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STONE HARBOR - The Courts are a subset of Stone Harbor’s residential district, with small cottages, narrow streets and the smallest buildable lots allowed in the borough. 

The homes are reminiscent of the bungalows that once were staples of summer-shore living.

In the recently adopted Master Plan Reexamination Report, the borough is confronted with recommendations some said would drastically change the character of the community.

The report recommends additional space be allowed for storage and location of heating and air conditioning systems. It also recommends allowing “limited” second floors for additional living space.

According to the report, the recommendations are a response to requests from homeowners who feel their properties have lost value in a town increasingly dominated by larger homes. As these homeowners look to increased use of the homes beyond the summer that characterized the community in the days of the summer cottage, the additional space is a necessary relief they expect from the borough.

Not all court homeowners feel the same way. The Aug. 6 meeting of Stone Harbor Borough Council led off with the clerk reading into the record a long letter from a homeowner urging the council not to act precipitously on the recommendations.

The letter argued that wholesale changes to the current restrictions would exacerbate congestion and parking problems, lead to increased use of the cottages as summer rentals with more space for additional sleeping areas, create increased public safety problems on already narrow streets that need to be able to have room for emergency vehicles, and hasten the end of a “way of life” that once dominated the shore experience.

Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour reminded council that the master plan process included a public meeting with homeowners from the courts. When 22 families and 30 to 40 people met with Planning Board representatives, “most people were for the change,” she said.

As the borough works through the recommendations from the master plan reexamination process, one set of recommendations likely to get early action concerns the courts.

Will such action be another step away from the shore experience of yesteryear? The letter writers argue that “old Stone Harbor is disappearing.” They urge council to think carefully before making changes.

In many ways, Stone Harbor has changed. The summer has expanded, larger homes are being built, the permanent population continues to shrink and property values skyrocket. Should restrictions keep a group of property owners locked in a past that is eroding around them?

The master plan report states: “The courts have outlived their place in the Residential C.” It suggests that a zone be established “with standards appropriate to address the size and unique elements of the courts.”

Future discussions will determine what those standards will be.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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