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New state law delays Louisburg decisions

LOUISBURG -- Three significant changes to Louisburg regulations were given public hearings during a virtual meeting Monday evening but, although none received any verbal opposition, no votes were taken on any of the three.

A new state regulation, passed by the General Assembly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, requires that there be a 24-hour waiting period after a virtual public hearing to give anyone a chance to comment on the regulations in writing even though they could have commented during the virtual meeting.

Instead of holding a special meeting after that 24-hour comment period expired, the council decided not to vote on the three changes until their June meeting.

The most far-reaching of the changes allows apartments to be created on the upper floors of downtown buildings as long as the first floor and basement spaces are used commercially.

This change, designed to bring more people downtown and entice investment in the aging, multi-story buildings was endorsed unanimously by the Louisburg Planning Board last month.

Acting Louisburg Zoning Administrator Tony King told the council that all the apartments must comply with the building code as well as the minimum housing code of the town.

However, he noted, owners of the buildings will not have to provide additional parking for the apartment dwellers.

He said the logic is that the residents would tend to use parking places in the evening and night-time hours, not during the busier commercial hours of the day when the apartment residents likely would be at work.

Prior to the meeting, Felix Allen, who owns downtown property, questioned the parking issue as well as whether tenants of the apartments will be "permitted to congregate (lounge) during normal business hours on the sidewalks," creating congestion.

The council did not respond to that concern.

Allen also said that residents have more instances of fire (from kitchens and clothes dryers) than commercial businesses and wondered whether the upper floor apartments will be required to have access to a fire escape.

Again, town officials did not address that concern other than to say that all building and housing codes will have to be met.

Town Administrator Jonathan Franklin said his plans are to hire a consultant during the next fiscal year to look at the entire downtown area and make recommendations about where additional parking can be provided.

The second issue that was aired was a change to long-standing parking regulations that currently do not require owners of very small buildings to provide paved parking places for customers.

Under the proposed new rules, all buildings must have at least five paved, guttered parking spots, two of which must be reserved for the handicapped.

In effect, the change removes the current "small building exception" to the parking regulations.

The third public hearing involved regulations on solar panels, both on rooftops and ground-mounted arrays of panels. These regulations were first adopted in 2012, town officials said, but were not properly recorded.

These "new" regulations simply mirror what was adopted in 2012, according to King.

The rules differentiate between the placement of solar panels on houses and solar arrays which can be placed in industrial districts. Panels placed on roofs are considered an accessory to the building; panels placed separately from the building and mounted on the ground are considered an array.

In a nutshell, the regulations permit the installation of solar panels as "accessories" to houses in town subject to certain restrictions.

For example, placement on a roof facing a rear yard is considered a "use by right" which does not need additional approval, but placement on side-yard-facing roofs which is visible from the side is considered a special exception.

In commercial or industrial districts, solar panels are considered a use by right when attached to the roof of a structure.

In an industrial district, solar panels or solar array banks are a special exception.

Solar arrays -- which are banks of solar panels installed on racks on the ground -- must be enclosed with a protective fence and screened with an evergreen hedge to create an opaque screen six feet in height.

Decorative trees also must be planted on 30-foot centers around the perimeter of the development exterior to the required fence and hedge, the rules state.

In addition, the rules say that the solar arrays must have no public health, safety or welfare impact as a result of glare and have no adverse impact to the streetscape or aesthetics of the property or the neighborhood.

All of these proposed changes in regulations will be voted on at the council's June meeting which also is expected to include action on the town's budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year which begins on July 1.

In other action Monday night, the council:

• LEARNED from Franklin that the plans for the Depot Hill project should be completed in time for the council to review them at the June meeting.

• WAS TOLD by Franklin that the town is planning to open back up depending on advice from Gov. Roy Cooper.

"My plan is to open the buildings back up, with some restrictions, at the end of Phase II and open up completely at the end of Phase III," Franklin told the council.

"The parks remain open and we plan to open the playgrounds back up at the end of Phase II," he continued.

"We are planning to proceed with soccer and fall ball as planned in September," Franklin said.

• THE RENOVATIONS of the town-owned building at 109 North Church Street are almost complete, according to Franklin. "Site work has begun and should be completed in the next few weeks," he added.

• HEARD Town Council member Christopher Neal again report that he is "very concerned" about reported gunfire, mostly at night, on the south side of Louisburg.

"We need to find out what we can do to ease the citizens' minds about these illegal activities," Neal said.

He said that the problem seems most severe between midnight and 3 a.m. -- "that's when it's at its height," he said.

"I don't want a bullet flying through my house and maybe injuring me, my wife or our grandson."

He urged Louisburg police to be vigilant about this problem and Mayor Karl Pernell promised to talk with Chief Jason Abbott to see what else can be done.

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