Board looks at options for converting single-family houses

Published 5:14 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Washington’s Planning Board will ask the City Council — again — for a moratorium on conversions of single-family houses into multi-family dwellings so it and the Historic Preservation Commission can study options related to such conversions.

The board’s request will be included in the council’s agenda for its May 23 meeting, according to John Rodman, the city’s director of community and cultural resources. The board decided to seek the moratorium at its meeting Monday. The options to be studied follow:

• Do not allow conversions of single-family houses in the B1H district. This would be similar to what is in place in the residential historic district;

• Allow conversions but restrict the number of units to three to five based on the size of the structure;

• Rezone a part of the B1H district to remove single-family homes from that district and add them to the residential historic district;

• Add an additional overlay historic district to create a mixed-use district to include single-family homes and less intensive commercial uses.

The board’s decision comes as the result over a decision by the city to issue a building permit for the conversion of the house at 121 E. Second Street, formerly a single-family house, into multi-family dwelling with 11 apartments.

The council asked the board to study the issue after Don Stroud, a Washington resident and attorney, challenged the city’s issuance of the building permit to convert the house. Stroud’s challenge came after the council, during an October 2015 meeting, chose not to impose a moratorium on converting single-family dwellings in the B1H district into multi-family dwellings. About eight people in the audience supported Stroud, who contends the city’s existing zoning ordinances prohibit such conversions in that district. The council sent the matter to the Planning Board for review and a recommendation. Meanwhile, the owner of the house at 121 E. Second St., continues to convert the structure.

Specifically, Stroud wanted the Board of Adjustment to overrule the issuance of the building permit, direct the city to deny the permit and direct the city, if he was successful with his petition, to issue a stop-work order.

About a month ago, a tie vote among the city’s Board of Adjustment members and a failed motion meant the building permit issued for improvements to the house in the city’s historic district remains in effect.

During its lengthy meeting March 31 (and into early morning April 1), the board voted 2-2 on Charlie Manning’s motion to revoke the permit. Manning and Paula Nelson voted for the motion. Chairman Steve Fuchs and Tim Cashion voted against it. Cashion’s motion to uphold issuance of the permit died for lack of a second. Board members Derik Davis and Ronald Lundy did not attend the meeting. There is a vacancy on the seven-member board.

Issuance of the building permit could be challenged in Beaufort County Superior Court.

The Board of Adjustment, which acts as a quasi-judicial entity, heard presentations by Stroud and City Attorney Franz Holscher. Jim Hoft, the attorney for the board, provided advice to the board. The board heard testimony from numerous witnesses and others. The attorneys discussed taking the case to Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. for a ruling, according to Rodman. Hoft contacted Sermons, according to Stroud.

Subsequently, Hoft is preparing an order and findings of fact for the Board of Adjustment to review at its May 10 meeting, according to John Rodman, the city’s director of community and cultural resources. Those documents, if approved by the board, could lay the foundation for an appeal to Superior Court, according to Rodman.

The Historic Preservation Commission, during its meeting Tuesday, was informed about the Planning Board’s latest moratorium request.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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