Background on Proposed Ordinance Changes
On April 5, several neighbors sent a 12-page letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission outlining specific concerns with the proposed new zoning ordinance and detailed recommendations for changes to the text. The full letter can be seen here. The key points included are:
Special Use Permits: The majority of the letter focuses on the procedures for granting a “Special Use” permit in Montreat. This is a proposed replacement for the current Conditional Use permits required for certain kinds of development in areas zoned as “Institutional/Residential.” This includes building a hotel, lodge or inn. The area where the MRA has proposed for its new hotel is zoned as Institutional/Residential, and thus would require a Special Use permit under the new ordinance.
These changes would substantially diminish the rights of Montreat residents and property owners to oppose developments, specifically the protections for the use and enjoyment of their homes. The new ordinance:
Significantly reduces opportunity for public hearing and comment. Neighbors would no longer have opportunities to voice public comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which would no longer be involved in the permit process.
Weakens or eliminates protections for Montreat residents, property owners, and the community, including for public health and safety. It removes the right to "use and enjoyment" of property, as well as requirements to limit increased traffic congestion.
Shifts the burden of proof from Special Use applicants to those opposing the application. Rather than requiring developers to show that their plans will not cause harm, the new ordinance assumes that permits will be granted and puts the burden of arguing objections and proving harm on Montreat residents.
Furthermore, the letter presents three other needed additions to the proposed ordinance:
Conflict of interest provisions, as required by North Carolina law.
Language to ensure that historical preservation is a factor in zoning and permitting decisions, as is stated as a clear priority in Montreat’s Comprehensive Plan.
Specific environmental safeguards, again to reflect the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan.
Comparison of the exact wording of the current zoning ordinance and the proposed revision is shown below.
CURRENT - Conditional Use Permit (501)
A permit issued by the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a use which is permitted in a Zoning District, subject to review and approval by the Board of Adjustment. The Conditional Use Permit shall be issued only when the specific conditions and review procedures set forth in this ordinance are met to maintain and protect the health, safety and general welfare of persons residing in the area, and to insure the compatibility of the use with adjacent properties and within the entire community of Montreat.
NEW - Special Use Permit (201)
A permit issued by the Board of Adjustment that authorizes the recipient to make use of property in accordance with the requirements of this Ordinance and any additional requirements imposed by the Board of Adjustment.
CURRENT - Purpose (800)
The purpose of this Article is to insure there is adequate review and control of various specific uses or developmental proposals that may have a direct influence or impact upon neighboring or contiguous land uses. This review is intended to aid in protecting the private and public values and interests in such land uses whether residential, institutional, or commercial in nature.
NEW - Purpose (310.61)
Permitted Special Uses add flexibility to the Zoning Ordinance. Subject to good planning and design standards, certain Uses of property are allowed in specified Districts where those Uses would not otherwise be acceptable. By means of controls exercised through the Special Use Permit procedures, Uses of property, which would otherwise be undesirable in certain Districts, can be developed to minimize any harmful effects they might have on surrounding properties.
CURRENT - Review by the Planning Commission (802.4)
All documents and other data submitted by the applicant on behalf of the Conditional Use Permit shall be transmitted to the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission, at regular meetings, shall review applications for Conditional Use Permits and other submitted documents and information and shall determine whether a recommendation to the Board of Adjustment is appropriate.
All meetings of the Planning Commission shall be open to the public. At a meeting, any party may appear in person, by agent, or by attorney.
No member of the Planning Commission shall participate in a matter in which he or she has any conflict of interest.
Following a determination by the Planning Commission that an application should be recommended to the Board of Adjustment, the Planning Commission shall transmit all documents and data pertinent to the application to the Board of Adjustment for final action.
NEW - Procedures for Special Use Permits (310.62)
All applications for Special Use Permits shall be submitted in accordance with application requirements. Once the application has been determined complete, the Zoning Administrator shall forward the application to the Chair of the Board of Adjustment.
CURRENT - Standards (801)
No Conditional Use Permit shall be recommended by the Planning Commission unless the Commission shall find that:
1) The establishment, maintenance, or operation of the conditional use will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort, or general welfare;
2) The conditional use will not be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity for the purposes already permitted nor substantially diminish and impair property values within the neighborhood;
3) The establishment of the conditional use will not impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of the surrounding property for uses permitted in the Zoning District;
4) The exterior architectural appeal and functional plan of any proposed Structure will not be so at variance with the exterior architectural appeal and functional plan of the Structures already constructed or in the course of construction in the immediate neighborhood or with the character of the applicable District as to cause a substantial depreciation in the property values within the neighborhoods;
5) Adequate utilities, access roads, drainage and/or other necessary facilities have been or are being provided;
6) Adequate measures have been or will be taken to provide ingress and egress so designed as to minimize traffic congestion in the public streets;
7) Off-street parking shall be provided in accordance with Article IX; and Montreat Zoning Ordinances Article VIII: Conditional Uses
8) The conditional use shall, in all other respects, conform to the applicable regulations of the Zoning District in which it is located, except as such regulations may, for each case, be modified by the Zoning Board of Adjustment pursuant to the recommendations of the Planning Commission.
NEW - Standards (310.63)
The Board of Adjustment shall approve the requested permit unless it concludes, based upon the information submitted at the hearing, that:
(1) The requested permit is not within its jurisdiction according to the Table of Permissible Uses; or
(2) The application is incomplete; or
(3) If completed as proposed in the application, the development will not comply with one or more requirements of this Ordinance.
Even if the Board of Adjustment finds that the application complies with all other provisions of this Ordinance, it may still deny the permit if it concludes, based upon the information submitted at the hearing, that if completed as proposed, the development, more probably than not:
(1) Will materially harm the public health or safety; or
(2) Will substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property; or
(3) Will not be in harmony with the area in which it is to be located; or
(4) Will not be in general conformity with the land development plan or other plans officially adopted by the Board of Commissioners.
The burden of presenting a complete application to the Board of Adjustment shall be upon the applicant. However, unless the Board informs the applicant at the hearing in what way the application is incomplete and offers the applicant an opportunity to complete the application (either at that meeting or at a continuation hearing), the application shall be presumed to be complete. Once a completed application has been submitted, which shall include a presentation by the applicant, if competent, material and substantial evidence that the applicant has complied with the requirements of the ordinance, made a "prima facie" (based on immediate impression) case with respect to Use, specific findings, and is entitled to a permit, the burden of presenting competent, material and substantial evidence "contra" to the application rests with those parties opposed to the application.
The burden of persuasion on the issue of whether the development, if completed as proposed, will comply with the requirements of this Ordinance remains at all times on the applicant. The burden of persuasion on the issue of whether the application should be turned down for any of the reasons set forth in Subsection 619.37* rests on the party or parties urging that the requested permit should be denied.
*Subsection 619.37 does not exist
Hotels and lodges fall under "Conditional Use" rules of the Zoning Ordinance, requiring a permit application to the Planning Commission & Zoning Board of Adjustment. Relevant sections are highlighted in this 5-page excerpt of the Zoning Ordinance:
A Comprehensive Plan for the Town of Montreat was approved in 2008.
¾ of Montreat residents said “they want Montreat to remain unchanged as much as possible in the next 20 years. Such responses are deeply rooted in the experiences residents and visitors have during their time in Montreat. To preserve this unique experience is to preserve the character of Montreat, deﬁned by the town’s natural setting, the history of its built form, and its people.”
The same report states “ A community survey conducted in the initial data and opinion gathering process revealed preferences to maintain the community’s historical characteristics”
“However, Montreat’s extremely large percentage of the community to be in a tax-exempt status is a burden. Single-family homeowners and the owners of vacant lots are the only real source to generate most local revenue. The increase in property values that has occurred in recent years will add potential for the town to build its tax base but the burden is squarely upon the residents and non-resident owners.”
“If the MRA plan also called for new construction or redevelopment of some of its existing properties, the community’s appearance and quality of life could be affected. In a small town, even small decisions can have a large impact.”
“Residential properties make up the only signiﬁcant tax base in Montreat and the cost of future services will have to be balanced, at least in part, by property taxes.”
“As a top priority to protect its character, the town should commission a study suﬃcient to determine what, if any, structures have historical signiﬁcance at the local, state, or national level. As part of that study, an analysis can be performed to identify all ‘contributing structures’ that can result in the demarcation of areas that could be designated as historic districts. Within these districts, architectural standards may be enforced on new and renovated structures to preserve the character of the historic district. It is important to understand that an historic district is often viewed as a very strict form of government control.”
“Montreat’s buildings of historic value are not adequately protected.”