The Mathews County Board of Supervisors, at its May 22 meeting, tabled a planning commission recommendation to require property line setbacks for piers in the zoning ordinance.
Planning and zoning director John Shaw explained that the text amendment was needed to provide clarity and reduce ambiguity for the placement of piers.
As the regulations stand, he said, only buildings are covered in the zoning sections governing setback regulations, yard regulations, and special provisions for corner lots.
A pier is a structure, not a building, said Shaw, and thus isn’t covered in the ordinance. Standard practice for dealing with the issue in the past, he said, was to use the definition section of the zoning ordinance to apply setback requirements.
The definition section includes the term "structure," he said, defining setback as "the minimum distance by which any building or structure must be separated from the right-of-way line or center line, as applicable, of the street or highway upon which it fronts."
However, a recent request for a pier on Old Ferry Road, which runs along the Piankatank River coast on Gwynn’s Island, brought that practice into question.
When the planning office told the applicant, whose waterfront property is split by Old Ferry Road, that a variance application was required to reduce the front yard setback on the water side from 50 feet to 14 feet, the applicant pointed out that the ordinance doesn’t require a variance for piers, since a pier isn’t a building.