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North Beach Curbs Rental Houses

Multifamily Sites Are Focus of Zoning Changes

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page SM03

The North Beach Town Council has approved a major revision of zoning regulations in an attempt to limit the increasing number of multifamily homes in the Chesapeake Bay hamlet.

"The feeling of the council is that there is already a sufficient number of rentals in town," Mayor Mark R. Frazer said.


Mayor Mark R. Frazer said the Town Council believed "there is already a sufficient number of rentals in town." Some members said Frazer pushed the zoning change through too quickly. (Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)

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At a sparsely attended meeting Thursday night, the council voted 4 to 1 to approve the 79-page zoning ordinance, which curbs construction of multifamily homes and places restrictions on rentals in the town of 3,000 people.

A primary target of the ordinance is local developer John Scott Sr., who owns about 100 rental homes around North Beach, said council member Barbara Gray.

"We didn't want the whole town to be John Scott rentals," she said. "Let's face it, renters do not get involved in the town. They do not go on committees; they do not join groups. They just rent and leave, rent and leave."

Scott said the new ordinance is a myopic measure that will slow redevelopment in the town. He said developers will be less likely to tear down dilapidated bungalows and replace them with modern structures.

"It's funny that people in North Beach seem not to remember what the houses we've torn down used to look like," he said. "In my estimation, the way you get rid of the old and make way for the new is to make it a situation that will eventually be profitable to the developer."

Under the new ordinance, multifamily structures will be restricted to a few areas on the edges of the town. The rules will also restrict a landlord from building an accessory apartment onto a single-family dwelling and then renting out both units.

"They are masquerading as single-family units, but really they are duplexes," council member Gary Pendleton said. "A number of us felt that they really didn't fit in with the neighborhood."

Scott said he is proud of the homes he builds, and some of his critics acknowledge that the developer has helped revitalize the town. The often ramshackle homes that he knocks down are replaced with more attractive structures that he rents to recoup his costs.

But if a developer can collect rent from only one tenant, Scott said, he won't be able to invest as much in the property. That might cause some developers to renovate old houses on the cheap rather than tearing them down and starting over.

"Density is, in my estimation, the key to any redevelopment effort," he said.

The new ordinance will also restrict development by reducing the height limit in most of the town to 40 feet from 50 feet. Many residents had complained about some mammoth three-story houses looming over their cottages.

"John Scott put up a three-story that looks like the Washington monument," Gray said. "It blocks out all the light of the surrounding houses."

Not all residents agree with those sentiments, though.

"Mr. Scott, to his credit, has built properties that are solid and attractive and in practically every instance increase the property value," Frazer said.

Some observed that Scott builds solid and attractive structures that usually increase property values.

Scott also took exception to remarks from some council members criticizing renters.

"I think they should keep in mind that people that rent houses are people," he said. "Is there some different class of people?"

The new zoning ordinance is the result of almost two years of work by town officials. The North Beach Planning Commission approved the measure in February, and Frazer urged the council to adopt the proposal.

But several council members said they believed Frazer was trying to push through an important measure that had not been carefully reviewed. "It was a done deal when it was presented," Gray said. "Sometimes the mayor tries to ram things through."

In the summer, the town imposed a moratorium on any development that would conflict with the proposed zoning ordinance. That measure expired last week with the passage of the zoning ordinance, the first major revision of the document since 1998.

The council made a number of changes to the Planning Commission's original proposal, such as eliminating the commission-backed provision that allowed multifamily dwellings in the center of the town.


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