5/13/21: CRITIQUE: ABOUT THE BUDGET, CUT-THRU TRAFFIC, BEACH NOURISHMENT, AND MSDs. THEN WE TAKE A BREAK.

In arguing at the Council meeting last week for a flat town-wide tax rate to pay for the 2022 beach nourishment project, many oceanfront property owners analogized its funding to that of the star-crossed canal dredging project, which went way over-budget and involved litigation. Town taxpayers not only had to pay much more for the dredging than anticipated–regardless of whether they had canal-front property–they also paid for legal fees and a settlement in a breach-of-contract lawsuit.

Dear Readers:

We will be suspending publication of The Beacon for an indefinite time, starting this weekend. We will not be covering the Town Council’s 9 a.m. workshop next Tuesday or its June 1 regular meeting, during which the public hearing on the fiscal year 2021-22 budget will be held. We will resume publication when we are able to do so.

We encourage you to check the Town of Southern Shores website for announcements and agendas of upcoming meetings, which, in the next week include:

Tomorrow, May 14: The Exploratory Committee for a Potential Branch Library meets at 12:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center to continue its pandemic-delayed efforts to establish a library in Southern Shores on Juniper Trail.

Monday, May 17: The Planning Board meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. The Board will be considering an application from the property owners at 279 Hillcrest Drive to subdivide their lot into two lots.

Tuesday, May 18: The Town Council will meet at 9 a.m. for a workshop session with a wide-ranging agenda that includes an update from project manager Ken Willson about the design of the 2022 beach nourishment project and a discussion of items on the Town Manager’s recommended General Fund FY 2021-22 budget, which totals $7,850,910.

In order to balance the FY 2021-22 budget without raising the general town-wide tax rate, Town Manager Cliff Ogburn is recommending that $453,392 be appropriated from the Unassigned Fund Balance to cover a revenue gap. If the Town Council accepts Mr. Ogburn’s recommendation, the general tax rate will remain in the next fiscal year at 19.58 cents per $100/property value.

As The Beacon reported last week, Mr. Ogburn has recommended the following tax rates to cover the Town’s beach nourishment debt in FY 2020-21:

Properties in MSD-1: 18.42 cents (for a total tax rate of 38 cents)

Properties in MSD-2: 6.42 cents (for a total of 26 cents)

All other town properties: 3.42 cents (for a total of 23 cents)

(See The Beacon, 5/5/21.)

According to Mr. Ogburn, he will likely recommend an increase in the general tax rate in FY 2022-23. 

You may access the budget here:

https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/FY-21-22-Town-Managers-Recommended-Budget-Filed-with-Clerk.pdf.

We encourage you to review it—or at least to read the Town Manager’s message that precedes it—and to participate in the June 1 public hearing.

CUT-THRU TRAFFIC MITIGATION COSTS

As The Beacon reported last week, Mr. Ogburn has budgeted only $30,400 for cut-thru traffic mitigation.

Despite the knowledge that cut-thru traffic is a hot-button concern for hundreds of people in town—and despite a commissioned traffic study from professional engineers and a thoughtful report by a long-term citizens’ committee that studied the problems—the Town Manager does not explain in his budget message what this paltry amount will buy.

The $30,400 expense appears as “contracted service” in the Public Works Dept. budget.

The budget figure mentioned for traffic mitigation at the Council’s March 16 budget workshop (by Councilman Matt Neal) was $50,000. Clearly, the Town Council has directed Mr. Ogburn—without informing a very interested public at an official meeting—to scale back on the deterrents employed this summer.   

We hope an explanation will emerge from the Town Council next Tuesday.

Mr. Ogburn said at the March budget workshop that the per-weekend cost for implementing an unstaffed left-turn prohibition—meaning no police on site—at the U.S. Hwy 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection would be $3700. The $30,400 budget expense, therefore, would cover about eight weekends.

We also would like to point out that the traffic study report submitted in February by J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning, whom the Town hired for $7,500, has never been discussed by the Town Council as an agenda item in a public meeting.

We do not know what individual Town Council members think about the solutions offered by J.M. Teague. 

FOLLOW-UP TO MAY 4 MEETING ON MSDs

Last week, we wrote that we would be exposing this week some misinformation and ignorance expressed by Town Council members during the discussion that led to their unanimous vote approving the done deal on municipal service districts (MSDs).

There is so much to criticize about that discussion that we have been unable to find the time to follow through on our pledge. We aspire to do so in full by this weekend and will just make a start now.

We simply cannot let stand Mayor Tom Bennett’s falsehood about Dare County’s funds for beach nourishment “drying up” so that Southern Shores may not get another opportunity to do a project with County monies after 2022.

Balderdash.

The County’s beach nourishment fund is contingent on the collection of county occupancy taxes (not sales taxes, too, as Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey said): It is made up of one-third of the occupancy taxes collected.

As long as Dare County has tourists occupying its many rental lodgings, the fund will be flush. The occupancy rate also can be increased.

The problem is not that the beach nourishment fund is “drying up.” The problem is that there is great demand for the monies in the fund, and the County has pledged to assist towns that have undertaken beach nourishment with their project maintenance.

The County would never deny funding to Southern Shores after providing it to Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Buxton, and now Avon for their first-time beach nourishment projects, as well as other projects thereafter. (Did we miss a jurisdiction?)

The fund does take a hit, however, when towns like Southern Shores engage in proactive nourishment, rather than repair-nourishment of a beach that has eroded.

Towns in dire need of beach nourishment should work together to identify a recurring funding source at the State level. An increase of the Dare County sales tax rate is also a viable option. We doubt that the 2005-06 experience of the 1-percent “sand tax,” which voters repealed by referendum, would be repeated in 2021-22.

Fifteen years ago, Nags Head was the only town talking about beach nourishment. Now they all are. (More about the sand tax later. Any Town Council member who is unaware of this history is uninformed.)

We have long been on record as opposing the beach nourishment project in Southern Shores as unnecessary to do now, except for the southern section where maintenance of the 2017 sand fill is needed. We also have been on record for opposing the unorthodox process that the Town used to define and establish the MSDs.

Last week Mayor Bennett played Chicken Little, as did Councilman Leo Holland, in suggesting that the Southern Shores beaches, which have an 80-year history of stability, might not “hold up” as long as “five or six or seven years down the road.”

“They may well” hold up,” the Mayor said, “but we don’t know that.”

More balderdash. Of course, we know that. Some of us actually do our homework and know the historical trends and the features of the coastline that protect Southern Shores.

Southern Shores has not experienced a severe storm since the Ash Wednesday nor’easter of 1962. This is not just dumb luck or chance. Hurricanes, such as Isabel in 2003, scatter by the time they reach Southern Shores, according to two eminent N.C. coastal geologists whom we consulted in January 2020.

Laypeople may fear sea-level rise and speculate about future storm damage—which is what the Town’s coastal engineer did—but the Town Council must hang its hat on historical data, not on prejudicial conjecture.

There is no reason to believe that Southern Shores, which has a much lower long-term average erosion rate than our neighbors to the south, is suddenly going to be “compromised,” as Mr. Holland said.

Indeed, we challenge him to provide evidence that it will be.

Comparisons in shoreline change rates in Southern Shores that the N.C. Division of Coastal Management compiled in 1998, 2009, and 2016 clearly show its stability. In fact, the shoreline gained width (it accreted) and never lost more than about 0.7 foot in those years, depending on the location of the beachfront. 

This stability contrasts sharply with the DCM’s shoreline change rate comparison in Kitty Hawk over the same time period. Sections of the Kitty Hawk oceanfront lost more than 3 feet in 2016 and more than 4 feet in 1998.  

Mr. Holland admitted last week that he does not go to the Southern Shores beach and has no firsthand knowledge of its condition. We suggest that he do more scientific research and consult more with coastal environmental experts, rather than waste time talking with uninformed town property owners about their views on beach nourishment and MSDs.

Town Council members who approve a $14.5 million beach nourishment project and then unequally tax property owners to pay it off should know the unique features and history of the Southern Shores coastline. Erosion, or severe damage, of the Southern Shores coastline should not be not a matter for wild speculation by elected officials.

Mr. Ogburn displayed slides last week from a Power-Point presentation given by financial consultant DEC Associates that showed financing options available to the Town to pay for its beach nourishment project. 

Although Mr. Ogburn said this information dated to a January 2020 presentation by DEC Associates, the consultant actually first provided it to the Town Council at a February 2019 meeting—in plenty of time for the Council to consider funding the 2022 project in a different manner, including with general obligation bonds, which would have to be approved by a voter referendum.

Mr. Ogburn falsely characterized the question a 2020 referendum would have posed to Southern Shores voters as “whether they would be willing to raise the taxes on themselves” to pay for beach nourishment. In fact, Southern Shores voters would have been voting on whether or not to do beach nourishment at all.

A referendum would have taken this huge undertaking out of the hands of five people with no particular acumen for making this decision. It might even have forced the Town Council to bring in oceanographers and other coastal environmental experts to answer the public’s questions.  

Neither the 2019 Southern Shores Town Council nor the 2020 Town Council ever investigated any other financing method except special obligation bonds and MSDs because that is what DEC Associates was peddling.

We attended all of the Town’s meetings with Andrew and Doug Carter, the folksy father-son team of DEC Associates. They breezily dismissed the general obligation bond option because it requires a referendum, which they viewed as unnecessarily time-consuming.  

Last week, Councilman Holland suggested that DEC Associates’ financial information be put on the Town website, where it has been displayed for more than two years.

Ms. Morey thanked Mr. Ogburn for the financial refresher, saying: “I know we saw this before, [but] maybe just the repetition . . . I get it now.”

I get it NOW? This is unacceptable.

Mayor Bennett and Councilman Conners were on the Council in 2019. They both opted for the Carter team’s cookie-cutter approach, without question. The terms of both expire this year.

We will continue our critique as soon as we can and then retreat for a while. We definitely will return in time for Town Council candidate filings in July.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/13/21

5/5/21: TOWN COUNCIL UNANIMOUSLY APPROVES 2 MSDS; TOWN MANAGER PRESENTS PROPOSED FY 2021-22 BUDGET WITH RECOMMENDED TAX RATES TO FUND BEACH NOURISHMENT. $30,400 Budgeted for Cut-Thru Traffic Mitigation.

The Town Council unanimously voted last night to approve establishing two municipal service districts for beach-nourishment funding, and Town Manager Cliff Ogburn presented a recommended fiscal year 2021-22 budget that specifies tax rates for properties in those MSDs, as well as town-wide, to pay for the 2022 project, but has no general tax-rate increase.

Mr. Ogburn recommended that the general tax rate in FY 2021-22 remain 19.58 cents per $100 of assessed property value, but said that there will be a tax-rate increase in FY 2022-23. He submitted a balanced budget of $7,841,910—the highest ever in Southern Shores.

(PLEASE NOTE: Of that amount, only $30,400 is budgeted for cut-thru traffic mitigation. There is no explanation in Mr. Ogburn’s budget message or in the proposed budget how that total was derived and how the money would be used. The expense is itemized as a “Contracted Service” under the Public Works Dept. budget. We highly recommend that you attend the Town Council’s May 18 budget workshop if you would like to comment on this proposed allocation.)

To raise revenue to pay for the Town’s annual beach-nourishment obligation of $1,224,775 over the next five years, Mr. Ogburn recommended that properties in the newly created MSD-1, which covers the oceanfront, be assessed a tax of 18.42 cents; those in MSD-2, be assessed 6.42 cents; and all other properties be assessed 3.42 cents.

His proposed rates, thus, are: 12 cents for MSD-1; 3 cents for MSD-2; and 3.42 cents for all other properties. Because MSD-1 overlaps MSD-2 and the rest of the town, and MSD-2 overlaps properties “town-wide,” the total tax-rate increase for the MSDs is cumulative.  

Bottom line: Taxpayers who own property outside of the two MSDs would pay a total tax of 23 cents per $100 of value in FY 2021-22, if the Town Council adopts Mr. Ogburn’s recommendations. MSD-1 property owners would pay 38 cents, and MSD-2 property owners would pay 26 cents.

Mr. Ogburn further calculated that the revenue generated from property taxes for beach nourishment would cover $1,074,633 of the project debt and said that an additional $200,000 would be contributed by the Town’s capital reserve fund—thus bringing total revenue to $1,274,633, which is $49,858 over what is needed. The excess amount would go into the Town’s beach nourishment fund, he said.

The Town Council will hold a budget workshop at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, May 18, in the Pitts Center. A public hearing on the budget will be held during the Council’s regular monthly June 1 at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.

PROPERTY OWNERS SPEAK AGAINST MSDs; NCDOT SAYS NOTHING NEW ABOUT MID-CURRITUCK BRIDGE; THE BANDWAGON CONTINUES

Last night’s meeting was a lengthy one, in part because of public comments by property owners who voiced opposition to the municipal service districts. We will highlight their arguments in a subsequent posting.

Before the comment period, two employees of the N.C. Dept. of Transportation who appeared remotely and shared a power-point presentation gave an “update” of the Mid-Currituck Bridge project that could easily have been dispensed with.

Rodger Rochelle, chief engineer for the N.C. Turnpike Authority, and Jennifer Harris, who also works for the turnpike authority and is project manager for the bridge, confirmed what we already know: Construction has been delayed because of a “legal challenge.”

In the meanwhile, the NCDOT employees assured us, they are doing what they can to prepare for the bridge with permitting, design work, etc.

Neither Mr. Rochelle nor Ms. Harris said anything about the progress of the litigation, and no one on the Town Council asked. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has filed suit on behalf of interested local parties who formed a non-profit organization in order to qualify for representation by the SELC.

The lawsuit essentially alleges that construction of the 4.7-mile bridge from Aydlett to Corolla, as well as other related construction, would significantly damage the natural environment and cause harm to animal and human life alike.

When asked by Mayor Tom Bennett if he could provide a tentative starting date for the bridge’s construction, Mr. Rochelle replied that he could not, because of the litigation, but he did reveal that before construction can start, “a year of pre-construction” must occur.

Six property owners spoke in person at last night’s meeting in opposition to the municipal service districts, and the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey read three more protests that were emailed to the Town by other property owners.

In contrast to the Town Council’s April 13 meeting, when members took the first vote of two votes required by N.C. law to approve an ordinance to establish the MSDs without expressing any viewpoints, last night’s meeting featured discussion and commentary by the Council members, who at times directly addressed the audience.

Once the vote was taken, the near-capacity audience—seating was limited because of social distancing—left, without hearing Mr. Ogburn’s budget message.

The Beacon never doubted the outcome for a moment, because we have followed the beach-nourishment bandwagon since its formation and reported on it extensively.

At a March 6, 2018 Town Council meeting, coastal engineering consultant Ken Willson, who is now overseeing the Town’s 2022 project, reported on his company APTIM’s 2017 Southern Shores beach assessment, informing the Council that the coastline is in good shape, with “stable” dunes.

Just three years ago, Mr. Willson told the Town Council that the Southern Shores “shoreline is looking fairly stable” and there is “no big rush” to “jump” on beach nourishment.

“I think time is on your side,” he concluded.

Nonetheless, Mr. Willson recommended that the Council authorize APTIM to conduct a “vulnerability assessment of the oceanfront structures” and to determine the “minimum cross-section of [sand] volume” that should be maintained to protect the shoreline from FUTURE storm damage.

And, just so the Town Council would have the information it needs, he said, he would provide a “five-year plan” for “what a project would look like” when he conducted the vulnerability assessment and the volume determination.

Not that the Town needs to implement that five-year plan, you understand. The options Mr. Willson presented would not be recommendations, he emphasized; they would just be options for the Town Council to consider.

See The Beacon, 1/19/20, for background. (We have written numerous articles!)

Since then, we have seen how Mayor Bennett, with the support of at least two other Council members—he now has four on his side—and former Town Manager Peter Rascoe, steered the bandwagon to reach the moment that the Council reached last night.

Those property owners who have vocally opposed the MSD tax structure in the past two months needed to oppose beach nourishment last year—not forever, but for now—in order to succeed. They needed to put the brakes on and ask the Council to consider alternate methods of funding before it voted to “pursue” beach nourishment.

Once they gave the Town Council their vote of approval, the MSDs were a done deal. The Town Council was not going to consider another method of funding; it never has.

We pointedly asked the Town Council in public comments in an October 2019 meeting why the Council was not considering general obligation bond funding and received no reply.

The past two councils have done no thinking outside of the box on beach-nourishment funding. They have simply fallen in step with what all of the other beach towns have done.

We will do some thinking for them in an upcoming blog article.

When you vote for a new mayor and a new Council member this year, we strongly urge you to vote for someone with vision—someone who will reach out to all of the other Dare County beach towns about beach-nourishment funding and encourage cooperative action.

We have much to say about last night’s meeting, but very little time in which to say it until next week.

We were disappointed, but not surprised, by some of the misinformation and lack of knowledge expressed last night by Town Council members, especially in regard to funding, and we believe it is important to expose both. 

(Speaking personally, the first two weeks of May are an exceptionally busy time for my family and me. Today is my mother’s 97th birthday, or as she calls it, her “un-birthday,” a word coined by author Lewis Carroll, not her. I will stop here and pick up when I can.)

Mr. Ogburn has been true to his word about posting the recommended FY 2021-22 budget on the Town website first thing this morning. You may access it here:

Last night’s meeting can be viewed on the Town’s You Tube website in two parts: The first part covers the agenda through the first public-comment period, when the Council took a break. Part two picks up with the Council’s discussion of the MSDs.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/5/21

4/30/21: TOWN MANAGER TO DISTRIBUTE PROPOSED FY 2021-22 BUDGET AT MAY 4 COUNCIL MEETING. Second Vote on 2 MSDs, ‘Update’ on Mid-Currituck Bridge Project Also on Agenda.

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn will “file” his proposed Town of Southern Shores’ operating budget for fiscal year 2021-22, which begins July 1, with the Town Council at its meeting next Tuesday, and “distribute” it then, too, according to the meeting agenda now on the Town website.

A date for a public hearing on the budget also will be announced at the meeting, according to the agenda, which you may access here, along with the meeting packet:

The Town Council will meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. All attendees must wear masks and observe COVID-19 safety protocols. The meeting also will be live-streamed on the Town’s You Tube website. There will be two public-comment periods.

*Also scheduled on the Town Council’s agenda is a second vote on the proposed municipal service district ordinance, as amended and approved by the Council at its April 13 meeting.

In order to establish two MSDs for the purpose of generating revenue for the 2022 beach nourishment by levying higher tax-rate increases on property owners in those districts, a majority of the Town Council members present at two separate meetings must approve the ordinance.

The Town Council approved the amended MSD ordinance, 4-0, with Councilman Jim Conners absent, in April. 

You will find the amended text of the ordinance on page 8 of the meeting packet.

*Before the discussion of any town business, according to the agenda, the Town Council will hear a “status update on the Mid-Currituck Bridge,” from Jennifer Harris, an engineer with the N.C. Dept. of Transportation’s Turnpike Authority.

According to the NCDOT’s website, the Mid-Currituck Bridge is a project “in development” that has been delayed “as efforts to fight COVID-19 have greatly impacted the N.C. Dept. of Transportation’s budget.”

The bridge construction, previously estimated to take more than two years, was initially scheduled to begin in summer 2022.

Ms. Harris and engineer Rodger Rochelle gave an update on the project in January 2020, which is available here:

The proposed FY 2021-22 budget is the first that Mr. Ogburn, who formerly served as Nags Head town manager, has prepared since he was hired by the Town last year.

In a break with the procedure observed by former Town Manager Peter Rascoe, Mr. Ogburn did not hold an item-by-item budget workshop in April with the Town Council. Instead, he held a workshop in March in which he sought the Council’s input on how to balance the budget, which, he said at the workshop, had a shortfall in revenues to cover expenses of more than $1 million.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/30/21

4/29/21: GOVERNOR: JUNE 1 IS LIFTOFF FOR INDOOR MASK MANDATE IF 2/3 OF N.C. ADULTS ARE PARTIALLY VACCINATED AND COVID-19 METRICS ARE STABLE; PUBLIC SOCIAL DISTANCING, OCCUPANCY REQUIREMENTS ALSO WOULD END.

If two-thirds of North Carolinians age 18 and older have been at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus and the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and other telltale COVID-19 metrics statewide remain stable, Governor Roy Cooper will lift the indoor-mask mandate and all other public restrictions, including social distancing, on June 1.

If two-thirds of all adults in North Carolina are not partially vaccinated by June 1, but COVID-19 metrics are level, the Governor said he would end all current restrictions except for the indoor mask mandate.

Governor Cooper announced this commitment last week, and he reiterated it at a 10-minute briefing yesterday at which he also announced a new executive order that will lift the outdoor mask mandate and ease restrictions on mass-gathering capacity limits, starting at 5 p.m. tomorrow.

New Executive Order 209 supplants EO 204 and is set to expire at 5 p.m. on June 1. See: https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO209-Easing-Statewide-Restrictions.pdf

Although mask-wearing outdoors will no longer be required, both the Governor and Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Dr. Mandy Cohen recommended yesterday that people still wear masks when they are in crowded areas outdoors or in higher risk settings where six-foot social distancing is difficult.

EO 209 also raises mass-gathering capacity limits from 50 to 100 people indoors and from 100 to 200 people outdoors. Larger venues for live entertainment may be eligible to increase their guest capacity if they receive pre-approval of their health and safety plans from the NCDHHS. Business occupancy limits currently in effect will remain in place.  

For a rundown of occupancy limits, see FAQs about the Executive Order at: https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO-No.-209-FAQ.pdf.

Governor Cooper asked North Carolinians to “work hard in May” so that he can safely lift all public social distancing and mass-gathering capacity and occupancy limits on June 1, in time for summer.

“The critical piece of our success,” he emphasized, “is getting vaccinated.”

To this end, Dr. Cohen announced that the NCDHHS will be launching a “Bringing Back Summer” initiative in May to encourage vaccinations.

A community-centered campaign, Bringing Back Summer will rely on local organizations to register with the NCDHHS to obtain communication toolkits for use in encouraging people to get vaccinated. See https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/BringSummerBack for details.

As of yesterday, Dr. Cohen said, 48.7 percent of North Carolinians age 18 and older had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 39.2 percent of such adults were fully vaccinated.

An impressive 70 percent of all North Carolinians age 65 and older are fully vaccinated, the Secretary said, a figure that she noted has translated to a reduction of COVID-19 cases among this age group.

Dr. Cohen also said that the “very, very rare blood clot disorder” associated with the administration of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which resulted in a “pause” in its use, occurred in only 15 cases out of 8 million doses. She expressed confidence in the J&J vaccine, which she herself received.

Vaccines are currently available to all North Carolina residents and property owners age 16 or older through the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services (DCDHHS).

You may register for vaccination online at www.darenc.com/covidvaccine or email the DCDHHS at covid19@darenc.com. If you register online, you should receive a call within 24 hours to schedule your appointment, according to the DCDHHS, which no longer has a waiting list.

Vaccines are also available through Walgreens, Sunshine Family Pharmacy, Island Pharmacy, Bear Drugs, and Beach Pharmacy. The DCDHHS advises that you should call the pharmacy directly to inquire about its vaccination protocols and to schedule an appointment.  

I would like to extend a personal thank you to Bear Drugs pharmacist Laurie Graham, who came out to my car to vaccinate a member of my family who is mobility-challenged. For that reason—and out of an abundance of caution—I did not register her for vaccination through the county.

I am happy to report that this elder suffered no ill effects from the first dose of her Moderna vaccine and enjoyed being out of the house for a change.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/29/21

4/26/21: THE FATALITY ON OCEAN BOULEVARD AT THE CHICAHAUK BEACH ACCESS: HOW MANY MORE SECONDS WOULD HAVE PREVENTED A TRAGEDY?

The crossing sign on the east side of Ocean Boulevard at the Ocean Boulevard-Chicahauk Trail intersection. The beach access is visible in the background at left.

How many seconds do you think a pedestrian walking with the crossing sign in the crosswalk at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Chicahauk Trail needs to get safely across Ocean Boulevard so he or she can use the beach access?

Suppose the pedestrian is mobility impaired and walks slowly, is hauling a lot of beach equipment, or is walking with small children. How many seconds do you think these variously situated pedestrians need?

How many seconds do you think the crossing sign at the most popular beach access in Southern Shores currently allows pedestrians to get safely across Ocean Boulevard at Chicahauk Trail?

A 65-year-old man from Connecticut who was in Southern Shores for the wedding of his son was struck by a vehicle 10 days ago while walking in this crosswalk and later died of his injuries at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

According to police and local media accounts, Robert Henry Ouellette, Jr., of Watertown, Conn., was trying to cross over to the Chicahauk beach access about 8:20 p.m. on Friday, April 16, with a group of family members and friends when he was hit by a vehicle heading north.

Mr. Ouelette was reportedly a longtime baseball and football coach at Watertown High School who had retired.

Southern Shores police reported that northbound traffic had been stopped at the red light when some members of Mr. Ouelette’s party crossed Ocean Boulevard safely. Mr. Ouelette and his wife, however, followed them after the traffic light turned green and the pedestrian sign signaled no crossing.

According to police, Mr. Ouelette waited for one car to pass, but was struck by the next car. His wife crossed safely ahead of him.  

Police determined that the driver of the car that hit him, William Thomas King, Jr., 60, of Fort Washington, Md., was not speeding or impaired. No charges were filed or are expected to be filed against Mr. King.

This was a preventable tragedy—and not just because that Mr. King could have been more alert, ensuring that no one was in the intersection before he entered it, or that Mr. Ouelette could have observed the crossing sign and held back.

No, this tragedy could have been prevented if the crossing sign and the traffic light were timed to give pedestrians ample time to cross the busy thoroughfare safely.

How much time do you think is ample?

The State of North Carolina has jurisdiction over N.C. Hwy. 12, which runs through Southern Shores as Ocean Boulevard and Duck Road, and is in charge of maintaining the traffic signals and devices at the Ocean Boulevard-Chicahauk Trail intersection.

But the Town of Southern Shores also has responsibility for the road and the people who use it, as well as the traffic flow. Through its police department, it has on-the-ground oversight. It knows the road conditions and can assess whether public hazards exist that could be corrected and take measures to correct them. The N.C. Dept. of Transportation is not likely to deny a request by the Southern Shores police to make a change.

It is unquestionably foreseeable that people will be crossing to the beach at this well-used intersection at all hours of the day and night, and that some of them will cross against the traffic light and do exactly what Mr. Ouelette did.

The answer to how many seconds the crossing sign at this intersection currently allows for a pedestrian to walk across the road—at least today when we conducted an on-the-scene experiment—is no more than 15 seconds, if you’re quick off the starting block.

The answer to whether 15 seconds are ample is no. Emphatically no.

(Shockingly, we also discovered today that bicyclists and pedestrians who cross U.S. Hwy 158 at its intersection with Kitty Hawk Road near the Kitty Hawk Post Office have only 22 seconds to do so safely before the light changes! Nobody who is mobility-challenged should even attempt to cross.)

In our exercise in Southern Shores this afternoon, we pressed the button that a pedestrian must press at the Ocean Boulevard-Chicahauk Trail intersection just to get traffic to stop—the crossing sign did not work for us otherwise—waited for the sign to give us the go-ahead, and then counted the seconds.

Two to three seconds elapsed before the sign started counting down the seconds, and it started its count at 13. Thirteen. We were stunned. We thought we would get at least 20 seconds and considered 20 even insufficient. (That was before we knew about the 22-second hustle at Hwy. 158-Kitty Hawk Road.)

After the crossing sign reached zero, the traffic stopped at the red light had to wait about 4 seconds before the light turned green. Just four seconds.

Yes, it is still the shoulder-season; yes, fewer people are crossing the Ocean Boulevard thoroughfare to go to the beach than will be crossing during the summertime; and yes, most of these few are not loaded down with beach equipment or with babies and children.

Presumably the timing of the crossing sign will increase with the high season. But by how much? And will it be enough to ensure safety for the vacationing public, which tends to be more distracted, slower, and not as quick “on the gas” as the drivers waiting at the red light?

We wonder: Have there been other pedestrians struck in the crosswalk under circumstances similar to those that Mr. Ouelette experienced? What is the accident history at this intersection?  

There are a number of ways to make the Ocean Boulevard-Chicahauk Trail intersection safer for pedestrians.

You can put up road signs before the intersection cautioning drivers to watch out for pedestrians.

You can lower the speed limit before the intersection so that drivers will have slowed down considerably from the 45 mph–or 35 mph in the summertime–that they can legally drive on this stretch of N.C. Hwy. 12.

You can put lights at the crosswalk, on either side of the road and in the crosswalk itself, so drivers will be more aware of pedestrians.

You also can time the crossing sign so that pedestrians have at least 60 seconds or longer to cross the road in the summertime and at least 30 seconds to cross it in the off- and shoulder-seasons. Further, you can increase the time lapse between the expiration of the crossing sign and the traffic light’s change from red to green to at least 10 seconds.

If it was not on notice before, the Town of Southern Shores certainly is on notice now about this intersection and the safety hazards it poses to pedestrians. The red flag is waving large.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/26/21

4/24/21: EDITORIAL COMMENTARY: THE TOWN COUNCIL DISAPPOINTS IN MSD VOTE BY NOT RESPONDING DIRECTLY TO THE PUBLIC.

The Beacon was surprised and, frankly, insulted when the Southern Shores Town Council took its first vote at its April 13 meeting to establish the two proposed municipal service districts for beach-nourishment funding and approved them, with a minor change, WITHOUT first:

  • having any discussion about any of the issues raised by Southern Shores property owners in written and verbal comments to the Council;
  • addressing the exclusion requests that were filed by three property owners—one of whom came from Richmond to present his case in person and was ignored—and were on the meeting agenda;
  • saying anything to the dozens of people who participated in the March 16 MSD public hearing; and
  • telling property owners when they will be setting the tax rates, assuming the MSDs are approved on the second vote.

Nobody on the Council even thought it appropriate to say a simple thank you to property owners: “Thank you, we appreciate the time you took and the effort you made to communicate with us. We respect your positions.”

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn referenced the fact that the Town Council had heard from numerous property owners, in emails and at the March 16 public hearing, and had had an opportunity to reflect on what it had heard. But no elected official spoke to any of the public comments.  

We find ourselves asking of the Town Council: Who do they think they are, if they do not think of themselves first as public servants who represent the public’s interests and owe the public an explanation of all of their actions?

“Playing it close to the vest” is not an option here. Not when thousands of increased tax dollars every year are at stake, and people are worried.

Why did the Town Council reject the option of having one town-wide tax to pay for the 2022 beach nourishment project? It should tell us.

Councilman Jim Conners did not even bother to attend the meeting to cast a vote in the first of the two votes required to be taken on the proposed MSDs.

At the top of the meeting, Mayor Tom Bennett said: “Councilman Conners asked to be excused for this evening’s meeting, and I granted his request. He will not be here in person.”

In our recollection, Councilman Conners has never missed a Town Council meeting in his nearly four years on the Council. That he chose to skip this important meeting without offering a reason to the public, and that the Mayor also declined to explain his absence, is an insult to the Southern Shores public. Mr. Conners is an elected public official. He should feel a duty to explain his reasons for not appearing and casting a vote on this critical measure. 

The Mayor’s peculiar phrasing, “He will not be here in person,” suggests that Mr. Conners may have been watching the meeting by livestream. If that was the case, that, too, should have been divulged to the public. If not, then the Mayor should have chosen better phrasing. Remote participation is an option for every Town Council member.

Believe it or not, we do not enjoy criticizing the Town Council—especially not after the Planning Board’s stumble last Monday. (The Planning Board, however, does not have seasoned lawmakers on it, and it is comprised of volunteers, not elected representatives.)

This Town Council is too often discussing important issues outside of a public forum and presenting their “consensus” as a done deal.

They may not be violating the letter of the N.C. open-meeting law—thanks to the wizardy of technology—but they are violating its spirit.

Cases in point:

1. Mayor Bennett expressed serious reservations at the Council’s Feb. 2 regular meeting about the scope of the 2022 beach nourishment project, and Councilman Leo Holland showed keen interest in what he was saying. The Mayor actually said he had been “agonizing” for months over how to handle the project. (See The Beacon, 2/5/21.)

No followup of these reservations ever occurred in public, however, because—poof!—they just disappeared. No more agony.

In the ensuing two-plus months, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Holland simply went along with the other Council members without saying a word to the public. They played no obvious role in the MSD discussion on April 13 other than to say “aye.”

Interestingly, the Town Clerk has not even posted minutes on the Town website for the Feb. 2 regular meeting, although she has posted minutes for two Council meetings that took place after the Feb. 2 meeting. 

2. Councilman Matt Neal made it clear at a Council meeting in January that he was opposed to including “oceanside” properties that do not abut the beach in MSD-1 and that he would continue to voice his opposition, despite being in the minority.

Oceanside or eastside properties are those properties that are east of Ocean Boulevard, but do not have beach frontage. There are quite a few on or off of Ocean Boulevard between the Duck Road split and Hickory Trail.

Mr. Neal made a pitch early on for all of the properties on Purple Martin Lane, Mockingbird Lane, Sandpiper Lane, the end of Hickory Trail, and oceanside near the Duck Road split, being in MSD-2. (Full disclosure: Two of the oceanside properties near the split belong to family members of mine.)

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey just as clearly told Mr. Neal that she saw no reason to differentiate such eastside properties from oceanfront properties. It appeared that he was going to have to do some serious convincing.   

Thus, we were bemused when the Mayor Pro Tem led the charge at the April 13 meeting to amend the map of District 1 to exclude these properties, speaking in a halting fashion as if the exclusions were just occurring to her. (“If I remember correctly . . .”)

Are we to believe that Ms. Morey had no communication with Mr. Neal, and that they did not resolve their differences outside of public earshot?

Guess whom the Mayor Pro Tem asked to make the motion to effectuate this—along with a further change—and who seconded it? By April 13 Ms. Morey’s opposition to Mr. Neal’s position had transformed into fawning deference.

NO ONE SPOKE AT ONCE, AND NO ONE EVER SPOKE TO THE PUBLIC

Nearly 20 seconds passed after Town Manager Cliff Ogburn laid the foundation for the Town Council’s vote on the MSD ordinance before anyone spoke. It was the Mayor who broke the silence, but not to say anything substantive.

“Any thoughts on this, Council, that you want to share with us? Anyone?” the Mayor asked. “Elizabeth? Matt? Leo?”

Beat. Second beat.

“So, originally, um,” Ms. Morey began, haltingly, “MSD 1, um, I think, did not include some of those properties—ohhh (big sigh), let me see if I can get my geography straight . . .”

This “geography” is that small patch of land that includes the lanes we just mentioned.

If this uh-um-let-me-see-if-I-can-recall opening salvo by Ms. Morey and the exchange that she subsequently had with Mr. Neal were not planned, then Ms. Morey should see a neurologist about her memory.

Ms. Morey and Mr. Neal laid out exactly what the Town Council was going to do, and it coincided with what Mr. Neal had said all along. At least he was consistent and forthcoming.

Speaking personally, I found the discussion engineered by Ms. Morey, who could have plowed through the amendment, but insisted on deferring to Mr. Neal, Town Attorney Ben Gallop, and Mr. Ogburn, to be political theater. It offended me greatly, as an oceanfront property owner, as a voter, and as a longtime taxpayer and resident, who expects better from elected officials.

I expect elected officials to be directly responsive and accountable to property owners and to go on the record with their views. If I want to watch a staged production, I’ll go to an off-Broadway play and see trained actors.

Instead of asking for the Council’s “thoughts,” the Mayor might have taken the time to acknowledge Southern Shores property owners, especially those in MSD-1 who expect to take a big tax hit. But none of the four Council members was inclined to show any concern for property owners.

They were especially dismissive, we believe, of Tom Peabody, whose family first bought property in Sea Crest Village in 1959 and built a beach box on Sixth Avenue in 1984.  

A non-resident property owner, Mr. Peabody came down from Richmond to plead his case in person for his property’s exclusion from MSD-2. He had a good argument that the northern section of the Southern Shores coastline does not need beach nourishment. That is what the Town’s coastal engineer said, and the Mayor pointed out at the Feb. 2 meeting. (But you cannot read the minutes yet.)

Unfortunately, Mr. Peabody labored under the misassumption that the Council would actually consider his request.

Before Mr. Peabody’s turn in public comments, Mayor Bennett reminded all speakers that they have only three minutes to speak and affirmed the “fact that this is not a question-and-answer period.”

Of course, the March 16 public hearing, over which Mr. Gallop presided, was handled the same way. No “Q and A.”

When does this Town Council ever engage the public in public?

At NO time during its discussion about changing the MSD-1 boundary—which was its only discussion about the MSDs before its vote—did the Town Council address Mr. Peabody’s request or those of two other applicants, who were homeowners on Ocean Boulevard and the Southern Shores Civic Assn.

The Beacon has confirmed with Mr. Peabody, who abruptly left the meeting in disgust after the MSD vote, that he has not heard anything from the Town about his request.

I am grateful that I did not waste my time writing an exclusion request, only to have it summarily dismissed by Mr. Ogburn who advised the Council if it made an exception for one property, then it would have to make an exception for others, and if it approved the ordinance, it would implicitly be rejecting the exclusion requests.

That does not cut it with us. Again, we ask: Who do they think they are if they are not public servants accountable to the public?

The Town has announced that the second vote on the ordinance establishing the two MSDs will be held at the Town Council’s May 4 meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. The language defining District One now reads:

“All properties that abut the ocean beach of the Atlantic Ocean having an eastern boundary greater than or equal to 25 feet, beginning at the southern town limit and extending to the northern town limit.”

The new language exempts those eastside properties that Mr. Neal always wanted to exempt, as well as irregular “flat lots” with limited beach frontage.

For the text of the ordinance, see https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/ordinance-establishing-municipal-service-districts/.

NO WORD ABOUT THE BUDGET OR CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC

Also disappointing to us was Town Manager Cliff Ogburn’s failure to say anything in his April 13 report about the filing of his recommended fiscal year 2021-22 budget and whether there will be a need for a general tax-rate increase. He also said nothing about cut-through traffic prevention.

Mr. Ogburn has previously said that he would submit his recommended budget to the Town Council at its May 4 meeting, but he did not confirm this, nor did he mention the scheduling of any budget workshops.

The two issues of most importance to most property owners in this town are taxes and traffic.

But no longer does the Town Council extend the public the courtesy of knowing well in advance when a budget workshop will be held and, therefore, when it is likely to discuss and vote upon tax rates and traffic mitigation. It changed the calendar this year, omitting workshop dates.

A preliminary budget workshop, purportedly designed to give Mr. Ogburn guidance, was held March 16, but there have been no public budgetary discussions since. By the time a “public hearing” is held on the FY 2021-22 budget, it likely will be the usual done deal.  

We remind all Southern Shores voters that 2021 is an election year. We will be electing a new mayor and voting upon the seat currently held by Mr. Conners.

The Beacon asks you to cast about among the people you know to identify candidates who would serve the public in a forthright, honest, responsible, and transparent way.  

Four years ago the voters rejected two candidates who were committed to conducting the people’s business in public. We should not make that mistake again.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/24/21

4/20/21: CONFUSION: PLANNING BOARD STRUGGLES WITH ZTAs PROPOSED BECAUSE OF STATE LAW CHANGES. LOSES SIGHT OF INTENT OF ZTA PERMITTING TEMPORARY ACCESSORY UNITS FOR ‘IMPAIRED’ FAMILY MEMBERS, MUDDIES ZTA ON MANUFACTURED HOMES. (Sorry, Folks. You Need Some Guidance.)

Many yards behind single-family homes in Southern Shores have ample space for temporary family health-care structures.

If the proposed Zoning Text Amendment to add “temporary health-care structures” as a permitted accessory use to single-family homes in Southern Shores had simply reproduced the language of the N.C. statute it intends to implement, the Town Planning Board might not have gotten lost at its meeting yesterday in skepticism, confusion, and misunderstanding.

And it might not have appeared so unsympathetic.

But ZTA 21-02 does not—because CodeWright Planners’ principal Chad Meadows did not draft it that way—and Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett did not introduce the ZTA with adequate background, so the Board floundered.

See proposed ZTA 21-02 about temporary health-care structures here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/ZTA-21-02-Eaves-and-Temporary-Healthcare-Structures.pdf.

Only newly appointed full Board member Robert McClendon seemed to appreciate the point of ZTA 21-02, which is to give families caring for a mentally or physically impaired adult relative, who needs temporary help with TWO OR MORE “activities of daily living”—ADLs in caregiver parlance—a new, convenient, and desirable housing option.

The transportable residential structure would be a tiny house for Granny or a safe haven for a 21-year-old son recovering from a broken leg, not a trailer, as one Board member feared, and its zoning permit would have to be renewed annually.  

Once it is no longer needed, it would have to be removed. These structures are not meant to be small, sustainable nursing homes.

“[We] are coming off as people who are not sympathetic” to family caregivers and their loved ones, Mr. McClendon perceptively said, after listening to his colleagues veer off-course into how these temporary 300-square-foot structures, which can only house the “impaired” adult and must meet all building code standards, will be secured to the ground, lest they take flight and cause damage, and what they will look like—because there are neighbors who will have to look at them.

“Trying to get around this legislation is pretty sad,” Mr. McClendon aptly said, emphasizing, but not loudly or often enough, that the ZTA is about a “very specific, narrow, temporary use.” It is about helping families.

The Board seems “more concerned about aesthetics,” he noted.

We believe that Planning Board members would have understood better what was supposed to be before them if they had read N.C. General Statutes sec. 160D-915, the statute upon which ZTA 21-02 is based.

CodeWright chose to incorporate this zoning change into the Town Code by simply amending Code sec. 36-168, which addresses “temporary uses.” Poor decision.

“Temporary health care structures” should be dealt with in a separate Code section, as it is in NCGS 160D-915, which starts with a definition section. The way CodeWright structures the text is confusing.   

It most likely led to Vice Chairperson Tony DiBernardo insisting that all “licensed medical professionals”—a broad term he never limited—should be permitted to reside in the single-family home to which the temporary structure is an accessory.

At least that is the effect of what he argued, although he seemed not to understand that.

The N.C. statute makes it clear that the impaired person’s caregiver or legal guardian owns or occupies the single-family house on the property where the accessory structure is located. ZTA 21-02 muddies this requirement.

Mr. DiBernardo sought to include in the caregiver description those nurses, physical and occupational therapists, hospice workers, and any other health-care service providers who might visit a client with mental and/or physical impairment, but who would not typically live next door to him or her.

He seemed to believe, for reasons we could not figure out, that the ZTA would prohibit such people from caring for an impaired person, otherwise. But no zoning change could do that.

His confusion may have been the result of “intimidation by statute”—which other Board members, notably Chairperson Andy Ward (see below), also suffered from. Or perhaps it was because of Mr. Meadows’s poor draftsmanship.

Surprisingly, no one on the Board disagreed with him, not even Mr. McClendon.

Mr. DiBernardo specifically objected to the ZTA limiting the definition of a caregiver to “first- or second-degree relatives” of the impaired person, which would include a spouse, sibling, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, including half-, step-, and in-law relationships.

He seemed to miss the point that this is a caregiver who resides next door to the accessory structure, not all caregivers involved in the impaired person’s treatment plan.

He seemed especially bothered by the ZTA’s use of the terms “lineal descendant” (child, grandchild) and “lineal ascendant” (parent, grandparent), but these are the people who care every day for loved ones who cannot manage ADLs.

The Planning Board eventually voted unanimously to recommend the ZTA to the Town Council, with amendments that would require including licensed medical professionals among the permitted caregiver-residents and would clarify that such accessory structures must “meet all applicable state, local, and federal standards.” (Of course they must.)

Martin’s Point representative John Finelli voted with the Board.

The medical-professional amendment will not survive Town Council scrutiny, unless the Town Manager and the Council are not paying attention. Town Attorney Ben Gallop may step in before the Planning Board’s recommendation reaches the Council and delete it. The suggested change in caregiver definition actually opens up the installation and use of a temporary health-care structure to abuse.

As a lineal descendant (child) caregiver of a mentally and physically impaired person who needs assistance with all of her ADLs—bathing, dressing, ambulating, eating, toileting, transferring, etc.—I have considered the advantage of having a temporary structure in my back yard where my mother could live. (Or, vice versa, having a temporary structure in her back yard, where I could hang out.)

Of course, I knew the Code would not permit it.

I also am more fortunate than many adult children who are caregivers: I am able to care for my mother in her own home, which is where those of us who love our parents want them to live out their lives, if they can do so safely and with adequate care.

I also could not imagine moving my mother, who is still cognitively aware, although her memory and executive functioning are impaired, into an isolated and unfamiliar space the size of a bedroom where she would live alone. That would be devastating.

When the Planning Board discussion about ZTA 21-02 turned to consideration of a person with dementia living in a temporary health structure for as long as 10 years—and thus subjecting the neighbors to the unpleasant aesthetics of the tiny house—I knew that no one on the Board, either a regular or alternate member, had ever cared for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or any other dementia.

Isolating the person from the rest of the household is not advisable.

I/we will stop our analysis here. The real culprit in this unfortunate episode involving seven well-meaning people—the five Board members, Mr. Finelli, and Board alternate Jan Collins, who participated from the audience—is Mr. Meadows, who showed once again how not to draft an ordinance. He could not even transcribe a State statute properly.

If Planning Board members were to read N.C. General Statutes sec. 160D-915, the statute upon which ZTA 21-02 is based, they would be astonished by how clearly it is written and organized. It is narrowly tailored to permit in a single-family residential district a “temporary family health care structure” that provides “an environment facilitating a caregiver’s provision of care for a mentally or physically impaired person.”

This structure must meet all building code and zoning requirements.

We strongly urge Mr. Haskett to provide the Planning Board with the original State statutory language of any zoning ordinance amendments that CodeWright drafts (and rewrites) to conform with that language. If Mr. Gallop is not going to review CodeWright’s language before a ZTA reaches the Board, it is imperative that he do so.

We also suggest that Mr. Haskett use the “whereas” purpose section of a proposed zoning ordinance to elucidate the intent and history of proposed ordinances that are coming from CodeWright. He did a better job in this respect on the manufactured homes ZTA, 21-03, which the Planning Board also took up yesterday.

MANUFACTURED HOMES ZTA UNNECESSARILY AMENDED, TOO

The Board clearly had its antennae up about the arrival of manufactured homes in Southern Shores and its role in circumscribing them. For that reason alone, it may have overreacted to the health-care structure ZTA, which would have been straightforward and less problematic, had Mr. Meadows done his job better.

Nonetheless, the Planning Board also unanimously recommended the proposed ZTA on manufactured homes with unnecessary and/or inappropriate amendments. This time it was Chairperson Ward, the most senior member of the regular Board, who went off-track.

See proposed ZTA 21-03 about manufactured homes here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/ZTA-21-03-Manufactured-Homes.pdf.

Mr. Ward struggled throughout the meeting with understanding how to review the Code amendments that came through CodeWright’s “update,” especially when a change in State law was their impetus. At one point, he questioned whether the Board could discuss a proposed amendment without first making a motion to recommend its approval.

He was tentative and off his game, but he was not alone. In our opinion, no one on the Board showed a facility for reading and interpreting related State statutes. They all need help and should receive it before they convene again. They need to be prepped.

Mr. Ward seemed not to understand that the proposed manufactured homes ZTA was no different from any other proposed ZTA that the Town has drafted. It may have been compelled by a change in State law, but CodeWright—not the N.C. legislature—wrote it, with Town staff assistance, for application solely in Southern Shores.

It is a proposed local law. Period.

CodeWright prepared a fairly solid amendment to the Town zoning ordinance, allowing manufactured homes to be built as a conditional use in the Town’s R-1 low-density residential district and significantly restricting their appearance and dimensions.

Mr. Haskett described the aesthetic requirements as “fairly strong.” We agree.

Other conditional uses in the Town’s R-1 residential district include churches, country clubs, schools, and community recreation facilities. See Town Code sec. 36-205(c), which ZTA 21-03 amends by adding a section on manufactured homes.

According to Mr. Haskett, the only vacant land currently in the R-1 district is land owned by the Southern Shores Civic Assn. on either side of Duck Woods Drive, where the road meets U.S. Hwy. 158.

The lot to the west of Duck Woods Drive is 4.3 acres, and the lot to the east of the road is 3.4 acres, Mr. Haskett said.

Southern Shores currently excludes manufactured homes in its residential districts, although, strangely enough, they are mentioned in Town Code sec. 16-5, regarding “Provisions for flood hazard reduction.” (See below.)

In NCGS sec. 160D-910, which became law in 2019, the General Assembly found as a matter of policy that “manufactured housing offers affordable housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents who could not otherwise afford to own their own home” and prohibited local governments from “excluding manufactured homes from [an] entire zoning jurisdiction.”

Unlike the very specific “temporary health-care structures” statute that the General Assembly passed, NCGS sec. 160D-910 does not dictate to local governments how they must incorporate manufactured homes into their zoning scheme, giving them a lot of leeway in regulating such homes and where they may be located.

This broad discretion may have confused Mr. Ward, who started out thinking that the ZTA drafted by CodeWright and Town staff had been written by the State legislature. Instructed otherwise twice by Mr. Haskett, he still floundered, perhaps being unsure of how to read NCGS sec. 160D-910, a copy of which Mr. Haskett gave each Planning Board member.

Not being a lawyer, a regulator, or a professional planner, Mr. Ward’s unease is understandable. These zoning changes are a lot to take in.

A manufactured home, according to N.C. law, is “a structure, transportable in one or more sections, which in the traveling mode is eight body feet or more in width, or 40 body feet or more in length, or, when erected on site, is 320 or more square feet.” See NCGS sec. 143-145 (7), which contains other criteria for the definition.

A citation to this statutory section should be in the Southern Shores Town Code, but it was not included in any of the amendments that the Planning Board approved when it recommended ZTA 21-03. This is a major oversight that should be corrected.

While ZTA 21-03 specifies the requirements that all manufactured homes in Southern Shores must meet once they arrive, it does not define a manufactured home.

There is also language about manufactured homes in Town Code sec. 16-5, as noted above, that must be reconciled with the new ZTA. CodeWright should have uncovered it in a simple word-search of the Town Code. 

In one of the ZTA amendments proposed by Mr. Ward, he deleted the word “firmly” from the following sentence: “They [meaning, stairs, porches, ramps, etc.] shall be attached firmly to the primary structure and anchored securely to the ground.”

“Firmly,” the Chairperson said, “is open to interpretation.”

He knows what “firmly” means in Southern Shores, Mr. Ward said, but he does not know what it means “out in Asheville.”

Not relevant. This is a Southern Shores ordinance, not an Asheville ordinance.

Similarly, Mr. Ward proposed replacing the word “securely” with language specifying “in accordance with local coastal building regulations.”

Unnecessary. This is a Southern Shores ordinance. Local building regulations will apply.

One sentence of the ZTA actually states that all manufactured homes must comply with the Southern Shores Code requirements about flood damage prevention.

Mr. Ward also amended a reference to the minimum projection of the homes’ eaves that needed no clarification. He added a qualification about the maximum eave projection, a qualification that exists nowhere else in the Town Code.

He and every other Board member, except Mr. Finelli, got confused about how eaves factor into setback and lot coverage calculations—a topic the Board intends to take up at its May 17 meeting. Mr. Finelli still voted in favor of the inapposite amendment.

And finally, an amendment to the ZTA that excepted temporary health-care structures from the language about attachment and anchoring was off the wall.

A temporary health-care structure is not a single-family dwelling, and the first requirement under the proposed zoning amendment for a manufactured home is that it “be occupied only as a single-family dwelling.”

The Planning Board needs your help, Mr. Haskett, Mr. Gallop, and Mr. Cliff Ogburn. It is in unfamiliar territory and needs guidance. Please extend your hands.   

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/20/21 

4/19/21: 15TH DARE COUNTY RESIDENT DIES OF COVID-19.

A Dare County resident who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 has died as a result of the infection, according to today’s Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services dashboard report.

Since March 2020, 15 local residents have died from the disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, aka SARS-CoV-2.

The DCDHHS reported a “status change” April 9 of two residents who tested positive for COVID-19 having to be hospitalized, but provided no demographic details about them.

One of the two was reported April 10 to have moved to home isolation, while no mention was made of the other until today’s announcement.

No other residents have been reported hospitalized in the past 10 days.

Forty-three people tested positive for COVID-19 in Dare County during the past seven days, 25 of them locals, according to the DCDHHS’s data. That is an increase of 11 over the preceding seven-day period.

Case totals were in the double digits on three of the past seven days: April 14, 16, and 17, all of which had 11 case reports. The cases range across all age groups, from young people under age 17 to people age 65 and over.

The DCDHHS continues to report that COVID-19 is predominantly being transmitted locally by close contact between family members, co-workers, and close friends.     

As of yesterday, 13,149 Dare Countians were fully vaccinated, and 15,369 had received their first doses. Anyone age 16 or older can register with the DCDHHS for a vaccine. There is no waiting list.

The Beacon, 4/19/21

4/18/21: N.C. HOME BUILDERS ASSN. DRAFTED STATE BILL TO ELIMINATE EXCLUSIVE SINGLE-FAMILY HOUSING ZONING, ALLOW ACCESSORY UNITS.

The Beacon has learned that the N.C. Home Builders Assn.’s legislative team drafted the bills introduced March 24 by the N.C. General Assembly to eliminate exclusive single-family dwelling zoning statewide and to force municipalities to allow multi-family dwellings and other dense development in all residential zones within their limits.

See The Beacon, 4/17/21, for a report on the bills, Senate Bill 349 and its companion, House Bill 401, which should be titled “Increase Builders’ Opportunities,” rather than “Increase Housing Opportunities.”

According to news items on the NCHBA’s website, the association’s legislative team drafted this “cutting-edge” legislation and “worked with” Senators Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus), and Toby Fitch (D-Wilson) to introduce SB 349 and with Representatives Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), Tim Moffit (R-Henderson), Mark Brody (R-Union), and Billy Richardson (D-Cumberland) to sponsor HB 401.

To our knowledge, none of the areas represented by these legislators is a high-dollar area where housing costs would be prohibitive.

Addressing just the Democrats’ home turf: Wilson County, whose largest town is Wilson, is south of Rocky Mount, and Cumberland County is home to Fayetteville.

The bill, according to a March 29 NCHBA news item, “would make it easier for builders to build duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in residentially zoned areas.”

In a later news item posted April 5, the NCHBA amends this language to specify that the bill would “allow property owners” to build these multi-family dwellings in “areas zoned for single-family structure.”

The NCHBA apparently thought better of emphasizing how the bill would improve the home builder’s bottom line, rather than the property owner’s freedom of choice, but not enough to delete the first item.

Neither news item mentions townhouses, the fourth type of “middle housing use” that SB 349/HB 401 would require local governments to permit in areas zoned for residential use, including those that allow only detached single-family dwellings.

Southern Shores homeowner Mark Martin, who owns Sandmark Custom Homes, Inc., is immediate past president of the NCHBA and currently serves on its executive committee.

Before his election to the Southern Shores Town Council, builder Matt Neal was active with the Outer Banks Home Builders Assn. (OBHBA), serving as president for two years, and the NCHBA.

Southern Shores and all other Dare County towns should call upon the OBHBA to state its position on this legislation and to reveal its lobbying effort, if any, in support of it. Was anyone from the OBHBA “in the room” when this intrusive and self-serving legislation was being formulated and discussed?

The NCHBA has been a powerful force behind the State legislature’s chipping away in recent years of local governments’ land-use and zoning authority in order to benefit the home-building industry.

That includes passage of SB 25 in 2015, which resulted in the elimination of the bedroom restriction in Southern Shores and the threat of a 16-bedroom wedding-destination venue being built by SAGA at 64 Ocean Blvd. Only a 3-2 majority vote by the Town Council in favor of limiting house size to 6,000 square feet prevented that from happening. The dissenting votes were cast by Mayor Tom Bennett and former Town Councilman Chris Nason, an architect who had a client relationship with SAGA.

See yesterday’s Beacon for a brief recall of that legislation. Pat McCrory, a Republican, was governor of North Carolina then. Current Governor Roy Cooper is a Democrat.

Knowing its origins, The Beacon does not see this bill as a progressive strike for affordable housing, but rather as another means by which the heavy-handed, overreaching home-building industry can profit.

As we said yesterday, if the N.C. General Assembly truly wants to increase affordable housing, it should give municipalities–especially population-dense cities such as Raleigh and Charlotte, which is in Mecklenburg County, not Cabarrus–incentives to build that housing in a rational plan, not strip them of their control.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/18/21

4/17/21: N.C. GENERAL ASSEMBLY SEEKS TO END EXCLUSIVELY ZONED SINGLE-FAMILY DWELLING DISTRICTS, MANDATE ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS; TOWN COUNCIL VOTES TO OPPOSE ITS PROPOSED LEGISLATION. Plus Planning Board To Consider Code Changes at Meeting Monday.

Southern Shores’ springtime large-item pickup occurred yesterday. The autumnal pickup will take place in October. If you see items remaining in the roadside in front of your home, you can safely assume that they were either overlooked or rejected.

The N.C. General Assembly is again intent on usurping local zoning authority, this time by preventing municipalities from zoning exclusively for detached single-family dwellings.*

Because Southern Shores is a town zoned primarily for single-family dwellings and committed to low-density development, the Town Council unanimously approved at its Tuesday meeting a resolution in opposition to proposed State legislation that would eliminate exclusive single-family dwelling zoning.

House Bill 401/Senate Bill 349, which was introduced March 24, also requires municipalities to allow all detached single-family homes to have accessory units.

(Councilman Jim Conners did not participate in the vote because he did not attend the meeting or participate by Zoom.)

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn will finalize the wording of the resolution and submit it to Dare County’s representatives, Senator Bob Steinburg (R-1st) and House Representative Bobby Hanig (R-6th), and others for circulation to the General Assembly.

If the legislation becomes law, all locally zoned residential housing districts in North Carolina would have to permit “middle housing” dwellings, which the bill specifies include duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, and townhouses.

A triplex is a building divided into three self-contained residences. A quadplex has four such residences.

According to the bill, a local government could regulate such middle housing only if its regulations “do not act to discourage development of middle housing types through unreasonable costs or delay.”  

The proposed legislation also requires local governments to allow at least one “accessory dwelling unit” for each detached single-family dwelling in a residential housing zone. Such a unit is “an attached or detached residential structure that is used in connection with or that is accessory to a single family dwelling.”

According to HB 401/SB 349, municipalities may not require accessory dwelling units to have minimum parking requirements or other parking restrictions, conditional use zoning, or owner-occupancy of either the main dwelling unit or the accessory unit.

The only exceptions in the proposed legislation, which is being touted as a means to “increase housing opportunities” and has bipartisan sponsorship, are for areas designated as local historic districts or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also, the middle-housing requirement would apply only to those areas that are served by a public water or sewer system or by a public wastewater collection or treatment works.

The bill also states that “private covenants or other contractual agreements among property owners relating to dwelling type restrictions” would still be valid and enforceable.

Southern Shores currently has a small multifamily residential district that permits detached single-family dwellings, duplexes, and “multifamily dwellings.” See Town Code sec. 36-203. No more than eight dwelling units may exist per net acre in this district.

A “multifamily dwelling” is defined elsewhere in the Town Code as a building, or portion of a building, that is used or designed as a “residence for three or more families living independently of each other and doing their own cooking therein.” Apartment houses and condominiums are included in this definition. See Town Code sec. 36-57.

The Town’s ordinances on accessory structures would have to be rewritten in order to conform to the demands of HB 401/SB 349.  

The promise of federal government benefits would appear to be behind the General Assembly’s sweeping, one-size-fits-all legislation.

President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan reportedly calls for cities to limit single-family dwelling zoning, which has been criticized as “exclusionary zoning” that results in de facto redlining of low-income Americans and people of color, and to build more affordable housing.

The President’s proposal reportedly would award federal grants and tax credits to cities that change their zoning laws to increase access to affordable housing.

Multifamily zoning also has been promoted as a means to combat the impact of climate change (increased heat) on low-income residents, as well as a way to improve their quality of life and lower their utility costs.

During the Town Council’s discussion Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey said she would like to include a statement in the resolution that would show the Town’s support, in general, for increasing affordable housing opportunities.

None of the other three Council members thought it necessary to amend the resolution that Mr. Ogburn had prepared and that was in their packet of meeting materials, but not in the packet available online to the public.

The proposed State legislation was not an agenda item for the Council’s meeting. It came up in the “Town Manager’s Report,” which is never itemized on the agenda. We did not request the text of the resolution.

No one on the Town Council brought up the obvious objection to the legislation, although Ms. Morey indirectly referred to it: The N.C. General Assembly is intruding upon traditional local-government territory by using what Ms. Morey aptly called “a sledgehammer approach” to a legitimate problem.

Affordable housing is lacking in many areas in North Carolina, most notably in cities, but also on the Outer Banks.

How long have we been hearing that seasonal workers on the Outer Banks, as well as many members of the local year-round work force, cannot afford to live on the Outer Banks? And what have the Dare County Board of Commissioners and the mayors and town councils of Dare County towns done about this worsening problem? A united collective effort is necessary.

It is fair to question whether residential zoning is excessively restrictive and thereby making it difficult for developers to build new, more affordable housing, as well as driving up rents and housing prices, a trend that has a disparate impact on low- and moderate-income residents.

It is also important to understand how residential zoning in an area dependent on a beach tourist economy differs from zoning in any other area. Local governments in beach towns know better than the State how their land-use plans contribute to the appeal of their towns and thus drive their economies.

It is also beyond doubt that U.S. municipalities historically have used zoning to erect barriers to racial and ethnic minorities. Zoning was initially designed to exclude people who were viewed as undesirable from residing in neighborhoods that were viewed as desirable because of their price and exclusivity.

Many people would say that multifamily housing decreases property values, and that increased density strains existing infrastructures, including schools and public safety services, and diminishes residents’ quality of life.

We are not going to engage in a political discussion about zoning and individual property rights, or embark on a historic exploration of housing discrimination in this country.

We do believe, however, that if the N.C. General Assembly truly wants to resolve inequities in housing and increase housing opportunities, it should offer incentives to municipalities to make smart changes, not impose its will upon them with a sledgehammer that will cause more damage than is either foreseeable or acceptable.

You may access the bills and see their history at:

For H.B. 401: https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2021/H401

For S.B. 349: https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2021/S349

*You may recall that action taken previously by the N.C. legislature resulted in the invalidation of Southern Shores’ restriction on the number of bedrooms in a single-family dwelling, thus making the town vulnerable to the construction of wedding-destination and convention venues and other types of “mini-hotels.”

In response to the General Assembly’s action, the Town Council enacted in January 2016 a restriction on single-family house size, setting the maximum at 6,000 square feet.

The Council subsequently enacted limitations on overnight occupancy in vacation homes and septic-capacity requirements on all single-family dwellings.  

PLANNING BOARD TO TACKLE PROPOSED TOWN CODE CHANGES

The Town Planning Board will consider six applications from the Town for proposed amendments to the Code of Ordinances at a 5 p.m. meeting Monday in the Pitts Center.

The meeting will be open to the public, subject to COVID-19 restrictions, and available for viewing live on the Southern Shores’ You Tube website.

The Planning Board’s role is strictly advisory. It will either recommend or not recommend to the Town Council each of the amendments. Only the Town Council can make law.

We regret that we do not have the time to detail all of the proposed amendments, which you may access here:

Among the concerns addressed are:

  • Performance guarantees and the procedure for establishing a “minor” subdivision, which consists of four or fewer lots
  • Construction of temporary health-care structures
  • Elimination of the ordinance regarding protests to zoning district changes
  • Elimination of the minimum size requirement for single-family dwellings (currently 1,000 square feet; the State of North Carolina is intruding here, too)
  • Construction of manufactured homes, which were previously prohibited (again, the State is requiring that manufactured homes be permitted)
  • Clarification that eaves on houses are not factored into setbacks

(For background, see The Beacon, 3/19/21.)

We were the most intrigued by a proposed new ordinance that enumerates all of the prohibited uses of land in all of the town’s districts.

See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/ZTA-21-04-Prohibited-Uses.pdf

Current Town Code sec. 36-89, which is titled “Use, occupancy and construction,” states that permitted and conditional uses are listed by zoning district, and that any use “not specifically designated as a permitted or conditional use shall be deemed to be prohibited.”

Proposed Town Code sec. 36-209 would appear to overrule this method, replacing it with a list of 49 specifically prohibited uses. They range broadly and include, for example:

  • Alcohol and drug detoxification, rehabilitation, and treatment facilities;
  • Bed and breakfasts;
  • Campgrounds;
  • Dormitories and residence halls;
  • Funeral homes;
  • Halfway houses;
  • Hotels/resorts;
  • Jetpack rentals;
  • Motor vehicle body and paint establishments;
  • Night clubs;
  • Nursing homes;
  • Pawn shops;
  • Produce stands;
  • Sexually oriented businesses;
  • Smoke and vapor shops;
  • Tattoo, body piercing, and body art establishments;
  • Transit stops;
  • Use of a boat, houseboat, or other floating structure as a temporary or permanent residence.

We would like to know the impetus for this ordinance and who drafted it.

Retail stores that are currently permitted in Southern Shores’ commercial district include those that sell antiques, books, candy, clothing, craft goods, drugs (pharmacies), food, gifts, hardware, jewelry, office supplies, and other garden-variety, general-interest shops.

Curiously, Town Code sec. 36-207, which deals with the commercial district, allows funeral homes. 

The prohibited uses defined by the proposed ordinance derive from the Town’s comprehensive zoning ordinance and land-use plan, which emphasize that Southern Shores is a town of detached single-family dwellings and low-density development.

Both the Town’s zoning ordinance and land-use plan would have to be revised substantially—a lengthy process—if H.B. 401/S.B. 349 were passed by the N.C. General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor. We would hazard a guess that hundreds of towns statewide would be in the same ridiculous predicament.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/17/21