By Joe Capozzi
Just a few years after giving the Planning and Zoning Commission more power over development and architectural reviews, town commissioners last month debated whether the advisory board’s authority is slowing progress of new home construction in Ocean Ridge.
Commissioner Steve Coz raised the concerns at a joint meeting of the advisory board and Town Commission on Nov. 18. In the resulting hourlong discussion, participants debated the definitions of the words “shall” and “should” in a town ordinance, passed in 2017 and amended in 2019, granting the review authority.
In the end, a consensus was reached that the Planning and Zoning board’s power is limited because the Town Commission still has final say on projects and builders still have the ability to appeal to the commission if they disagree with the advisory board’s decisions.
But members of both commissions questioned if the debate was even necessary.
“I’m a little confused about why we are here,’’ Mayor Kristine de Haseth said at the start of the discussion, noting how Coz was mayor in November 2017 when the commission passed the initial ordinance creating a development plan review committee made up of Planning and Zoning commissioners.
“I don’t disagree that every once in a while it’s good to take a look at our policy and procedures and see if they are working,’’ de Haseth said, “but at one point we obviously thought the (new ordinance) was a good idea.’’
Coz felt the discussion, at a time when new construction is booming across town, was necessary because he was concerned the committee in some cases was overstepping its authority.
“Personal opinion of the house design or the homeowner’s taste were not to be considered,’’ he said in a memo previewing the meeting agenda. “Over the course of the last few years it appears that the committee is entering into the troubled waters of personal taste.’’
Advisory board members said they’re only making sure new projects are compatible with the neighborhood. And Mark Marsh, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, pointed out that the Town Commission still has final say when homeowners appeal the advisory board’s decisions.
But Town Commissioner Geoff Pugh said the appeal process comes with a $1,500 fee and presents another hurdle for homeowners.
“Everybody has their push point where they say, ‘You know what? Enough’s enough,’’’ Pugh said.
Town Manager Tracey Stevens said town staff can look into the possibility of offering a partial refund on the fee if the Town Commission approves the appeal.
An unopposed victory
Coz will serve a third consecutive term on the Ocean Ridge Town Commission because no one filed to challenge him in the March election.
“The fact that I ran unopposed I hope shows that the residents like what I’ve stood for over the last several years,’’ said Coz, a proponent of private property rights.
The election qualifying deadline was 3 p.m. Nov. 12.