By Donald Wittkowski
City Council’s meeting Tuesday resembled an art class when Councilman Jack Gibson had a flip chart carried to the front of the room and he began making rudimentary sketches using a magic marker.
But the subject wasn’t art. It was architecture.
Gibson used the flip chart to persuade his fellow Council members that a proposed zoning ordinance regulating “bump-outs” – a decorative architectural feature in home construction – was flawed and needed to be rewritten.
After looking at Gibson’s sketches and listening to his arguments, Council tabled the ordinance. The measure will now undergo revisions by City Solicitor Paul Baldini before it comes back to the governing body at a later date for more discussion and a vote.
“We’re all struggling to get to a spot. I get it,” Baldini told Council of the difficulties of crafting an ordinance that will finally address the bump-out issue once and for all.
Zoning laws in Sea Isle City currently allow bump-outs only in side yards. That would have changed under the proposed ordinance that Council was supposed to vote on Tuesday before Gibson raised last-minute objections. The measure would have allowed homeowners to have bump-outs in their front and back yards if they live on corner lots.
Homes built on interior lots would be unaffected by the ordinance. They can have bump-outs only in their side yards.
Bump-outs are ornamental roofs or decorative canopies above windows and doors. They are considered far more attractive on homes than just having long, blank exterior walls. Council wants to give builders the freedom to add bump-outs to make homes more aesthetically pleasing, but with certain limitations.
Building requirements such as bump-outs are a touchy subject in Sea Isle, a town that has been dealing with complaints from residents about large, high-end “monster” vacation homes gobbling up precious open space on the narrow island.
Bump-outs are a way to expand a home while legally “encroaching” into setback areas. In Sea Isle, they can be as wide as 8 feet and can jut out as far as 18 or 24 inches from the house, depending on the size of the lot, according to the proposed ordinance.
Baldini explained that because of the way corner lots are configured facing the streets, they have only one side yard. That means they can’t have all the bump-outs that are allowed in the two side yards for homes built on interior lots.
The proposed ordinance was intended to address that inequity by allowing homes on corner lots to build bump-outs in the front and back yards. But Gibson argued that the ordinance was defective.
Using his flip chart and sketches, Gibson showed how homes built on corner lots should have bump-outs in at least one of the side yards to spruce up the long, barren exterior walls. He noted that the side walls are often the most visible part of the house, so they should be the ones that are enhanced with decorative features.
Gibson said architects should have the discretion to decide where to place the bump-outs on homes that are built on corner lots. Other members of Council agreed. When it is rewritten, the ordinance is expected to give architects more leeway in choosing which sides of the house will have bump-outs.
However, Council plans to limit bump-outs to only two sides of the house. In addition, all bump-outs would have to be built a minimum of 5 feet from the property line to maintain enough space between homes.
During Tuesday’s meeting, local homebuilder Rich Mashura told Council that bump-outs add “aesthetic value” to houses, especially the ones built on prime, corner lots.
“It’s an architectural enhancement that, I think, would provide a lot of value in the appearance and beauty of corner lots,” Mashura said. “These corner lots are often tagged as trophy lots because you have the opportunity to do something really special. I think not having bump-outs on the long side of the property really takes away from that.”
Mashura also told Council that bump-outs would help to embellish homes throughout the island – including some oceanview and bayfront properties that have an expanse of blank exterior walls – if they were allowed in all yards.
Mashura’s Ocean View company, Mashura-Burger LLP, specializes in building high-end homes in Sea Isle and other seashore communities. Mashura said he took some of the Council members around Sea Isle to show them bump-outs on homes that he has built, including an upscale, three-story house at the corner of 56th Street and Pleasure Avenue.
The front entrance of the home faces 56th Street, but the side of the house runs along Pleasure Avenue. The Pleasure Avenue side includes a series of ornamental canopies and bay windows to make the house more attractive.
“At 56th and Pleasure, that’s a good example of what we would like to permit,” Gibson said, referring to what will likely be allowed in the rewritten ordinance.