Dagsboro planners considers height restrictions for all

Dagsboro Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission members reviewed no projects at the Feb. 16 commission meeting but rather devoted their evening to some of the finer points of community character and design, Chiefly, they worked on a recommendation to lower maximum permitted heights, across the board, for buildings in all zoning districts.

Cea-Dag (39 feet) was an exception — planner Kyle Gulbronson of URS, on retainer with the town, said the Cea-Dag apartments had been approved under different guidelines, years prior to their actual development.

And there was one pending residential project already in the pipeline — the big Highlands at Pepper Creek development (336 residences) — where a few apartment buildings are proposed at three stories (approaching 40 feet in height).

But other than that, the height of Dagsboro’s buildings averages to about 30 feet, P&Z Chair Marge Eckerd pointed out.

The commission questioned a 2004 amendment to the zoning definitions that permitted three-story buildings, up to 42 feet in height. While lower heights were spelled out in each zoning district (other than Light Industrial, which allows 42-foot-buildings), commission members expressed concern that builders might be able to refer back to that height definition if they wanted to go higher.

Commission Member Norwood Truitt agreed that 42 feet was much too high for the residential district, and the commission quickly agreed to recommend council strike that portion of the height definition.

Working with tentative suggestions from Gulbronson, Eckerd would eventually call for a vote on the recommendation that council cap heights at 30 feet in all residential districts and limit heights in Commercial and LI districts to 35 feet.

Commission Member Ed Howe asked whether the new heights might discourage people from incorporating pitched rooflines. However, Mayor Wayne Baker, participating as a non-voting, ex oficio commission member, noted Sussex County’s building code referenced a minimum 4/12 roof pitch in residential districts (4/12 refers to 4 inches of vertical rise over every 12 inches of horizontal run).

The “Building Construction” section in Dagsboro’s code book, with very few additions, basically adopts the county’s building code. And the town recently agreed to contract with the county for most of its building code inspections.

Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company’s Al Townsend asked whether some of the older houses around town, two-story-plus-an-attic Victorians, might not exceed the proposed 30-foot restriction.

Those homes would be grandfathered, but Townsend seemed to be looking for an assurance that the new restrictions wouldn’t mean the end for old-style family farmhouses.

However, Baker suggested there’d still be plenty of room for two stories plus an attic, although three stories would probably be running up against the ceiling.

“Personally, I don’t want to see any more three-story condos,” Baker said.

There was some debate regarding the height of the Clayton Theatre (Main Street), but Townsend said the fire department had been able to access the roof using a 35-foot extension ladder.

The commission also discussed a nascent Town Center zoning district, to encompass Clayton Street to the railroad tracks, and most of Main Street. As Gulbronson suggested, such “downtown” districts typically permitted slightly taller buildings, and commission members reached consensus to bump Town Center building heights back up to 35 feet, once that district’s formed.

That remains a topic for some future P&Z meeting, but council will likely consider the all the other recommendations for new height restrictions at the Feb. 27 council meeting (7 p.m. at the Bethel Center).

In other business, the commission unanimously forwarded a recommendation that council change the maximum number of condominium flats permitted in a single building back to 10.

Gulbronson said council members had previously split the issue, dealing separately with: (1) rental apartments, and (2) “fee simple” condominiums. In both cases, they’d reduced minimum size from 1,400 square feet to 1,000 square feet, heated space only, he said.

Current council voted to keep the latter modifications, but reduced the maximum permitted number of apartments per building from 20 back to 10. And current council may consider doing likewise for the condominium flats, again, on Feb. 27.