REDINGTON BEACH — An “error” in the wording of the town’s dock ordinance drew a large number of residents Nov. 18 charging that the code’s language prevented them from improving their docks.

In a discussion that lasted nearly 90 minutes, boat owners and contractors expressed frustration over the severe restrictions imposed on dock expansion by the ordinance, which was adopted in 2019. One resident termed the regulation “over-controlling.”

Requests that the ordinance be loosened were met with mixed reactions by commissioners.

Commissioner Dave Will, who had asked the discussion be added to the agenda, said there had been a “slight error in wording” when the ordinance was approved. “We can fix this quite easily,” he said.

The ordinance requires “all dock facilities” be located in the center third of a property’s seawall. Will said the ordinance should have referred only to “the dock.”

The difference between the phrases is slight but significant. “All dock facilities” means all physical structures such as watercraft lifts are included in calculating the allowable area of the dock. “The dock” counts only the boardwalk, allowing for enlargement of the dock area.

Commissioner Fred Steiermann questioned Will’s contention that the wording was in error. He said the language of the ordinance was arrived at after multiple meetings, and “this is what we came up with.”

“If we say this is what works for the homeowner,” he said, “we’re taking away any consideration for the neighbors” on interior curves whose view could become blocked by a dock extension or addition.

Will said he would not have voted for anything that shrank the area in which the dock could be built. Contractors had repeatedly requested during public hearings that the ordinance refer to “the dock,” he said.

He argued that the change had created many non-conforming docks, which consequently would be unable to seek a variance for future work.

Commissioner Tom Dorgan noted that during hearings on the ordinance, contractors said it was “extremely difficult” to build a dock in Redington Beach and asked for some relief. He added that the change made in 2019 appeared to have made things worse.

“I know I sat here and thought we were doing the right thing,” he said, “a little more standardized, a little less let’s go the Board of Adjustment for everything.”

Other members of the panel also differed on making corrections to the ordinance. Commissioner Tim Kornijtschuk said he “clearly missed” the wording issue during the hearings, while Mayor Nick Simon noted hearings had spanned more than a year. He said he felt there had been no mistake in the wording of the ordinance.

More than a dozen residents addressed the commission.

Steve Redman, while expressing trust in the commission’s overall discussions, said the language in the ordinance was “a mistake.”

He said the decrease in dock size created by the ordinance represented a “taking” of his property.

Doug Speeler, a dock contractor, described difficulties he had experienced in getting permits for dock construction, even though the work had been approved. He said contractors were just looking for “some kind of clarity.”

Another homeowner said contractors would not work on his dock because they didn’t want to take on a job that would require a variance. He asked for leniency so he could get a “usable” dock.

The commission was “unwise to pass an ordinance that makes almost everyone (with a dock) nonconforming,” said resident Steve Miller.

“Where are the residents living on the interior that Commissioner Steiermann is so concerned about?” asked Christopher Newman. “Your constituents are sitting out here right now and they’re telling you what you did was wrong.”

Tim Rashleger said he was considering selling his home because of the difficulties imposed in modifying his dock. He termed the current ordinance an “inappropriate over-controlling rule.”

The Planning Board will have to consider the proposed new language before the commission can act.

Storm aftermath

As the meeting began, Simon said “the misery index here in Redington Beach is pretty high,” alluding to the damage Hurricane Eta had inflicted on residents the week before. “Everyone consider that tonight please.” He said storm damage was “pretty widespread” throughout the town.

Steiermann said he wanted a discussion on “getting our residents back on line as painlessly as possible.”

He said many residents had to tear out drywall because of storm damage and suggested that they should not have to wait for a permit to repair the damage. He asked that contractors be allowed to sign off that the work was completed properly “just to get these houses sealed up and moving forward.” Permits would be issued later.

“Isn’t there something we can do as a board to get this moving forward tomorrow?” he asked, noting the mayor himself had incurred storm damage.

Progress on recovering from the storm has been stymied by the illness of Building Official Darin Cushing, who has been diagnosed as positive for COVID-19. In an e-mail to Town Clerk Missy Clarke, which she read at the meeting, Cushing said all building department staff had been “banned” from their office in North Redington Beach.

Town Planner Bruce McLaughlin said processes were in place for “early starts.” He urged residents to take pictures of any damage, as it is currently, then halfway through the work and again at the end so when inspections are done later officials could see if the work was done properly.

In other news

• Commissioners gave final approval to an ordinance renewing the franchise agreement with Duke Energy for another 10 years. The ordinance largely exempts Duke from the town’s right-of-way utilization ordinances but provides that the town and the energy company will work together to resolve any conflicts that arise over right-of-way usage. In a memo to commissioners, McLaughlin said the ordinance was “a compromise between Duke’s unfettered use of the town’s rights-of-way and full control by the town.”

• Taking advantage of the large number of boat owners in attendance, Steiermann urged them to participate in this year’s holiday lighted boat parade scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 13. The last such event drew only 12 boaters, he said. Interested boaters should contact Clarke at 727-391-3875.