Judge hears zoning issue

Published 4:12 am Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Staff Writer

Judge Marvin K. Blount will issue a ruling on eight Bath residents’ petition to have the court turn back planned changes to the Quarterdeck Marina on Back Creek, but not this week.
On Monday, Blount presided over a Beaufort County Superior Court session in which attorneys largely reiterated claims already entered into the record.
Most of those claims were covered during a quasi-judicial hearing held last year by the Bath Board of Commissioners.
Near the conclusion of Monday’s special session, Blount said he would give the dueling parties seven days to add supporting materials to the record.
The eight residents are petitioning the court because they say changes to the Quarterdeck would worsen a nuisance and lower their property values.
Blount is expected to hand down a written opinion on whether the town board ruled appropriately on the Quarterdeck’s request for a conditional-use permit last August, related Town Attorney Chip Edwards.
The judge said he could rule in about two weeks.
During the court session, Cindy Baldwin, who has described herself as owner of the Quarterdeck, sat silently with her husband John behind Edwards and Chad Essick, the Baldwins’ attorney.
After the proceeding, Cindy Baldwin restated her conviction that the couple’s plans for their store and marina comply with the town’s zoning regulations.
“We see it as a conforming use,” Baldwin said. “It’s just another challenge that a small business goes through.”
Outside the courtroom, Bath resident Mary Ellen Ellis said she attended the court session because she wants the town to enforce its own rules.
Ellis isn’t one of the petitioners who brought the zoning issue to court, but she indicated she supported the petitioners’ challenge.
“I keep wanting the town to follow their ordinance,” she said.
Standing before the judge, Fred Mattox, attorney for the petitioners, said his clients have no objection to the way the Quarterdeck is being used at present.
Mattox suggested his clients do not object to the town board’s decision to let the Baldwins replace existing piers and bulkhead.
What his clients — all property owners on Back Creek — do wish to contest is the town’s determination to let the Baldwins widen a walkway around the store and construct a stairway to, and a deck on, the roof of the building.
“It’s the structure we’re talking about, not the use we’re talking about,” the attorney stated.
Blount, who occasionally quizzed the attorneys from the bench, asked Mattox why certain standards he mentioned should be applied to the roughly 50-year-old Quarterdeck, which was “grandfathered” in under the town zoning ordinance in 1991.
“Because (Baldwin) is expanding the facility itself,” Mattox replied, “in essence doubling the use of the square footage of the building.”
Rising for his clients, Essick said, “The Quarterdeck and the town are aligned on this issue.”
He added that the Baldwins have “a fundamental disagreement with the petitioners regarding the zoning ordinance.”
“To be honest with you, we didn’t think it was going to be that controversial,” Essick said.
The marina’s walkway needs to be widened for safety reasons, the replacement — not the lengthening — of piers would not increase docking space and town rules don’t prohibit the hoped-for stairs, he asserted.
“It seems like the town really made an effort to meet everyone’s concerns,” Essick said.
In his turn up, Edwards, the town attorney, noted that the board denied the Baldwins’ request to lengthen piers.
“They were trying lengthen piers,” he said. “Read the ordinance; (it) said, ‘No.’”
The town does limit the height of buildings within its limits, but, even with the addition of stairs to the roof, the store would fall under that height limit, according to Edwards.
Blount wanted to know where the staircase would be placed.
“It will have to be on the outside of the building?” the judge asked Essick.
“Yes,” the attorney responded.
Mattox concurred with the opposing attorneys’ point that the town board rendered the best decision it could with the information on hand, but he insisted that wasn’t the problem.
“The standard is, what is the law?” Mattox asked rhetorically.