were others who were not.

Brian Wert was one of those.

“My property is one of the ones being requested to be rezoned and I am here tonight to tell you that I am against the rezoning. I believe my 800 Block of South Sixth Street represents a good cross-section of what Carolina Beach is,” he said.

He also brought up the common concern of a lack of affordable housing in the town and the fact that the building permits had already been applied for before the rezoning so duplexes could be built on the vacant land regardless.

“I know permits have been applied for the properties in question, I know even if we were to rezone it to R-3, which I am against, the owners would have the right to still build duplexes. So what comes out of that is really not going to affect what is going to be built there,” he said.

Abuse of power?

The realtor who represented the buyers of the properties in question, Tricia Keene, offered some insight into their point of view and the series of events that led up to the rezoning request.

Because the purchasers of the land were not able to attend the meeting, they sent a letter explaining their interactions with Graybush and her last-minute attempt to rezone the property.

According to the letter, one day when the purchasers were visiting the lots, Graybush approached them asking about their intentions for the land and voicing her concerns. She also informed the buyers that she, along with some neighbors, would be seeking a rezoning of the three parcels.

“We asked if she was seeking a larger area for rezoning and she said ‘no, only those three lots, mainly to keep duplexes from being built,'” according to the letter.

The buyers explained to Graybush they did not intend on disrupting the aesthetic of the neighborhood and discussed the creation of an HOA to help keep its appeal.

After talking, Graybush said she would consider allowing the landowners to construct a duplex on the property furthest from her own house to ‘keep our profit margins high enough that we would not drop out of the purchase,’ the letter states.

In an interesting revelation, the buyers learned that Graybush was part of the Ad-Hoc Landuse Plan Steering Committee, the group responsible for helping lay out the town’s future land uses.

This position of power has given Keene some concern regarding Graybush’s request.

“Another concern I have is that someone on this planning land use [committee] using that to go and talk to potential buyers seems like an abuse of power to me … also, it was very intimidating to my buyers,” she said.

Graybush did refute some of these claims of what she called ‘assault of her character’ and said that there were plenty of things she simply did not know or understand. She admitted to the Planning and Zoning Board that she did in fact speak with the buyers but that was because there were “strange trucks across the street from my house.”

She said she went to speak with them not knowing who they were at first.

“I do not know enough to advise anybody on zoning,” she said — despite the fact she is serving on a committee that does just that.

The Planning Board

Members of the Planning and Zoning Board were not in favor of the rezoning request as seen by the unanimous decision to deny the application. Members sympathized with those who had already purchased these lots as investments only to potentially lose money due to rezoning.

It was also pointed out again that the board would only make a recommendation and Town Council would have to officially approve the changes — in that time if landowners submitted plans for duplexes they could have them approved before the rezoning request.

Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board Keith Bloemendaal, who is also a home builder, said that in his opinion, the request itself would devalue land.

“Going from the R-3 to the R-1 your setback goes from 20 to 25-feet and I think that’s been brought up but I just want to touch on a couple of things. It also goes from a height limit of 50-feet to 40-feet and the density changes from 15 to 3.6 — that’s how you devalue a property, in my opinion” he said.

He also argued that building a duplex next to a single-family house does not devalue a home and it is something that he has actual experience with as a builder.

The request will now move on to be heard by the Town Council in August where a public hearing will once again be held.

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