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Public’s input sought on building heights

By Staff
Board, commission propose changes to existing rules
By MIKE VOSS
Contributing Editor
Washington residents and property owners will have an opportunity next month to provide input on recommendations concerning heights for new buildings in the city.
The city’s Planning Board and Historic Preservation Commission will conduct a public hearing at 5 p.m. June 13 on their proposed method of determining a new building’s height and height restrictions on new buildings in the B1H (business-historic) zoning district. The meeting will be held in the Council Chamber at the Municipal Building.
During a joint meeting Wednesday, the two panels proposed that a new building’s height will be measured from the mean grade level of the ground to the top of the building, plus a 1-foot maximum of fill allowed on the property. They also propose that in the B1H zoning district a new building’s height is not to be more than 15 percent higher than the average height of buildings in the same block, with no building to exceed 65 feet in height. Those rules also would apply in the Historic District overlay for the B1H zoning district.
Height rules in other zoning districts would remain unchanged.
The panels want to hear what the public has to say about the proposals. After the hearing, the board and commission could modify their recommendations before forwarding them to the City Council, which has final say on the matter.
Charles S. Major, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, said he wanted any changes to be “something simple that everyone understands.”
During the meeting, information about how Edenton, which has a significant historic district, governs building heights. Edenton requires residential structures to be no higher than 35 feet and no commercial building to be taller than 50 feet. Those rules apply throughout the city.
Bobby Roberson, the city’s planning and development director, said he likes that approach.
John Tate, a member of the Planning Board, said he’s got some concerns with placing severe limitations on building heights. He’s worried such limitations would result in hampering development in the city. The Coastal Area Management Act has provisions — in place to help protect water quality — that place restrictions on how far a new building on or near a waterfront may spread out and how far they must be from waterways, he noted. If CAMA rules restrict width of a building and the city restricts height of building, that combination of restrictions could severely restrict development in the city’s central business district, Tate noted.
Before the two panels agreed on the proposals to be presented at the hearing, other proposals were aired.
Moler, who did not attend the meeting, suggested the maximum height in the B1H district be lowered from 96 feet to 50 feet throughout the entire zoning district. Because several existing buildings in the B1H district are higher than 50 feet, Moler suggested no rooftop additions be allowed on those buildings. If a building is under 50 feet tall, the a rooftop addition could be added as long as the addition did not result in the building being taller than 50 feet, he recommended.
Moler also called for reducing the maximum height of a building in the O&I (office and institutional) zoning district from 96 feet to 50 feet inside the city limits and from 96 feet to 70 feet outside the city limits but inside the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, which extends 1 1/2 miles outside the city limits. He also called for reducing the maximum height of 96 feet to a maximum height of 50 feet within an area of 1,000 feet on either side of the U.S. Highway 17 corridor.
Major proposed limiting building heights in all residential zoning districts to 35 feet along any waterfront, 45 feet elsewhere and 50 feet for multi-family buildings. In the Historic District, he recommended that the maximum height for a residential building along any waterfront be 35 feet and 45 feet elsewhere. In commercial zones, Major suggested that the maximum height for a building along any waterfront be 35 feet and 50 feet elsewhere. Major also recommended employing setback rules that would allow a building to exceed height limits. For every foot a building would exceed the limit, it would have to be set back from the property line 2 feet, Major recommended.
Moler and Major also made other suggestions regarding height limits and calculating a building’s height.
Major said he offered his suggestions because he’s “interested in protecting the skyline.”
Members from both panels also said they too are interested in protecting the city’s skyline.