By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge officials are quickly learning that it’s much easier to put on a construction moratorium than to take it off.
The Town Commission took the unprecedented step of halting new projects in May after concerns arose over loopholes in building rules that could allow the construction of oversized houses or, worse, sober homes. Mayor James Bonfiglio said the town needed time to work on code and zoning revisions that had needed attention for years.
Builders, contractors and property owners with plans in hand have reacted with angst and anger at the prospect of being sidelined for an indefinite time — perhaps as long as six months.
Commissioner Steve Coz says his phone has been ringing with calls from unhappy people.
“There are a lot of very angry residents who are terrified,” Coz said during a meeting with the town’s Planning and Zoning board members on June 18. “Sales of properties are stopping. Sales of open land are stopping. So it’s having an impact on the town.”
Complicating officials’ predicament are the ongoing efforts to update the town’s comprehensive plan, the long-range guide for shaping growth and development in Ocean Ridge. Commissioners and planning officials find themselves under pressure to move quickly with decisions that could affect the town for decades to come. Bonfiglio told officials they should keep working on a dual track and deal with updating the comp plan while also “easing the fears of people who are concerned about the moratorium” by getting the building rule revis-ions done “as quickly as we can.”
The commission approved hiring Marty Minor, an urban planner with Urban Design Kilday Studios consultants of West Palm Beach, to help the town make changes that are often highly technical and tangled with unintended consequences.
The mayor has insisted that no single construction project moved the town to implement the moratorium and rewrite its rules. However, part-time resident John Lauring, a Massachusetts businessman, touched off debate about oversized homes in May when he showed the town his plans to build a nine-bedroom, 11½-bath home on property he owns at 92-94 Island Drive S.
Bonfiglio has directed P&Z members to consider four issues related to large home construction: parking requirements, septic tank limits, drainage and accessible exits and entrances.
“Drainage is a big issue,” Minor said. “It’s always going to be a big issue from now on.”
Minor, who has been working with the town for weeks to revise the comprehensive plan, said officials have to consider all available options to tighten building rules and prevent having homes that are too big for their surroundings.
“There are only so many tools in the toolbox,” he said, “and we have to use them all.”