- State Port Pilot: B
The St. James Planning Board recommended last Thursday that the proposed development plan be sent to town council for adoption. In an informational meeting Tuesday at the St. James Community Center, residents commented about the plan and the proposed agreement.
Following is background about the plan and comments about it. The draft of the town development agreement map is at townofstjamesnc.org.
Zoning map amendment
“For our purposes, this is a zoning map amendment,” chairman Bob Accordino said during the planning board meeting Thursday, July 13. “Originally, there was some confusion between whether it was planned development or a development agreement.
“If it was a planned development, then there were certain procedures set up in the UDO (unified development ordinance) that we would have had to follow. But because it is a development agreement, there is nothing in the UDO that covers this, other than the fact that it is a zoning map amendment that we’re submitting to send to the town council for either approval or disapproval.”
Planning board members Accordino, John Finnerin, Merry MacBarb, Cathy Mesiano and Ed Principe voted the plan to be sent to the town council for adoption. (Alternate member Principe sat in as a voting member in the absence of Steve Dragos.)
UDO administrator Gary Brown made a distinction between “the development agreement, which is the legal contract between the two entities, and the plan, which is the map.”
He said, “There are multiple entities that comprise the St. James developer.”
The “developer” consists of St. James Development Co. LLC, Reserve Development Co. LLC, First St. James Inc. and St. James Plantation LLC.
“The Town of St. James and what we refer to as the St. James developer have been negotiating, discussing the context of a development agreement, now for just about a year,” Brown said Thursday. “The St. James developer has undeveloped properties, some of which are inside the town boundaries and some of which are outside the town boundaries.”
The areas are spread throughout the town, as well as some property on the south side of N.C. 211, west of the main gate, Brown said afterward.
The agreement concept
“The Town of St. James came into existence in July 1999 and some years later was granted zoning authority,” Brown said. “So, anything undeveloped and in the town boundaries, the developer would come to the town for review and development approval. Anything outside the town boundaries would go to Brunswick County for review and approval.
“The concept of the development agreement stipulates that the original plan of the developer is unchanged, the areas that are not inside the town will be annexed into the town. The uses that have already been approved through the master plan approved by Brunswick County are unchanged. Those uses will be brought into the town through the development agreement. The review process that has been in place for Brunswick County to review and approve plans will be effectively transferred to the Town of St. James.
“There are areas inside the community that right now have not yet been platted, are zoned for either single-family or multi-family. There is one very, very small commercial property. Those uses are unchanged as a result of the development plan.
“There are uses that will be annexed that under the master plan of the county—single-family, multi-family or commercial—those uses all come in as they are originally planned in the master plan. So there are no changes in terms of what the vision and the plan of the developer was from the early ’90s through the implementation of the development plan. ”
Cap on residential units
Brown noted there is a maximum number of new residential units that can be developed: 1,396 units.
“That’s the mix of single-family and multi-family,” he said. “If the developer through market conditions chooses to move some single-family to multi-family, or multi-family to single-family, he will be allowed to do so. However, the ceiling of units cannot be increased unilaterally.”
Brown also said, “We will be looking at densities and setbacks rather than lot sizes.
“The application of density limits combined with setbacks will effectively result in some lot-size requirements,” Brown continued. “If you can only fit ‘X’ number of units on this piece of property … logic dictates that lots will have to be of a relative size that will allow for the placement of a house on that lot.”
Regarding businesses, Brown said, “The development agreement stipulates that we will be applying current Brunswick County performance standards when we review any applications for commercial development.”
Council liaison Maxwell gives support
The proposed agreement is for 20 years, and St. James council liaison to the planning board Bruce Maxwell said, “It basically freezes what’s on that map for the duration of that 20 years unless by joint accord the developer and the town decide to make a change.
“So, we get additional annex property; they get a set of zoning requirements, building standards, that is going to be fixed for the duration.
“I view this as a big win for St. James in that it puts in place a firm foundation for the remaining development of most of the properties south of (N.C.) 211 and east of Middleton Boulevard.
“If you already own a piece of property, it doesn’t affect you. If you are already built, it doesn’t affect you. But those pieces of property which are undeveloped inside the town, rather than come directly under the UDO, would be developed under specifications that are on the chart.”
Former council members opposed
Former mayor Shelley Lesher and former mayor pro-tem Dennis Becker disagree about the agreement being “a big win for St. James.”
They are dissatisfied with the restrictions in the agreement on the development of up to nearly 296 acres of residential and commercial property.
In a letter to The State Port Pilot published July 12, they wrote, “The developer would be able to bypass all requirements of the town’s zoning ordinances and develop land without any oversight by the town.”
Specifically, they wrote, “Property currently zoned single-family residential could be changed to condominiums with very high-density apartments so long as the general density requirements for the property are not exceeded.”
The public is heard
Residents commented about the plan and the agreement during an “information meeting” held Tuesday at the St. James Community Center.
Large maps of the draft development plan were taped to walls in the community center. Mayor Becky Dus and council member Maxwell talked about the agreement and the plan. Maxwell led a question-and-answer session.
Statements by two residents indicated the strong feelings some residents have about the agreement and the plan—both in draft form.
A resident, supportive of having an agreement, said, “Right now, if we don’t annex, if (the developer) sells the land, they go to the county, not to the town, for any changes. So it is to our benefit to have more control by having it annexed by the town rather than the county in determining what the usage of the land is.”
Another resident said she “had no problem with the plan whatsoever.” Her concern, she said, “is the amenities.”
“I only (golf) twice a week. What’s going to happen when 3,000 new people live here? I don’t understand how you can approve 3,000 new people coming into the community, without thinking about the impact on the clubs, which is really why we all choose to live here.”
Again, people applauded.
Town attorney Grady Richardson, answering a separate question, noted the town has no jurisdiction over the clubs and the private rules and regulations that govern them.
“We don’t have any regulation or any jurisdiction over the POA (property owners association). We just don’t,” he said. “If they’re not doing something that you think needs to be done with the club or your roads or your POA, that is something the town just cannot exercise any jurisdiction or authority over.”
One topic raised in the 75-minute session was certainty of development versus uncertainty of development.
Richardson said that “if the developer, with the finalized development agreement, shows the development plan and comes in for a rezoning, that rezoning will have to go through the ordinary processes in place for the UDO at that time.
“If you don’t have the development agreement in place,” he said, pointing to a tract, “right now it’s zoned this way; Mr. (general manager Bobby) Masters, or someone he sells it to, out of state, comes in and wants to go to the county and ask for a rezoning, and put industrial there, and get it rezoned for industrial by the county, they can do it. There is nothing you can do about it.
“But with the development agreement in place, if they want to change the rezoning, they have to come to the town—not to the county—and they have to make their case as to why a rezoning to industrial, in that hypothetical, benefits this town and is compliant with the town’s UDO.”
Concerning density, Richardson said, the agreement “sets in place and fixes what they can do right now. That’s it. And if they want to increase the density beyond what’s allowed here, they have to come in and ask the town for approval at that time. There is no guarantee that approval is going to be granted.”
Richardson said one of the benefits to the town, “aside from the piecemeal annexations and the piecemeal bringing of pieces of property on an ad hoc basis, is that we go ahead and we lock in this development plan now. … ‘John Doe’ buyer knows that he is subject to this development plan and this development agreement.
“If they wish to deviate from it, outside of what is allowed in the development agreement, they have to come through the town’s protocols and seek that approval, which does not have to be granted by the town.”
Some in attendance wondered what St. James may look like in several years—and the costs.
One resident noted, “These additional 1,400 units will bring in about 2,800 more cars into St. James. Think about that. The POA maintains all the roads inside the gates. Very, very expensive.”
The same resident was concerned about areas zoned commercial.
“Are we going to end up looking like Long Beach Road and North Myrtle Beach?”
Concerning water/sewer issues, Masters said, “All the water and sewer capacity for all of this development is currently permitted, and secured by us when the original water and sewer agreement was done with the county. We have all the capacity that we need to develop this.”