Northampton Approves New Zoning Text

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By Stefanie Jackson – The Northampton planning commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a zoning text amendment that will allow double-frontage lots in certain circumstances, which commissioners agreed would help those who wish to build homes in Northampton but whose land may not conform to the standards set by the county zoning ordinance.

A double-frontage lot stretches from one side of a block to the opposite side, giving a home on the property frontage on two streets.

The zoning text amendment, suggested by county supervisors, was proposed to the planning commission through a zoning application prepared by County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski.

The case that may have prompted the proposal was that of Zena Jones, of Birdsnest, who owns two small, adjacent lots that she wishes to combine so she has enough space to replace her old single-wide trailer with a brand-new modular home of approximately 1,800 square feet.

The two lots are each .22 acre, for a combined total of just under a half acre. The front lot has a well and the back lot was approved for a septic system.

However, Jones was informed that combining her two lots would create a double-frontage lot, which has been prohibited by Northampton’s zoning ordinance since 2009.

Chuck Shade, a representative of Clayton Homes in Delmar, Del., the company from which Jones is purchasing her new home, disagreed that combining the two lots would create a double-frontage lot.

He explained that neither lot fronts an existing street. The back lot is on Stevens Street, a road that was planned but never built. The front lot is not on a road but a 20-foot-wide right of way.

(Jones’ address is on Sealey Road, the only existing road close to her home. The road lies roughly perpendicular to her property, then bears right at the front right corner of the lot. The driveway in the right of way meets the road where it curves.)

Furthermore, a road could not be built on the 20-foot right of way because modern standards require an area 30 feet wide for a road, Shade said.

According to Northampton circuit court records, the property originally was platted in 1903, which planning commissioners guessed was the reason the lots and right of way were so small – back then, roads were narrower and houses were smaller, with outhouses.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack Thornton said that the lot on which the Jones home currently stands has no frontage because it is on a right of way, not a road.

In his opinion, only the rear lot has frontage – on Stevens Street, which he called a “paper road” because it only exists as a drawing on a plat.

Shade said that if the two lots were combined into a double frontage lot, it would not be compatible with the home construction project, because Northampton’s zoning ordinance would require 60-foot setbacks on both sides of an approximately 130-foot lot.

Commissioner Janet Sturgis added that the property line between the front and back lot had already been vacated by the county “in a de facto sense” because it approved the septic system on the back lot, even though the home is currently on the front lot.

She said that if the property line has already been vacated, Jones should need only a zoning variance to build her new home, which could be granted by Northampton’s zoning administrator.

The proposed zoning text amendment will not help Jones, but it could help many others seeking to build homes, and the planning commission passed it unanimously.

Northampton’s zoning ordinance will state (with the new text indicated by the following quote) that double-frontage lots are not permitted “except if created by a boundary line adjustment to create a less non-conforming lot.”

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