5/26/22: PLANNING BOARD RECOMMENDS MIXED-USE ZONING IN COMMERCIAL DISTRICT WITH PROPOSED BUILDING CONDITIONS FOR DEVELOPERS.

This aerial view of Southern Shores from Dare County gis shows Ginguite LLC’s tract at 6195 N. Croatan Hwy. outlined in red.

The Town Planning Board voted last week to recommend to the Town Council the creation of a mixed residential-commercial use of any property that is located in the C commercial zoning district, while also proposing specific mixed-use building requirements that it believes must be met to preserve the vision of Southern Shores and comply with its Land Use Plan.

The recommendation came about at the Planning Board’s May 19 meeting, as a culmination of extensive discussions between Town staff and the Board with Ginguite LLC, a SAGA investment group that seeks to develop a 5.2-acre tract next to the Southern Shores Landing on U.S. Hwy. 158 with both residential and commercial facilities.

The Southern Shores Town Code of Ordinances currently does not permit such mixed-use developments.

(Because of The Beacon’s six-month suspension, we did not follow discussions between Ginguite and the Planning Board at public meetings. We are catching up.)

Mixing residential and commercial uses on a single property in the commercial district is essentially “creating another zoning district,” said Planning Board Chairperson Andy Ward at the Board’s meeting last week, during which Sumit Gupta, representing Ginguite LLC, sought the Board’s recommendation of a Zoning Text Amendment—ZTA 22-06—that his company submitted to authorize and define mixed-use developments.

The Board unanimously rejected ZTA 22-06, because of a disagreement over lot coverage, then recommended its own conditions for mixed-use developments in the commercial district.

Ginguite has not presented a site plan for the vacant property at 6195 N. Croatan Hwy., which has both marshland and water on it, but Mr. Gupta, who is a Co-Founder, Partner, and Chief Executive Officer of SAGA Realty and Construction, told the Planning Board last week that the developer is considering designs with “luxury multifamily” dwellings, similar to the Run Hill Luxury Apartment Villas owned by SAGA in Kill Devil Hills.

“Affordable, workforce housing,” said Mr. Gupta, “is not [our] focus.”

Although Mr. Gupta addressed only the Ginguite property on U.S. 158, any amendment to the Town Code to allow mixed-use developments would apply to all commercial properties in Southern Shores. There are three others, according to Planning Director and Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett. They are:

*5391 N. Virginia Dare Hwy., 7.9 acres (the Stones’ property, which includes the Southern Shores Realty office, the Southern Shores Crossing, and vacant land that is not visible from the road)

*5500 N. Croatan Hwy., 18.1 acres (the Marketplace)

*5355 N. Croatan Hwy., 4.1 acres (Southern Shores Realty maintenance building)

AMENDING THE TOWN ZONING ORDINANCE

The Town Code currently allows as “permitted uses” in the commercial district a variety of retail stores, business, financial, and professional offices, service establishments, and residential dwellings, among other facilities, and authorizes certain “conditional uses,” including group developments of commercial buildings.  (See Code sec. 36-207)

The residential dwellings it specifically permits are detached single-family dwellings, two-family dwellings (duplexes), and multifamily dwellings.

(The Town Zoning Ordinance is codified at section 36 of the Town Code of Ordinances. We sometimes refer to the Zoning Ordinance or the Zoning Code when referencing section 36.)

A mixed-use group development of commercial and residential buildings was clearly not contemplated by previous Zoning Code writers, who kept apartments and other multifamily housing units separate from retail shops and other commercial facilities.   

Chairperson Ward described ZTA 22-06 as the “fourth version” of efforts between the Planning Board and Mr. Gupta (Ginguite) to reach agreement on the requirements and conditions of a new mixed-use group development. Both ZTA 22-06, which the Planning Board considered insufficient, and the Board’s own recommendation amend the Code to make mixed-use group developments a conditional use in the commercial district.    

While Mr. Ward said the ZTA “versions” that Ginguite has presented “keep getting better,” a major sticking point between the Board and Mr. Gupta—one that consumed an inordinate amount of time at the May 19 meeting, as communication broke down—was the maximum allowable lot coverage for a mixed-use development.

MAXIMUM LOT COVERAGE FOR MIXED-USE  

Ginguite’s ZTA 22-06 provides that “no more than 40 percent lot coverage of the net parcel area” can be associated with residential building footprints and required residential parking. It does not address commercial lot coverage, however, which, if a certain amount of permeable pavement is used, can be up to 67 percent, according to Town Code sec. 36-207(d)(5)(b).

The Town Code currently allows a maximum of 40 percent lot coverage for multifamily dwellings in the commercial district, but not for single family homes or duplexes, which are limited to 30 percent coverage. (Sec. 207(c)(4))

Mr. Gupta argued last week that a developer of a mixed-use property should be able to use the maximum lot coverage permitted for commercial property, provided its residential buildings and parking do not exceed 40 percent of the net parcel area.

He seemed to view residential property as a “substitute” for commercial property, saying: “It would be nice to take some of the allowable commercial space and trade it for residential.”

Mr. Ward took a different approach, advocating that the maximum allowable lot coverage of the net parcel area should be evaluated in the aggregate, without regard to whether a building/structure footprint is residential or commercial, and proposing a maximum of 50 percent.

Board Vice Chairperson Tony DiBernardo further advanced the idea that a minimum lot coverage should be set for residential development. He cited a minimum of 25 percent and a maximum of 40 percent lot coverage of the net parcel area.

(There has been much discussion about mixed-uses behind the scenes, as well as at previous Board meetings, and we are unsure when these percentages arose and who originated them.)   

The Town Zoning Ordinance defines “net” acreage as the total area to be developed, “minus any area covered by waterways, marshes, or wetlands.” (Code sec. 36-57) The Ginguite property has all three.

Mr. Gupta said the Board’s aggregate 50 percent lot coverage “penalized” Ginguite “for bringing in residential” development.

The investors’ group bought the property on U.S. 158 in June 2014, and, according to Mr. Gupta, “The plan was to develop it within the current rules,” meaning strictly commercial, “which we can still do.”

He declined to agree with the 50 percent mandate at last week’s meeting, saying “Our current plan wouldn’t work” with it, and, further, that the “net” parcel area restriction “hurts us.”

RECOMMENDED REQUIREMENTS FOR MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENTS

As part of its recommendation to the Town Council, the Planning Board set forth requirements for future mixed-use developments, which pertain to allowable building size, residential density, and other common dimensional regulations in addition to lot coverage. They were largely culled from other sections of the Zoning Ordinance, but some are new. We quote them verbatim below:

*Minimum size of any building shall be 2,500 square feet. (This was in Ginguite’s version of the ZTA.)

*All buildings constructed within 35 feet of another building within the development are to be connected by a breezeway or covered walkway. (Also in Ginguite’s ZTA.)

*Lot shall be serviced by an existing community wastewater treatment facility permitted by NC DEQ DWR. (N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources. Also in Ginguite’s ZTA.)

*Residential density shall be limited to RS-8 District allowances as established in Town Code sec. 36-203(a). (Note: The density requirement in the RS-8 multifamily residential district is eight dwelling units per net acre. The Town Council enacted this requirement, which was initiated by Mr. Haskett, at its May meeting. Ginguite agreed with it.)  

*A minimum of 25 percent and no more than 40 percent lot coverage of the net parcel area can be associated with building footprints containing residential uses and the required parking for residential uses.

*Minimum front yard (setback): 25 feet.

*Minimum side yard (setback): of 15 feet. An additional 5-foot-yard adjacent to the street is required for a corner lot.

*Minimum rear yard (setback): 20 feet.

*Maximum building height shall be 35 feet, measured from the average of the existing, undisturbed grade at the building corners

*No building or other facility (such as parking spaces, incinerators, trash collection areas, etc.) shall be located nearer than 50 feet to boundaries of residential districts

*Where a mixed use group development abuts a residential zone, a buffer of dense vegetative planting or natural vegetation is required (see Sec. 36-207(8))

*Maximum allowance lot coverage of the net parcel area by principal use and all accessory structures, in the aggregate, for the entire mixed use group development, shall be 50 percent.

*Mixed use group developments which incorporate the use of permeable pavement, as outlined in Section 36-207(d)(5)(a), in excess of 5 percent of the total lot coverage shall be allowed a maximum allowable lot coverage by principal use and all accessory structures, of no greater than 55 percent. (This compares with 67 percent if the development is strictly commercial.)

According to Mr. Haskett, the Town Council will hold a public hearing on ZTA 22-06 at its June 7 meeting, and he will report that the Planning Board recommended denial of it, as presented, but recommended approval of it with these additional conditions.

30% LOT COVERAGE IN RS-1 DISTRICT: Before the Planning Board considered mixed-use development, it took action on ZTA 22-05, which was an application by Stacia and Marc LeBlanc of 9 Tenth Avenue, to increase maximum allowable lot coverage from 30 percent to 35 percent for nonconforming lots in the RS-1 residential district of Southern Shores.

The Planning Board unanimously denied the LeBlancs’ application, although Board member Robert McClendon said he would consider increasing lot coverage throughout the district to 35 percent.

The LeBlancs’ lot on Tenth Avenue is 17,500 square feet, 2,500 square feet smaller than what is considered a conforming lot in Southern Shores. They built their 3,330-square-foot house, swimming pool, and other outdoor structures in 2020 and ran up against the 30-percent limit when they tried to add decking and walkways of their choice.

The LeBlancs argued their case for changing the lot coverage in a well-organized Power Point presentation that predominantly focused on how a change would benefit them and did not address how it would affect the town as a whole.

In evaluating the ZTA, Mr. DiBernardo said, “I just don’t see how this helps Southern Shores one bit. I don’t see any positive. . . . It will take away from the environment and also make lots look more crowded and closer together. . . . It might help individuals, but it doesn’t help the town as a whole.”

He later added, “Aesthetically and environmentally, there’s no plus to it.”

Planning Board member Lynda Burek said that there should be “no surprise [to property owners] if you’re over lot coverage” because of the permitting process. The Town will not approve building plans that are not in compliance with the Town Code.

Chairperson Ward, whose opinion has been key in defeating efforts to expand building lot coverage by exempting from its calculation certain structures (such as 500 square feet of a swimming pool), gave a history of the limitation, noting that the 30 percent restriction dates to 1981, when the first Town Code was enacted.

He also illustrated numerically how the benefit of a 5 percent gain in lot coverage increases as nonconforming lots get smaller. (See his chart at the 35-minute mark of the videotape.)

“We are slowly relaxing lot coverage,” Mr. Ward told the LeBlancs, “but we’re doing it very incrementally.” The Board, he said, is “very protective” of Southern Shores.  

SHOUT-OUT: We would like to conclude this report by giving an appreciative shout-out to Councilman Matt Neal, who attended all 2 hours and 40 minutes of the Planning Board’s May 19 meeting. Thank you, Councilman Neal. You are a dedicated and informed public official.

Mr. Ward’s description of the lengthy meeting as “a little bit better than a root canal” was spot-on, and you didn’t budge from the endodontist’s chair.   

We also thank Stasia LeBlanc for giving The Beacon a shout-out when she said that she and her husband did not anticipate the negative response that their ZTA would receive.

Even “The Beacon is complaining about it,” she said.

We’re glad she’s reading us. Next time, perhaps, we’ll be on the same side.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/26/22  

5/20/22: PLANNING BOARD UNANIMOUSLY REJECTS APPLICATION TO AMEND TOWN ZONING TO INCREASE MAXIMUM ALLOWABLE LOT COVERAGE TO 35 PERCENT FOR SMALLER LOTS.

The Town Planning Board unanimously voted (5-0) at its meeting yesterday to recommend denial of the two zoning text amendment (ZTA) applications featured in a Beacon post Wednesday—one about increasing maximum lot coverage on lots that are smaller than 20,000 square feet and the other about amending the Town Code to accommodate a mixed-use commercial-residential development—according to Planning Director and Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett today. 

We refer you to our May 18 post for details about ZTA 22-05 (lot coverage) and ZTA 22-06 (conditional use in the commercial district). We were unable to attend the Planning Board meeting because of commitments out of town and would welcome comments by anyone who attended or live-streamed it.

Planning Board chairperson Andy Ward has been a strong proponent in recent years of keeping the maximum allowable lot coverage in the RS-1 residential district (single family dwellings with “abundant open space”) at 30 percent and not chipping away at that percentage by exempting swimming pools and other ground structures from square-footage calculations.

We would have been very surprised if he had endorsed an expansion of allowable lot coverage for nonconforming lots, i.e., those that are smaller than the standard minimum lot in Southern Shores of 20,000 square feet.  

We will follow up with a longer report later. We are writing now only because of the great interest our Wednesday post had among readers, especially those on Facebook.

Unless the applicants withdraw their proposed ZTAs, they will go to the Town Council for de novo consideration. The Council is not bound by the five-member Planning Board’s decisions, but it is heavily influenced by them.

We are aware of a recent extended conversation on Next Door about changes in the Town’s solid-waste regulations. We also will address these changes in an upcoming post, as well as the concern expressed by some Next Door subscribers that they were not informed about the changes until they were a done deal.

Questions: How can the Town better inform residents? Should the Town spend the money for a USPS-mailed notice to all property owners about changes to regulations of fundamental services, such as solid waste and recycling collections?

Questions: Do you read the Town’s biweekly newsletter and check the Town website for news? Do you attend Town Council meetings or watch them on videotape?

Our thanks to all who respond.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma   

5/18/22: HOMEOWNERS SEEK INCREASE IN MAXIMUM LOT COVERAGE FOR LOTS SMALLER THAN 20,000 SQ. FT., A ZONING CHANGE THAT WOULD REDUCE OPEN SPACE, COVER MORE GROUND: TOWN PLANNING BOARD TO HEAR THEIR ZTA APPLICATION, ONE FROM SAGA INVESTORS TOMORROW.

New homeowners in Seacrest Village are seeking to amend the Town zoning ordinance to increase the maximum allowable lot coverage for lots that are smaller than 20,000 square feet from 30 percent to 35 percent.

The Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) submitted by Stacia and Marc LeBlanc of 9 Tenth Ave. will be heard by the Town Planning Board at its regular monthly meeting tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the Pitts Center. (The Board usually meets on the third Tuesday, which, this month, was primary day.)

The Planning Board is also expected to take up a Zoning Text Amendment submitted by Sumit Gupta, Principal Partner and Chief Executive Officer of SAGA Realty & Construction, that would amend the Town zoning ordinance to permit and define a mixed commercial-residential use development. The SAGA investment group, Ginguite, LLC, owns a large tract on U.S. Hwy. 158 in Southern Shores that it has targeted for such a project.

PROPOSED LOT COVERAGE INCREASE

Stacia and Marc LeBlanc purchased their then-vacant 17,500-square-foot lot on Tenth Avenue in October 2018 and built a house, swimming pool, pool decks, and driveway in 2020, according to data on the Dare County GIS. All of this construction is included in a calculation of lot coverage.  

The LeBlancs’ Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA 22-05) seeks to add an exception to the “maximum allowable lot coverage” requirement of the Town Code, found at Sec. 36-202(d)(6), that would read:

“For lots less than 20,000 square feet as set forth in Section 36-202(d)(1), the maximum allowable lot coverage is 35 percent, provided total lot coverage does not exceed 6,000 square feet.” (proposed subsection f)

See ZTA 22-05 at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/ZTA-22-05-Lot-Coverage-for-Nonconforming-Lots.pdf.

Town Code Section 36-202 specifies the dimensional requirements and restrictions of development in the Town’s RS-1 single family residential district, which is the primary district in town. According to Section 36-202(a), the RS-1 residential district provides for “the low-density development of single-family detached dwellings in an environment which preserves sand dunes, coastal forests, wetlands, and other unique natural features of the coastal area.”

That same Code section specifies that the RS-1 residential district was created to promote “stable, permanent neighborhoods characterized by . . . abundant open space.”

Section 36-202(d)(1), cited in the LeBlancs’ ZTA 22-05, says only that the “minimum lot size” in town is 20,000 square feet. Section 36-202(d)(6)(a), about lot coverage, states that the “maximum allowable lot coverage shall be 30 percent, except for town-owned facilities and fire stations,” where the lot coverage is capped at 85 percent.

The intent of the development requirements for the RS-1 single-family residential district is clearly to promote low-density housing, to preserve the natural environment, and to ensure “abundant open space.”

The 30 percent lot coverage requirement does this, as well as prevent stormwater runoff.

Seacrest Village, which consists of the avenues east of Duck Road, is comprised principally of lots that are not 20,000 square feet and, thus, are “nonconforming.”

If one were to argue that the maximum lot coverage for nonconforming lots should be different from conforming lots because of the size disparity, the obvious adjustment would be to reduce the maximum lot coverage, not to increase it. In advocating for a 35 percent maximum lot coverage, the LeBlancs are advocating for a destruction of more of the environment, a reduction in open space and stormwater absorption, and a promotion of higher density.

NUMBERS AND RATIOS

This result is well illustrated with numbers and ratios.

The language of the LeBlancs’ ZTA 22-05 increases maximum lot coverage to 35 percent, but caps total lot coverage at 6,000 square feet, which is the total lot coverage permitted for a 20,000-square-foot lot.

If a 20,000-square-foot lot is maxed out on coverage (6,000 sq. ft.), it has 14,000 square feet of open space, a ratio of 2.3 to 1 in favor of uncovered land.

If a 17,500-square-foot lot were to be maxed out at 35 percent coverage, 6,125 square feet would be covered, except for the LeBlancs’ proviso of limiting total lot coverage to 6,000 square feet. Maxing out lot coverage of the 17,500-square-foot lot at 6,000 square feet means that 11,500 square feet would be uncovered, a ratio of 1.92 to 1 in favor of uncovered land.

The LeBlancs are moving the equation in the wrong direction. If lot coverage on their 17,500-square-foot lot were capped at 28 percent, they could build on 4,900 square feet, leaving 12,600 square feet uncovered. This would produce a ratio of uncovered land to covered land of 2.57 to 1, which is comparable to the ratio preserved on conforming lots. Twenty-nine percent would get them a little closer to the 2.3-to-1 standard ratio.   

For another comparison, consider the much smaller 10,000-square-foot lot, which the Town Planning Board, Town Council, homeowners, and other residents did through most of 2018, when we all confronted the unwelcome trend by sellers and developers of dividing single 100-foot-wide lots into two 50-foot-wide lots and thereby doubling the density.

The nonconforming lots fiasco was eventually resolved with a rewrite of Town Code Section 36-132, which some of us thought should have been interpreted to prevent the sale of 50-foot-wide lots splintered off from combined 100-foot parcels; Town Attorney Ben Gallop, however, did not agree. Thanks to the fiasco and its resolution, we now have many more nonconforming 10,000-square-foot lots than we did before the trend, such as the three on Porpoise Run, east of Duck Road, where new multi-story townhouse-style homes now sit.

If the LeBlancs’ 35-percent lot coverage amendment were enacted, homeowners could cover 3,500 square feet of 10,000-square-lots, a coverage that computes to a ratio of uncovered land-to-covered-land of 1.86 to 1. If two such lots were side-by-side, 7,000 square feet of the total combined 20,000 square feet could be covered. This is 1,000 square feet more than would be permissible with 30 percent lot coverage.

We do not support ZTA 22-05 and trust the Planning Board, having gone down the lot-coverage amendment road many times in recent years, will agree with us.

As an aside, we note that during Planning Board meetings in 2018, we advocated for limiting the maximum house size on nonconforming lots, suggesting a staggered scale of square-foot house sizes according to lot sizes. While there was mild interest in this idea from some Board members, the consensus opinion was that the maximum 30-percent lot coverage limitation would keep nonconforming lot development in check and in line with the vision of the town as set forth in the Land-Use Plan. This is a test of that opinion.     

SAGA DEVELOPMENT ON U.S. 158

We are not familiar with the nature of the mixed-use development that Ginguite, LLC would like to construct on the 226,269.21-square-foot property it owns at 6195 N. Croatan Hwy. (U.S. 158) in Southern Shores. This tract is next to the rear of the Southern Shores Landing housing community and across the highway from the flag store. A SAGA sign marks the spot.

Ginguite’s ZTA 22-06 seeks an amendment of the conditional uses of the C commercial district, listed in Town Code Section 36-207(c), to add “Group development of commercial and residential buildings” as a new subsection 11. The ZTA speaks to the minimum size of buildings, residential density, and the lot coverage of the “net parcel area” that can be associated with building footprints containing residential uses and residential parking.

Quible & Associates, P.C., a construction engineering firm, is representing Ginguite on its ZTA application, which can be found at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/ZTA-22-06-4-28-22-Comm.-Res.-Group-Developments.pdf.

SIGNS

According to the public notice for tomorrow’s Planning Board meeting, the Board also may reconsider ZTA 36-165, which concerns regulations of signs in town. This ZTA, which rewrites the current sign ordinance, has been kicking around for a while.

**We encourage everyone to attend the Planning Board meeting or to live-stream it on the Town’s YouTube website. The Planning Board is Ground Zero for public discussion about changes to the Town zoning ordinance, which affects all of us.   

ANN G. SJOERDSMA, 5/18/22

5/15/22: TOWN COUNCIL’S DISCUSSION ABOUT SUMMER CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC DISAPPOINTS: THE DETAILS.

Today we continue our critique of the Town Council’s discussion of the Town Manager’s proposed summer traffic mitigation plan at its May 3 meeting. Members of the board showed during their limited exchange a lack of preparation, knowledge, and/or awareness of the extent of the problem. We also heard factual inaccuracies.

After Town Manager Cliff Ogburn detailed the mitigation “options” for the Council to consider implementing this summer, Mayor Elizabeth Morey asked who among her four colleagues wanted to start the discussion. No one said anything until Mr. Holland laughingly said, “Nobody.”

This is unacceptable. Cut-through traffic-plagued residents, who have been lobbying the Town Council for years for relief and who invested time and trust in a citizens’ committee, authorized by the Council itself, to address the problem, deserve far better from Town decision-makers than avoidance and hesitancy.   

The Town Council has authorized Mr. Ogburn to manage traffic “mitigation,” but it is still setting policy and calling the shots.

Minutes after the slow “Nobody” start at the May meeting, a Town Council member asked, “What happens if we do nothing?,” and other members seriously considered that prospect. Someone has to hold the decision-makers publicly accountable.

(For a detailed description of the mitigation options proposed and recommended by Mr. Ogburn, see The Beacon, 4/27/22 and 4/29/22.)

(For our article about discontinuing the no-left-turn at U.S. Hwy. 158 and South Dogwood Trail, see The Beacon, 5/13/22.)

TRAFFIC HOMEWORK

Property taxes and summertime traffic are the most important issues for Southern Shores residents. A Southern Shores Town Council member has to be well-versed about both in order to represent his or her constituency responsibly. Town Council members have to do their homework and make decisions in context, not off-the-cuff.

When Councilman Leo Holland spoke vaguely at the May 3 meeting about the Council trying “various mandates” over the years to address the cut-through traffic, he revised history, and those on the Town Council who know better allowed him to do so.

We’ve been here 30 years, most of them living smack dab in the middle of the cut-through route. We believe the traffic first became oppressive about 10 to 12 years ago and has steadily worsened each year. Before the experimental no-left-turn weekend in June 2018, the only means by which the Town sought to discourage cut-through traffic was by the occasional use of police checkpoints on South Dogwood Trail. The police stopped every vehicle and asked drivers for their licenses and registration. The checkpoints slowed the traffic and annoyed drivers.

We will gladly stand corrected if Mr. Holland can produce “mandates.” But all that he said at the meeting was that the town had tried “blocking here, doing this, doing that,” without being specific about any tactics. This level of discourse is unacceptable.

DOING NOTHING

In response to appointed Town Council member and Chicahauk homeowner Mark Batenic’s alarming and appalling question of “What happens if we do nothing?”—which someone else on the Council should have immediately said was NOT an option—Mr. Holland said, “That’s been proposed once before some time ago.”

No, the truth is doing nothing had been the Town Council’s modus operandi until the June 23-24 experimental no-left turn weekend, which former Council members Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald spearheaded and former Mayor Tom Bennett opposed.

As we wrote in the May 13 Beacon, Mayor Bennett, who served from 2013 to 2021, opposed every no-left-turn ever put into place until last Memorial Day when cut-through traffic was so jammed—northbound traffic backed up on South Dogwood Trail to U.S. Hwy. 158 to the Wright Memorial Bridge—that he finally supported it.

When Mr. Holland said that “we had a mayor”—Mr. Bennett—who got so “tired of fighting” the cut-through traffic that he said, “Let’s do nothing,” he also was, to be kind, “revising history.”

Mayor Bennett never wanted to do anything. He supported the cut-through vacationers because, to paraphrase him, tourism is the hand that feeds us, and we shouldn’t bite it. Videotapes of Council meetings and his own writings, which we have on file, bear this out.

Last year, the Town Council gave Mr. Ogburn authority to try the road barriers, in response to homeowners’ complaints and public-safety concerns, and Mayor Bennett grudgingly went along. We can thank now-Mayor Morey and Councilman Matt Neal for this progressive action. But on May 3 they appeared decidedly reluctant about doing more than this.  

The answer for Mr. Batenic, who, according to his application for the Council appointment, has lived year-round in Chicahauk for about two years, is: If you do nothing, you roll back the clock at least five years, and you infuriate a lot of people who have been seeking help from the Town Council during that time. You ignore the needs of your constituency. You “let them eat cake.”

But you would not be the only one. The comments of newly elected Councilwoman Paula Sherlock had a decided Marie Antoinette spin to them.

“AESTHETICS” 

For example, Ms. Sherlock, who ran last November promising to work on traffic relief, said that she has “some real concerns about the aesthetics of all [the mitigation] and how this is going to look with barriers.”

At the time she said this, the Town Council was still, at least theoretically, considering closing Sea Oats Trail, Eleventh Avenue, Hillcrest Drive, and Hickory Trail at their intersections with Duck Road—although none of them realistically evaluated the impact of what they called “cul-de-sacing.” They just dismissed it. That is unfortunate.   

Mr. Batenic, whose biography is yet to be posted on the Town website, said he’s “uncomfortable blocking the streets,” an opinion that he accurately valued at “2 cents.”

A Council member’s comfort level is irrelevant to devising a solution to a problem as vexsome to so many as this one is. The issue is whether Mr. Ogburn’s proposed road closures, partial or complete, or other road closures that the Council itself might propose would have the deterrent effect on cut-through traffic that the Town presumably seeks.

(You would be forgiven if you watched the videotape of the May 3 meeting and concluded that the Town Council doesn’t seriously seek prevention. You may view the 27-minute discussion, starting at the 45-minute mark, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Tyu9o67ikU.)

As for aesthetics, we wonder what aesthetic value can be derived from having vehicles parked bumper-to-bumper in the roadways in front of Southern Shores residents’ homes all weekend long, or from seeing vacationers, stuck in those vehicles, emerge to urinate on lawns.

Or how about the aesthetics of having a speeding car pass within a foot or less of a resident as he or she walks a dog on Hickory Trail or bikes on Sea Oats Trail? Hickory Trail can open up temporarily and be a speedway until the brakes have to be applied on Hillcrest Drive. Ditto with Sea Oats before the 300 block.

The northbound-lane “local-traffic-only” barriers—which the police cannot enforce, according to Mr. Ogburn—were placed at the same locations last summer as they will be this summer. Many residents thought they had a deterrent effect. Homeowners objected to cut-through motorists driving around them, but no one complained about their appearance.

We suspect Councilwoman Sherlock hasn’t been in the dunes on a cut-through summer Saturday for some time, if ever. She should take a stroll there with Mr. Batenic. 

HICKORY TRAIL

Councilwoman Sherlock concluded that she wants to do “as minimal as we can to try to mitigate this.” Just whom is she representing when she talks about minimizing mitigation?

Is her goal to get cut-through traffic off of residential roads or not?

We also wonder whom she represented when she objected to closing Hickory Trail at East Dogwood Trail from late afternoon Friday through Monday morning—as Mr. Ogburn had recommended–and suggested closing it only on Saturdays.

This change, which the other Council members immediately endorsed without a word, costs the Town money: Mr. Ogburn cannot ask Public Works employees to work on weekends. He has to hire someone else.

All Ms. Sherlock said to explain her objection was, “That seems like a long time.” We would rather have heard what she thinks about the effectiveness of such a road closure and whether the constituents with whom she has surely spoken support it.  

If the Councilwoman’s concern is the effect of the road’s closure on response time of emergency personnel, then we need to know if she understands that response time is already impaired by the traffic!

(All Police Chief David Kole contributed (off-microphone, so he is not clearly audible on the videotape) to this conversation is that any time a road is closed, response time is affected.)

We also question Councilman Neal’s insistence that there be “citizen buy-in” from Hickory Trail residents for a Saturday closure at East Dogwood. He wants “unanimous support” from Hickory residents, but that’s hardly necessary. Just make an executive decision, Matt. Step up, don’t slide back. It’s a no-brainer. Any inconvenience to Hickory Trail residents, who previously requested closure of their street at Hillcrest Drive, is minimal, and anyone who objects is out of step.

Why burden Mr. Ogburn with more telephone calls?

If they could, Hickory Trail residents, with whom we speak regularly, would close the road at East Dogwood Trail year-round, so weary are they of every-day cut-through traffic that runs the stop signs at the Hickory-East Dogwood intersection and races up their road.   

Ms. Sherlock’s further conclusion that “not to do anything makes us look very unresponsive to the community” was hardly a resounding show of support for residents. Residents don’t care about optics; they want action. They want you to fight for them.

ROADS AT “OVER-CAPACITY”

We believe that every Town Council member has a public duty to read the professional traffic engineers’ report on cut-through traffic, which the Town commissioned for $7500 and received in February 2021. The Council has never discussed the report at a public meeting.

During summer weekends, N.C. Hwy. 12 operates “over-capacity,” consultant J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning told us in a December 2020 Zoom session previewing the report.

According to J.M. Teague, the traffic is moving at “forced saturated flow,” so that traffic “cascades” on to alternating routes, such as the South Dogwood Trail-East Dogwood Trail-into-the-dunes cut-through route. In other words, the thoroughfare is maxed out.

And why is the thoroughfare maxed out? Because Duck, with its 25-mile-per-hour speed limit and 13 pedestrian crosswalks, causes a bottleneck that, Teague Engineering Technician Forrest Lundgren told us, “is the common denominator of all congestion that is formed in Southern Shores.”

Mayor Morey has announced the launch of a public-information campaign this summer that is designed to encourage northbound summertime vacationers to stay on U.S. Hwy. 158 and N.C. Hwy. 12 and off of Southern Shores’ residential cut-through roads.

As part of this effort, the Mayor said that the green lights at each traffic-controlled intersection on N.C. Hwy. 12 will last longer and the masses of northbound vacationers will see road signage and receive videos sent by rental property managers informing them that they’ll move faster if they stay on the thoroughfare.

The Mayor can try her wishful-thinking strategy, but the truth is northbound vacationers are stuck until Duck takes action to alleviate the bottleneck.

“… [W]e need to emphasize the messaging about the traffic lights on Duck Road,” the Mayor said at the May 3 meeting. “I really think that people need to know if they cut through, they’re going to get stuck, and that’s not what they want to do.”

We repeat: The thoroughfare is “over-capacity.”

Vacationers heading north are stuck on Duck Road or they’re stuck on the cut-through route. No matter where they are, stuck is stuck.

Trying to convince people to remain stuck in congestion on the thoroughfares when they can see a little light on South Dogwood Trail, or Juniper Trail, or Porpoise Run, is an exercise in futility. It is counter-intuitive. It’s also a denial of the depth and gravity of the problem.

We are reminded of the mayor of Amity Island from “Jaws” who told vacationers to go in the water because there were no sharks.   

Mr. Holland suggested “marketing” a tag line for the Mayor’s campaign, which Ms. Morey attributed to Ms. Sherlock, to wit: “Southern Shores is a community, not a cut-through.”

The problem with this tag line—besides the fact that people will ignore it—is that it informs those few people who haven’t caught on to the cut-through route yet that there is one!

CLOSING ROADS

If the Town’s goal is to prevent vacationers traveling to the northern beaches from cutting through on Southern Shores’ residential streets, then it has to block vehicles from accessing the roads through closure or diversion. Or it has to eliminate the bottleneck that causes the congestion. Plain and simple.

No one on the Town Council said a word about how the latter could be accomplished, or even if there have been talks between Southern Shores and Duck, but Duck is clearly impeding a state thoroughfare, and the N.C. Dept. of Transportation has allowed it to do so.

J.M. Teague gave some suggestions in its report about blocking vehicles, including installing permanent physical barriers on certain roads in Southern Shores and a northbound gate on South Dogwood Trail that would open for residents and others having local business in Southern Shores, but not for non-local travelers.

The Southern Shores Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Cut-Through Traffic also submitted a recommendation that would close South Dogwood Trail to non-local traffic.

The Town Council so far has refused to tackle actual prevention of cut-through traffic by closing roads, which the Town is authorized by North Carolina law to do.

Mr. Ogburn cites “legal advice” as the reason why the South Dogwood Trail gate idea is not explored thoroughly, but, as any good attorney will tell you, there is no clear-cut legal answer, just interpretations of the case law that exists, and public safety is a strong rationale for the Town to act.

(As we see it, the issue is whether the public has a fundamental right of intra-city travel that is 1) constitutionally protected; and 2) superior to the Town’s public-safety interest. There is no U.S. Supreme Court decision that is directly on-point.)  

The extreme cut-through traffic is more than a nuisance, it’s a very real public-safety hazard. We would hate to see a tragedy force the Town Council finally to take the tough action that it is incapable of even talking about now.  

Ann G. Sjoerdsma

©2022, Ann G. Sjoerdsma

5/13/22: KITTY HAWK DID NOT SUPPORT NO-LEFT-TURN THIS SUMMER; OPENING OF 7-ELEVEN HAS INCREASED HAZARDS AT INTERSECTION, KH TOWN MANAGER SAYS; BUT TOSS TOWN COUNCIL CITED CELL-PHONE DATA, NOT KH’S LACK OF SUPPORT, FOR REASON IT ABANDONED NLT.

Do you remember this RV on Wax Myrtle Trail last Memorial Day weekend?

The Town of Kitty Hawk declined to support the no-left-turn at U.S. Hwy. 158 and South Dogwood Trail this summer because of “safety concerns,” according to Town Manager Andy Stewart, who spoke with The Beacon yesterday.

“The Council never really was for doing [the turn prohibition] to begin with,” Mr. Stewart told The Beacon, and when the opening last year of the 7-Eleven at the intersection led to “additional traffic concerns,” he said, “We didn’t want to sign off on it this year.”

The left-turn lane on U.S. 158-east is in Kitty Hawk’s jurisdiction. Before the N.C. Dept. of Transportation will authorize closure of that lane on summer weekends—as it did for a June weekend experiment in 2018, for four weekends in 2020, and for 10 weekends in 2021—both Kitty Hawk and Southern Shores have to buy in.

Southern Shores Town Manager Cliff Ogburn cited jurisdictional issues and the lack of a three-party agreement at the April 26 public forum on his cut-through traffic mitigation plan and during the Town Council’s consideration of that plan at its May 3 meeting as reasons why the Town decided not to pursue a no-left-turn this summer, but he never actually said that Kitty Hawk had refused to cooperate. He was trying to be politic.

Mayor Elizabeth Morey and members of the Town Council declined to share this information with the public, as well. It’s a vital fact that they deliberately withheld.

Instead, Councilman Matt Neal cited at the May 3 meeting—without actually explaining—cell-phone data compiled by Streetlight, for the proposition that the no-left-turn had a “big psychological impact [on residents], but not a big physical impact,” a comment that elicited an immediate agreement from Mayor Morey and one that we thought was both condescending and dismissive.

Apparently they think that those of us who have observed the cut-through traffic all weekend long, all summer long, for years and experienced relief with the no-left-turn are just getting a placebo effect from the turn prohibition. Goodness knows the data upon which they rely couldn’t possibly be suspect or wrongly interpreted by them.

STREETLIGHT DATA

Streetlight is a “mobility analytics platform,” according to online sources, that professes to put “Big Data to work for transportation planning.” Big Data apparently include location records from smartphones and GPS and other navigation devices.

The Town hired Streetlight to analyze all summertime traffic within its boundaries by its origin (west from the Wright Memorial Bridge or south from Kitty Hawk, as well as state of origin) and destination for a three summers, 2019-21. A Dare County Tourism Bureau grant paid for its study.

Mr. Neal cited Streetlight’s calculations, which are based upon the “pinging” of smartphones in vehicles traveling across the Wright Memorial Bridge and then turning at South Dogwood Trail or going straight, for proof that the turn prohibition did not curtail the cut-through traffic.    

According to Mr. Neal, 18 percent of the vehicles arriving from the bridge that had active smartphones in them, which actually pinged at cell towers (as we understand the technology), turned left at South Dogwood Trail on summer weekends in 2019, when there was no turn prohibition in effect, and 18 percent cut through in 2021, when the no-left-turn was in effect.

This statistical conclusion has a facile appeal, but it actually lacks significance, in large part because you can’t make oranges into apples.

First of all, the percentage that Streetlight provides, as we learned from Mr. Ogburn, is an average of all of the cut-through traffic “pinging” on weekends from June through August in a given year. The data cannot be broken down by specific weekends, for example, by targeting only Saturdays and Sundays in July, which is the peak month.

We met with Mr. Ogburn earlier this week, and he shared with us Streetlight’s presentation, which should be accessible on the Town website for residents to examine—with a tutorial about how to use it. We daresay no one on the Town Council, except perhaps Mr. Neal, has independently examined it.

Second of all, we’re talking about 18 percent of an unknown total number of vehicles, which, by virtue of the method of Streetlight data collection, does not include ALL vehicles. It is not far-fetched to assume that some vehicles do not have active smartphones on board. We find this fact to be a fundamental shortcoming of Streetlight’s data collection methodology.  

But back to the whole numbers: Suppose we posit that 100,000 vehicles with pinging smartphones crossed the bridge in summer 2021, and 18 percent of them turned left on South Dogwood Trail and continued on the cut-through route (according to the pinging) to get to Duck Road. That would be 18,000 vehicles cutting through; and 82,000 vehicles being deterred.

Now suppose, in 2019, the total number of vehicles was only 50,000, so the numbers are, respectively, 9,000 and 41,000.

Isn’t the fact that twice as many vehicles were deterred or prevented from turning left significant? That’s twice the burden on local law enforcement.

Had there been no turn prohibition in 2021, how many of the vehicles that stayed straight and continued on to Ocean Boulevard would have taken the cut-through route? Streetlight can’t tell you that.   

Last year was a historically successful year in Outer Banks tourism—an unprecedented full-occupancy, sold-out season. The pandemic-frustrated masses descended on our town. The comparison year of 2019 was very different.

As many of you will recall, the northbound cut-through traffic last year was so bad on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend that it backed up South Dogwood Trail to the Wright Memorial Bridge.

It was so bad that desperate vacationers circled around Circle Drive, which (as advertised) is a circular road off of Hickory Trail east of Duck Road, looking for a shortcut to Corolla. (See The Beacon, 5/29/21.)

It was so bad that for the first time ever, former Mayor Tom Bennett, who served in office from 2013 to 2021, voted in favor of the no-left-turn, calling for an emergency jumpstart of the planned implementation of the turn prohibition from the weekend of June 26-27 to June 12-13.

(In 2015 Mayor Bennett unilaterally killed the no-left-turn strategy, which emerged as a consensus suggestion from a public workshop led by a paid mediator from Raleigh. It was held at the Kitty Hawk Elementary School in October 2014, and more than 100 residents attended. (We were there.) He then consistently voted against it, preferring to do nothing to address the cut-through traffic, until the vehicular hordes of last May demanded action.)

It also should go without saying that the no-left-turn is only as effective as its enforcement. Mr. Ogburn confirmed that the U.S. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection was lightly monitored in 2021 by Southern Shores police, who issued only 32 citations for its violation all summer. That’s an average of 1.78 tickets issued per day that the turn prohibition was in effect.

If a zero-tolerance policy had been in effect, how many more motorists would have been prevented from cutting through?   

We note that, according to Streetlight’s data, 14 percent of the vehicles that crossed the Wright Memorial Bridge in summer 2020—the pandemic summer—turned left on South Dogwood Trail. That was a summer when the no-left-turn was in effect over four weekends: June 20-21, July 4-5, July 25-26, and Aug. 1-2. My recollection is police enforcement was more intense. But, once again, you have apples and oranges.

Finally, we must point out that Streetlight’s data are only as reliable as the methodology for their collection. We would like to be advised about that methodology beyond just smartphone “pinging.”

What’s the margin for error in the data? What changes have occurred in cellular technology from 2019 to 2020 to 2021, and how do they impact data collection? Are there any experts out there who know about, and can weigh in, independently, on Streetlight’s methodology?   

***

7-ELEVEN’S IMPACT

There is no question that the opening of the 7-Eleven has altered the playing field at the 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection. It has given northbound motorists a “work-around.”

According to Town Manager Andy Stewart, this work-around has caused “additional congestion in Kitty Hawk at Woods Road,” as vacationers avoid turning left off of U.S. 158 by cutting through the 7-Eleven parking lot and emerging at Woods Road in order to approach South Dogwood Trail straight-on.

Some vacationers, Mr. Stewart observed, “ride on Woods Road” until they can turn around, rather than turning left out of the 7-Eleven, posing a safety hazard on what is a cut-through route for southbound travelers, including locals. (Woods Road connects with Kitty Hawk Road, which connects with the U.S. Hwy. 158 bypass.)

The prohibition on the left turn “doesn’t benefit the Town of Kitty Hawk at all,” the Town Manager concluded. It just causes “extra problems.”

Mr. Stewart stressed, however, that Kitty Hawk has a good relationship with the Town of Southern Shores and wants to cooperate with Southern Shores in the future.

With the 7-Eleven work-around exacerbating intersection conditions, and with motorists flagrantly violating the left-turn prohibition, he characterized this traffic mitigation option as “an accident waiting to happen.”

***

We will continue our analysis of the Town Council’s response at its May 3 meeting to Mr. Ogburn’s proposed summer traffic mitigation plan in our next installment, which we will post tomorrow.

As of this writing, Mr. Ogburn is prepared to set up northbound-lane “Local Traffic Only” barriers, which the police have no authority to enforce, at seven locations along the South Dogwood Trail cut-through route and at Juniper Trail past the Food Lion entrance, on the June 4-5 weekend.

A ninth barrier may be installed on the northbound lane of Ocean Boulevard, at the Duck Road split, near the cell tower. The Town Council rejected Mr. Ogburn’s recommendation that Ocean Boulevard be closed in both directions at this location.

Mr. Ogburn has been given authority by the Town Council to purchase more “substantial” barriers than the ones erected at the same locations last summer, but it is questionable whether he will have the time to order them, receive them, and then have them up by June 4.

The only road that may be closed for some time on summer weekends is Hickory Trail at its intersection with East Dogwood Trail. We will write more about this option in our next installment.

Again, we urge all residents to view the 27-minute discussion about the traffic plan on May 3 by the Town Manager and the Town Council at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Tyu9o67ikU. It begins at the 45-minute mark and ends at the 1 hour-12-minute mark.

To be continued.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma

©2022, Ann G. Sjoerdsma

5/10/22: TOWN MANAGER RECOMMENDS $8.7 MILLION FY 2022-23 BUDGET WITH NO TAX INCREASES; PLUS REACTION TO THE TOWN COUNCIL’S REACTION TO CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC MITIGATION. (New Recycling Day Starting in June)

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn last week filed a recommended fiscal year 2022-23 budget for Southern Shores of $8,706,138, which does not include an increase in general property or beach nourishment taxes.

Mr. Ogburn’s FY 2022-23 budget shows a shortfall between revenues and expenditures of $312,671, which he proposes to make up by appropriating that amount from the Town’s Unassigned Fund Balance, not by raising taxes.

Although the Town’s Unassigned or “Undesignated” Fund Balance (UFB) is designed to be used for emergency expenses and capital projects, not for annual operating expenses, it has been tapped repeatedly to balance the budget. Last year the Town transferred $1,270,519 from the UFB to the budget, $750,000 of it to be used for beach nourishment debt.

The last accounting of the UFB occurred in 2021 and showed a balance of $5.189 million.

The FY 2022-23 budget is the second largest budget ever proposed by a Southern Shores Town Manager and the largest budget ever recommended for general fund operating expenses. The overall increase in operating fund expenses since the FY 21-22 budget is 7 percent. (The FY 2021-22 budget bottom line was $115,152 higher.)

Proposed operating expenses for all of the Town’s departments, except Public Works, have increased since last fiscal year, as follows:

The FY 2022-23 expenses that Mr. Ogburn recommends for the Administration Department have increased 10 percent; the Planning and Code Enforcement Dept.’s expenses have increased 28 percent; and the Streets, Bridges, and Canals budget has increased 11 percent.

Expenses of the other Town departments (all of which are listed below) have increased by from 3 to 5 percent, except Public Works, whose expenses have declined by 1 percent.  (See p. 9 of the proposed budget.)  

The projected expenses in the next fiscal year are:

*Administration Dept.: $1,204,812 (Salaries and benefits account for $634,087, operating costs for the remaining $570,725.)

*Planning and Code Enforcement Dept.: $416,977 (Salaries and benefits account for $315,827, operating costs for $101,150.)

*Police Dept.: $2,095.491 (Salaries and benefits account for $1,612,092, operating costs for the remaining $483,399.)

*Streets, Bridges, and Canals: $2,281, 164 (This sum includes $1 million for the first year of a 10-year Capital Improvement Plan that is designed to maintain street pavement; and $1,202,939 for payment of the beach nourishment debt. The Public Works Dept. administers this budget.)

*Public Works Dept.: $619,896 (Salaries and benefits account for $435,035 and operating expenses for $184,861.)

*Sanitation Services: $879,555 (These expenses cover solid waste disposal, a landfill tipping fee (of $250,000!), and recycling, limb and branch, and large item collections.

*Fire Contracted Service: $1,004,243 (The SSVFD is a non-profit corporation. The Town pays SSVFD $665,223 for contracted fire protection and $314,020 for the construction debt on its new fire station. The Town agreed to pay a debt of $5,419,223 over 25 years at 3.71 percent interest. This is the third year of the loan.)

*Ocean Rescue Contracted Service: $184,000

*Capital Reserve Fund transfer for canals: $20,000

LAND USE PLAN UPDATE: We are pleased to see that the Town Manager has recommended spending $80,000, itemized in the Planning and Code Enforcement Dept. budget, to update the current Land Use Plan, which was adopted in 2012, but is based on 2005 data. The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission declined to certify the plan when the then-Town Manager submitted it because of inadequacies, which were not quickly addressed, hence the time gap between data collection and certification.

Had a post-election reconstituted three-person majority on a previous Town Council not reversed itself in 2018 on a budgetary appropriation for an updated LUP, this essential process/plan would already have been done—at half the cost.   

Today’s Southern Shores is radically different from the Southern Shores of 2005, which did not have cut-through traffic, Airbnb rentals, houses on 50-foot-wide lots, “minihotels,” and a beach nourishment project. According to Mr. Ogburn’s budget report, the year-round population of Southern Shores in 2000 was 2,201; in 2020, it was 3,054.

The Town Council will meet at 9 a.m. next Tuesday, May 17, in the SSVFD fire station on South Dogwood Trail for a budget workshop. A public hearing on the budget will be held during the Council’s June 7 regular meeting. Under state law, the Town Council must approve a FY 2022-23 budget by June 30.

You may access the recommended budget at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5w8yu0ummia1851/TM%20BUDGET%20FY%2022-23%2020220503111047373.pdf?dl=0

TRAFFIC MITIGATION THIS SUMMER

We are still reeling from watching the Town Council’s 27-minute consideration of Mr. Ogburn’s traffic mitigation plan at last Tuesday’s meeting. We were unable to attend the meeting, so we had to catch up belatedly by videotape—and then we had to take a few days to cool off and some more time to do research.

(For background on the plan, see The Beacon, 4/27/22 and 4/29/22.)

You would be forgiven if, after viewing the 27-minute segment, which begins at the 45-minute mark of the meeting videotape, you concluded that none of the five Town Council members—four elected and one appointed—actually lives in Southern Shores. Certainly, none seemed very interested or enthusiastic about helping residents plagued by cut-through traffic.

Chicahauk homeowner Mark Batenic, who was appointed in January to complete Mayor Elizabeth Morey’s unexpired term on the Town Council, actually asked: “What happens if we do nothing?”

As of this writing, Mr. Ogburn has authority to do what he did last summer with “closing” residential roads in the dunes to “local traffic only” in a northbound direction, using the same type of barrier (see photo at top) that he used a year ago. He also may decide to close both lanes of Hickory Trail on Saturdays at its intersection with East Dogwood Trail. Councilwoman Paula Sherlock discouraged the Friday-afternoon-to-Monday-morning closure of Hickory that Mr. Ogburn proposed.

The Town Council easily dismissed closing outlets from Sea Oats Trail, Eleventh Avenue, Hillcrest Drive, and Hickory Trail on to Duck Road–in what members were calling “cul de sacs”–and rejected the closure of Ocean Boulevard at the cell tower/Duck Road split.

No other cut-through traffic prevention measures on the roads are being contemplated, just public relations and marketing designed to persuade vacationers traveling to the northern beaches to stay on U.S. 158 and N.C. Hwy. 12.

We will expound upon our analysis later in the week in an editorial concerning the Council’s comments and actions at its meeting. We had to do some homework first.

In the meantime, we urge you to view the 27 minutes at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Tyu9o67ikU.

NEW RECYCLING DAY STARTING IN JUNE

The Town recycling pick-up day will become Friday, starting June 3. The last Wednesday pickup will be May 25.

Friday trash collection will start June 3 and continue until Labor Day weekend. There will be no change in the Monday trash pickup.

MAY 17 PRIMARY ELECTION

The polls for the May 17 primary election will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Southern Shores voters will vote in the Pitts Center, not the Kitty Hawk Elementary School.

Early voting continues this week, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. through Friday, and then Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Kill Devil Hills Town Hall  

(For background, see The Beacon, 5/2/22.)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/10/22

5/2/22: REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES DOMINATE MAY 17 PRIMARY; EARLY VOTING IS ON-GOING; ‘UNAFFILIATED’ SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES NEED SIGNATURES TO GET ON NOV. BALLOT.  

Marie Russell of Kitty Hawk needs the signatures of 1,200-plus Dare voters on petitions to appear on the November ballot as an Unaffiliated candidate for the Dare County Board of Education. Ms. Russell seeks to represent the BOE’s District 3, which includes Southern Shores.

Except for candidate selections for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, the May 17 primary is a Republican affair in Dare County. Many of the winning Republican Party primary candidates for local offices will not have Democratic opposition in November.

“One-stop” early voting for the primary began last Thursday and runs through 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, with next weekend excepted. The closest voting site for registered voters who reside in Southern Shores is Kill Devil Hills Town Hall.

For election information, including the hours of operation for all early-voting polling sites, see https://www.darenc.com/departments/elections/election-information.

Here’s how the primary election shapes up:

Registered Democrats in Dare County—and “Unaffiliated” voters who choose to vote in the Democratic primary—have only two choices on their ballot: They can vote for one person among the 11 candidates running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Senator Richard Burr, who is retiring; and choose between two candidates running for the U.S. House, District 3, for the seat now held by Republican Dr. Greg Murphy.

See the Democratic Party Primary Sample Ballot here: https://www.darenc.com/home/showpublisheddocument/10825/637838236119270000

In contrast, registered Republicans in Dare have a choice of 14 candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate; five candidates for the Republication nomination for the U.S. House, District 3, including the incumbent Dr. Murphy, as well as choices in other statewide and local primary races.

Republicans will decide who represents Dare County in the N.C. House of Representatives and the N.C. Senate. There are no Democratic challengers.

As a result of the legislative redistricting—a legal challenge to which delayed the primary from March to May—Dare County has been split into two newly drawn districts for the N.C. House of Representatives. The dividing line goes through Kill Devil Hills, such that voters who live north of the line are in N.C. House District 1, and voters who live south of the line are in N.C. House District 79. All Dare County voters are in a newly drawn Senate District 1.

Republican incumbent Ed Goodwin of Edenton, who represents voters in the currently drawn District 1, is running unopposed for the new House District 1 seat, which represents northern Dare. Republican incumbent Keith Kidwell, who represents voters in the currently drawn District 79 (Beauford and Craven counties) is running against Ed Hege of New Bern for the new House District 79 seat, which represents southern Dare.

Republican Bobby Hanig, who currently represents all of Dare County in what is now District 6 of the N.C. House, is vying for Senate District 3, which includes Currituck County, but not Dare. Mr. Hanig has no primary election opposition, but he will face a Democratic challenger in November.  

As if these changes were not confusing enough, the redistricting has resulted in two Republican incumbents competing against each other for the newly drawn N.C. Senate District 1 seat. State Senator Norman Sanderson of Minnesott Beach, who currently serves the second Senate district, which includes Carteret, Craven, and Pamlico counties, and State Senator Bob Steinburg of Edenton, who currently serves in District 1, which includes Dare and Currituck, among other counties, will face off in the primary. The winner will have no Democratic opposition in November.

Republicans also will vote upon a N.C. Supreme Court associate justice position; two N.C. Court of Appeals judgeships (the Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court; 15 judges sit on it); and one N.C. district court judgeship (District 1, which includes Dare), which is currently held by Jennifer Bland.

Judge Bland, who was appointed by Governor Roy Cooper when she was a registered Democrat, switched her party affiliation weeks after taking office. She has two Republican Party opponents: B.J. McAvoy and Jeff Moreland. The primary victor will not face opposition in November.

All of the winning primary candidates for the appellate judgeships will have opposition in the general election.  

Republicans will choose between two candidates for the office of at large commissioner on the Dare County Board of Commissioners. Incumbent At Large Commissioner Ervin Bateman, who previously ran as a Democrat and switched parties last year, is running against Republican Mike Burrus. The winner of their race will face Democrat Heather Euler in November.

Republicans will determine the successor of retiring District 1 District Attorney Andrew Womble, choosing between two candidates, Jeff Cruden and Kim Pellini, each of whom currently serves in the DA’s Office. Mr. Womble is running for Dare County Superior Court against incumbent Judge Eula Reid, a Democrat, in November.

See the Republican Party Primary Sample Ballot that includes N.C. House District 1 here: https://www.darenc.com/home/showpublisheddocument/10829/637840632309870000

See the Republican Party Primary Sample Ballot that includes N.C. House District 79 here: https://www.darenc.com/home/showpublisheddocument/10827/637840631925500000

For biographical material about candidates, consult The League of Women Voters’ Vote 411 guide at https://www.vote411.org.

‘UNAFFILIATED’ CANDIDATES FOR DARE SCHOOL BOARD NEED 1200+ VOTERS’ SIGNATURES TO GET NAMES ON NOV. BALLOT

Although not a factor in the May 17 primary, three seats on the seven-member Dare County Board of Education (BOE) are up for election this year, and a Republican has filed for each one. None of these candidates is facing Democratic opposition, but there are two Dare County women who are trying to get on the November ballot as Unaffiliated candidates for two of the open seats.

They are Marie Russell, of Kitty Hawk, who is vying for the BOE’s District 3 seat, which includes Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, and Duck; and Jessica Fearns, of Colington, who is seeking the District 2 seat, which includes Kill Devil Hills, Colington, and Nags Head.

To qualify to have their names appear on the general election ballot, Ms. Russell and Ms. Fearns each must obtain the signatures of 4.0 percent of Dare County’s registered voters on petitions and submit them to the county Board of Elections for validation by noon on May 17.

This percentage computes to about 1,200 ink signatures for each candidate.

Dare County Board of Education elections became partisan in 2018 as the result of legislation ratified by the two houses of the N.C. General Assembly. Because the bill effecting the change was “local”—meaning that it applied to fewer than 15 counties in the state—it did not go to Governor Roy Cooper, who likely would have vetoed it. The bill became law upon ratification.

In order for Unaffiliated candidates to have their names on the ballot in a partisan election, N.C. law requires them to secure nomination by petition. (See N.C. General Statutes sec. 163-122(a)(3).)

If successful, Ms. Russell, who is a substitute teacher and businessperson with three children in the Dare schools, would face Republican Matt Brauer. Ms. Fearns, who is a substitute teacher and real estate agent with one child in the local schools, would face Republican Ron Payne.  (For more information about both candidates, see The Outer Banks Voice, 4/16/22, “Dare Ed Hopefuls Battle for the Ballot,” and the candidates’ Facebook pages at https://www.facebook.com/MarieforBOE and https://www.facebook.com/jessicafearnsforBOE.)

Margaret Lawler of Southern Shores currently serves as BOE District 3 representative, and Joe Tauber of Kill Devil Hills holds the District 2 seat. Both chose not to seek re-election.

The Beacon supports choice and competition in elections. If you would like to sign the petitions of either candidate or both, you may write to us at ssbeaconeditor@gmail.com and request that someone contact you. Please include your name, address, and mobile phone number.

Your signature on a petition signifies only that you support including the candidate’s name on the November ballot. It is not a vote.

Ms. Russell and Ms. Fearns also will be appearing with their petitions at the following venues in the next week:

Wed., May 4: 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. at Ashley’s Espresso Parlour, 100 E. Helga St., KDH (at the corner of Helga and U.S. 158).

Wed., May 4: 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Starbucks in the Southern Shores Marketplace.

Sat., May 7: noon to 2 p.m. at the 2022 Artrageous Kids Arts Festival at Dowdy Park in Nags Head. The candidates will be walking around the park.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/2/22

4/29/22: TOWN MANAGER RECOMMENDS HICKORY TRAIL, OCEAN BLVD. CLOSURES, LOCAL-TRAFFIC-ONLY BARRIERS, BUT NOT BLOCKING OUTLETS TO DUCK ROAD, IN REPORT TO TOWN COUNCIL.

Photographs of the local-traffic-only barricades that the Town proposes using this summer are made of concrete and can be driven around, but not through. They are walls, not mere fences. Last summer’s model, shown above on Hickory Trail at East Dogwood Trail, was easily moved aside.

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn is recommending that the Town Council approve closing Hickory Trail at East Dogwood Trail and placing local-traffic-only barriers in northbound lanes at other key road accesses in the dunes and in Chicahauk—among the summer weekend traffic mitigation measures that he outlined at the public forum Tuesday—but not blocking outlets on to Duck Road, according to a report he filed for the Council’s May 3 meeting, which was posted yesterday on the Town’s website.

(For background on the Town’s summer traffic plan, see The Beacon, 4/27/22.)

Mr. Ogburn is also recommending that the Council close Ocean Boulevard during peak summer weekend hours at the Duck Road split, near the cell tower, so motorists cannot use the local road to bypass traffic backups on the N.C. 12 thoroughfare between the split and Hickory Trail. (At least, not until Porpoise Run, which is a block north of the split.)

For a summary of the mitigation measures discussed at the forum and Mr. Ogburn’s recommendation, see page 58 of the meeting agenda packet at https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/ soshoresnc-pubu/MEET-Packet-0fed0c2da0a14989b65c6bb0d764dc6c.pdf.

According to the meeting agenda, the Council will take up the proposed summer traffic plan as the second item of new business, after the first public-comment period. In the first new item, Mr. Ogburn will establish with the Council a date for a public hearing on the Town’s FY 2022-23 budget, which the Town Manager has not yet published online. 

See the agenda at https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/soshoresnc-pubu/MEET-Agenda-0fed0c2da0a14989b65c6bb0d764dc6c.pdf.

The proposed traffic plan combines a number of measures by which the Town seeks to encourage northbound motorists passing through Southern Shores to stay on U.S. 158 and N.C. 12 and not cut through on residential roads.

In addition to road closures and obstructions, the Town’s plan envisions reaching arriving visitors through property managers at rental companies; using road signage informing visitors that travel is faster on the thoroughfares; and making adjustments to travel apps, such as Waze.

The locations where Mr. Ogburn recommends erecting local-traffic-only northern lane barriers are:

Hillcrest Drive and Sea Oats Trail

Hickory and Wax Myrtle Trail

Hickory Trail and Sea Oats Trail

Hickory Trail and Hillcrest Drive

East Dogwood Trail and Wax Myrtle Trail

East Dogwood Trail and Sea Oats Trail

East Dogwood Trail and Hillcrest Drive

Juniper Trail past the Marketplace entrance

(The latter is an addition to the locations mentioned at the public forum.)

Mr. Ogburn also discussed at the forum closing outlets on to Duck Road from Sea Oats Trail, Eleventh Avenue, Hillcrest Drive, and Hickory Trail, but he is not currently recommending that these closures be made. The Town Council may decide otherwise, and it may consider closures and barriers along other sections of town roads. 

Porpoise Run, which connects Duck Road with Ocean Boulevard, is a block north of the proposed Ocean Boulevard closure. Trout Run, Dolphin Run, East Dogwood Trail, and Periwinkle Place also intersect with Duck Road and are other jumping-off points for frustrated northbound visitors.

The Town has decided not to prohibit the left turn from U.S. 158-east on to South Dogwood Trail, a mitigation technique that has been used effectively in recent summers to reduce cut-through traffic volume.

This decision was made without any public discussion by the Town Council. Indeed, the Council, with the exception of Mayor Elizabeth Morey, sat quietly on the sideline Tuesday during the presentation and critique of the traffic plan—with the exception of a few comments by Councilman Matt Neal in response to a homeowner’s remarks about cell-phone technology.

Next Tuesday’s meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. You may live-stream it at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

BEACON NOTE: Due to a conflict, I will be unable to attend or live-stream the Town Council’s meeting. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who attends or views the meeting about the action that the Council takes on the traffic plan and any other news that you may choose to report. You may email me at ssbeaconeditor@gmail.com. Thank you.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/29/22

4/27/22: TOWN OUTLINES SUMMER TRAFFIC PLAN THAT WOULD CLOSE OUTLETS FROM SOME ROADS, ERECT BARRICADES, BUT NOT PREVENT LEFT TURN ON TO SOUTH DOGWOOD TRAIL.

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn yesterday outlined a summer weekend traffic “mitigation” plan that would close outlets on cut-through residential roads in Southern Shores and place “local traffic only” barricades at other access points along the roads, but would not include prohibiting the left turn on to South Dogwood Trail from U.S. 158-east or closing South Dogwood Trail to non-local traffic by means of a gate or other control.

The plan, said Mayor Elizabeth Morey, who served as what she called a “referee” during yesterday’s public information meeting on traffic at the Pitts Center, is designed to keep vehicles on U.S. 158 and N.C. Hwy. 12.

Besides closing and limiting access to Southern Shores residential roads on the cut-through routes, the Town would seek to persuade northbound vacationers via mobile road signage and other informational means, including cell-phone apps, that “cars mov[e] through town faster on 12,” the Mayor said.

Ms. Morey opened the meeting, which was live-streamed and is available for viewing on the Town’s You Tube site, by announcing that “We’re not here to solve the traffic problem.” That, she said, would require “a magic wand.” Rather, the Mayor and Mr. Ogburn sought to present well-thought-out “options” for mitigating cut-through traffic, some or all of which may be implemented this summer.

(You may view the meeting videotape at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.)

Before doing so, however, the pair first dispensed with what the Town is “not recommending”—the most controversial being a continuation of the left-turn prohibition at the 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection, which has been the chief tool in recent years to reduce cut-through traffic.

“We can’t say [the turn prohibition] has an impact to a magnitude of $40,000 a year,” Mr. Ogburn said in explaining the discontinuation, without explaining how such a cost-benefit calculation would be made.

The Town Manager made no mention of the traffic-count data that the Town has collected on the impacted roads when the left turn prohibition is in effect and when it is not. He and the Mayor both made clear simply that the new plan takes the Town in a different direction with different tactics.

As to gating or otherwise limiting access to South Dogwood Trail to local traffic, Mr. Ogburn said attorneys have advised the Town that it cannot discriminate among motorists using the public street by their destinations and that the Town “must treat all the same.”

When pressed on the legalities, the Town Manager described the question as a matter of constitutional law, but he cited no legal precedent or authority, only “legal advice.”

(To discriminate among motorists on the basis of their origin–for example, by looking at license plates–would be wrong-headed. The road closure would have to be for the purpose of limiting traffic to local traffic only.)

Both the professional traffic consultant whom the Town hired and the citizens’ advisory committee on cut-through traffic recommended gating South Dogwood Trail and permitting only Southern Shores residents and guests to access it on summer weekends.

The road closures and barriers that Mr. Ogburn recommended as options along the South/East Dogwood Trail-to-the-dunes cut-through route are designed to keep northbound motorists on East Dogwood Trail and out of the dunes. Indeed, South Dogwood Trail and East Dogwood Trail would be the only roads into and out of the Southern Shores woods and dunes for all motorists on summer weekends during the peak hours of travel.   

Under the Town’s plan, Hickory Trail would be closed to all traffic at its intersection with East Dogwood Trail, and Sea Oats Trail, Eleventh Avenue, Hillcrest Drive, and Hickory Trail would be closed at their intersections with Hwy. 12 (Duck Road).

During public discussion of the Duck Road intersection closures, Mr. Ogburn acknowledged, in response to resident concern, that traffic flow farther south on Porpoise Run and Dolphin Run, which connect Duck Road with Wax Myrtle Trail, also might need to be blocked.

Mr. Ogburn further proposed closing Ocean Boulevard to all traffic at the Duck Road split near the cell tower to prevent motorists from using the road as a shortcut around Duck Road traffic backups from the split to Hickory Trail.

The “Road Closed/Local Traffic Only” barriers that the Town proposes would be placed at the same seven locations that such barriers were used last summer, only they would be made of more substantial material–Mr. Ogburn’s graphics showed concrete obstructions–and not be as easily circumvented.

The seven locations include the entries to Hillcrest Drive, Sea Oats Trail, and Wax Myrtle Trail at East Dogwood Trail, as well as entry points farther north along these three principal north-sound roads in the dunes.

Mr. Ogburn indicated that the use of such barricades would be subject to continuing assessment of their effectiveness. In general, the Town Manager, with the support of the Town Council, has shown a willingness to improvise if the need arises. 

Cut-through traffic advisory committee chairperson Tommy Karole yesterday spoke strongly against the Town’s plan, saying it would not work and could open the Town up to liability in the event emergency vehicles are prevented from reaching destinations in Southern Shores in as quick a manner as they would without the closures and barricades.

Mr. Ogburn and Mayor Morey will present the Town’s traffic plan to the Dare County Tourism Board at its meeting tomorrow morning in Manteo. As her comments yesterday made clear, the Mayor has been actively networking with community representatives who can assist Southern Shores with keeping traffic on the thoroughfares, including property managers at rental companies in the Currituck Outer Banks. 

We would characterize the Town’s plan as two-pronged, one prong being the use of physical impediments along the cut-through route to discourage motorists from leaving the thoroughfares, and the other being a public-information campaign to do the same. We may write more about the plan after the Town Council’s May 3 meeting, when it will be formally presented and discussed.

The Council’s agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting has not yet been posted on the Town website.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/27/22 

4/23/22: SUMMER TRAFFIC INFO MEETING SET FOR TUESDAY; FLAT TOP TOUR IS NEXT SATURDAY.  

Tickets for the April 30 flat top tour may be purchased at the Clarke-Gudas Cottage (pictured above), at 156 Wax Myrtle Trail, during the hours of the tour, as well as at the Outer Banks Community Foundation office on Skyline Road. Admission is $10; $15 for two.

The Town will hold a public information meeting on Tuesday (April 26) at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center to address potential traffic mitigation measures that may be implemented this summer.

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn will be presenting a “draft plan of potential traffic calming measures” to use during summertime weekends, according to yesterday’s Town newsletter.

Southern Shores residents will have the opportunity to ask questions at Tuesday’s meeting about the proposed traffic mitigation plan and to comment critically on its anticipated effectiveness.

Mr. Ogburn will likely present a draft plan for cut-through traffic control to the Town Council for its consideration and approval at its May 3 meeting.

Last summer the Town arranged with the N.C. Dept. of Transportation to prohibit turning left on to South Dogwood Trail from N.C. 158-East during certain hours on summer weekends and experimented with erecting barriers along heavily traveled residential roads in the dunes, including Hickory Trail, Hillcrest Drive, Sea Oats Trail, and Wax Myrtle Trail.

Both a professional traffic consultant’s report, which the Town commissioned, and a Southern Shores citizens’ advisory committee on cut-through traffic recommended closure of South Dogwood Trail to non-resident traffic on summer weekends. The Town Council did not endorse this recommendation and held no public discussions about gating South Dogwood Trail.

The Town Council has vested full authority in Mr. Ogburn to devise a plan of action on cut-through traffic. Elected officials no longer take the lead on such initiatives—at least not publicly. 

Tuesday’s meeting will be recorded and available by live-stream and for later viewing on the Town’s YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

FLAT TOP TOUR APRIL 30

The Southern Shores historic flat top cottage tour is back in force this year with 14 houses open for viewing next Saturday, April 30, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 each (two for $15) and are available for purchase during tour times at 156 Wax Myrtle Trail and 13 Skyline Road (the Outer Banks Community Foundation). All proceeds benefit the Flat Top Preservation Fund of the OBCF.   

The tour is self-guided and includes the following flat tops, located from north to south:

218 Ocean Blvd., the Mackey Cottage

176A and 176B Ocean Blvd., the Price cottages

170 Ocean Blvd., “Pink Perfection,” originally owned by Edith Pipkin

169 Ocean Blvd., “Atlantic Breezes”

157 Ocean Blvd., “Sea Breezes”

23 Porpoise Run, the Sokol-Clements Cottage

159 Wax Myrtle Trail, the Falconer Cottage

156 Wax Myrtle Trail, the Clarke-Gudas Cottage

113 Ocean Blvd., the Knight Cottage

69 Ocean Blvd., “Sea Spray”

43 Ocean Blvd., the Powell-Harritt Cottage

40 Skyline Road, “Beach Box Flat Top (Mitchell)”

13 Skyline Road, the OBCF office

The homes at 23 Porpoise Run, 156 Wax Myrtle Trail, 170 Ocean Blvd., and 218 Ocean Blvd. have been designated by the Town of Southern Shores as Southern Shores historic landmarks.

Further information about the tour is available on the Facebook page of the Southern Shores Historic Flat Top Cottages at https://www.facebook.com/Southern-Shores-Historic-Flat-Top-Cottages-421136131314749. You also may contact tour organizers Sally and Steve Gudas at seatide1@gmail.com or (804) 399-8342.

We encourage you to tour these historic homes that once dominated Southern Shores’ architectural landscape and meet the owners who maintain and preserve them for the benefit of everyone who loves the Outer Banks. They are a quaint reminder of a peaceful yesteryear when there was no need for a town traffic mitigation meeting because there was no traffic—nor was there a town.

*****

A NOTE ABOUT THE BEACON: Last November we said that we were suspending publication of The Beacon for between three and six months. It has now been nearly six months, and while we are not committed to resuming the demanding schedule of reporting that we had before last November, we would like to drop into your lives every now and then with news items. We could not let the traffic meeting go unnoticed by Beacon readers who do not read the Town website or the Town newsletter. We also wanted to welcome the return of the flat top tour after an interruption of two years caused by the COVID pandemic.

Since November we have resumed working on a book project that we set aside in favor of The Beacon. Publishing that book is now our priority and will largely determine how often we report on The Beacon.

MAY 17 PRIMARY: We anticipate writing soon about the May 17 primary election, which, on the local and state level, concerns only Republican Party candidates. The only primary choices available to registered Democrats in Dare County are among the candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives (the seat currently held by Dr. Greg Murphy) and the U.S. Senate (Senator Richard Burr is retiring). Early voting for the primary begins Thursday, April 28, and will be held at the Kill Devil Hills Town Hall, as well as in Manteo and Buxton.  

Thank you.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/23/22