9/18/21: PLANNING BOARD TO DISCUSS PROPOSED NEW SIGN ORDINANCE, REQUIREMENTS FOR PRODUCE STANDS. Candidate Meet-and-Greet Canceled.

A sign in a Southern Shores yard.

The Town Planning Board will meet Monday at 5 p.m. to discuss new Town Code sign regulations, as proposed in zoning text amendment (ZTA) 21-08, and potential requirements for produce stands in the commercial zoning district.

The meeting will be held in the Pitts Center. PLEASE NOTE: The starting time is one half-hour earlier than usual.

In addition to considering signs and produce stands, the Planning Board is expected to take up potential amendments to the Town Code chapter on solid waste, if time allows.

Board member Tony DiBernardo has previously spoken about his interest in improving the recycling system in Southern Shores so that the stream is less contaminated. Too often people, especially vacationers unfamiliar with town waste management, deposit trash and unrecyclable materials (i.e., contaminated materials, such as plastic bags) in recycling cans.     

You may access the meeting agenda, as well as the text of the proposed ZTA and all other supporting materials here: Planning Board will meet on September 20, 2021 | Town of Southern Shores, NC (southernshores-nc.gov)

For the ZTA text, see: REVISED-ZTA-21-08-Signage.pdf (southernshores-nc.gov)

For the staff report on ZTA 21-08, see: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/REVISED-PB-StaffReportZTA-21-08.pdf

ZTA 21-08 includes a rewrite of Town Code sec. 36-165 and consists, in significant part, of five new tables that specify requirements for:

Table A: Permanent signage in a residential district for nonresidential uses.

Table B: Permanent signage in a residential district for residential uses.

Table C: Permanent signage in the commercial district.

Table D: Permanent signage in the government/institutional district.

Table E: Temporary signage.

The ordinance is being rewritten to ensure that all sign regulations are content-neutral and, thus, in conformance with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Reed v. Gilbert, 576 U.S. 155.

Signs are a form of speech, and their content is protected by the First Amendment. When sign cases come before the Supreme Court, the issue is often whether a government regulation restricting their display infringes upon constitutionally protected political and ideological speech.

The Beacon supports “message” signs as a peaceful form of political protest and ideological expression and appreciates seeing such signs (such as the one above) in Southern Shores. Unfortunately, we will unable to cover Monday’s Planning Board meeting.

Speaking of political signs: Town Code sec. 36-165(7)(h) prohibits the display of any signs in public and private rights-of-way. If you would like to show your support for a Town Council candidate with a yard sign, please be sure to put it in your private yard and not in the public right of way, which can be hard to discern in some areas of town. (Some of the ROWs are very wide.)

Town staff members are actively removing all signs that are placed in the Town’s rights-of-way.

N.C. law permits the display of signs in the rights-of-way of state roads, such as N.C. Hwy. 12, subject to specific time restrictions. The owner(s) of the property that fronts on the right-of-way where a sign is erected must consent to its placement there.

CANCELLATION OF MEET-AND-GREET ON SUNDAY

Although I said earlier that I did not plan to report on my Town Council campaign in The Beacon, I am making an exception today to get the word out that I have canceled the candidate meet-and-greet that I had scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 19, from noon to 2 p.m., at 174 Ocean Blvd.

Changed family circumstances related to my mother’s health and well-being are compelling me, regretfully, to take this action.

ANOTHER COVID-19 DEATH IN DARE COUNTY

Because I have been preoccupied with my family, I did not notice yesterday that the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services reported another COVID-19-related death on its COVID-19 dashboard.

Three Dare County residents have died as result of an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the past month, bringing the total number of fatalities locally to 18.

The DCDHHS provided no details about the deceased person. According to its dashboard today, 12 local residents are hospitalized with COVID-19.

I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the person who died.

I wish everyone a safe and healthy weekend.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/17/21

9/11/21: COUNCIL MEETING WRAPUPS ON CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC, BEACH NOURISHMENT TAXES ON VEHICLES, AND 2022 PROJECT CONSTRUCTION.

The Southern Shores Town Council authorized Town Manager Cliff Ogburn at its Sept.. 7 meeting to pursue a $50,000 grant from the Dare County Tourism Bureau that would pay for a traffic-pattern study of summertime cut-through traffic and the purchase of barrels, cones, and other traffic barriers that the Town is currently renting.

As The Beacon reported 9/3/21, Mr. Ogburn proposes to contract with Streetlight Data, a company that collects “location records from smart phones and navigation devices in connected cars and trucks,” in order to illuminate traffic patterns in Southern Shores.

This data, Mr. Ogburn explained in an email to The Beacon, “can help us to better understand where the traffic that cuts through the residential streets . . . originates . . . [and] the volume of traffic that uses Southern Shores as a cut through by either turning off U.S. 158 or N.C. 12, [as well as where this traffic] exits the residential streets. . . .”

Mr. Ogburn will decide how to write the request for a Dare County Tourism Impact grant, which does not need to be matched by the Town.

In other cut-through traffic news announced last Tuesday, Mr. Ogburn reported on the vehicle counts on South Dogwood Trail for the two Sundays in August when the Town decided to lift previously planned no-left-turn bans at the U.S. Hwy 158/South Dogwood Trail intersection.

On Sunday, Aug. 8, when the left-turn prohibition was in effect, 1,556 vehicles traveled on South Dogwood Trail, according to Mr. Ogburn. On the ensuing Sunday, Aug. 15, he said, 1,065 vehicles used the road, going north, and on Sunday, Aug. 22, the northbound traffic count was 1,217 vehicles.  

The local-traffic-only barriers that had been in place on the residential roads in the dunes were removed during these two August weekends, as well.

During the weekend of Aug. 14-15, Mr. Ogburn reported, the cut-through traffic count in the 200 block of Sea Oats Trail increased from a summertime average of 939 vehicles to 1600 vehicles. Similarly, the traffic count on the 300 block of Sea Oats Trail increased from an average of 2400 vehicles to 3000 vehicles.

Town of Duck Pitching In

Mr. Ogburn also reported that the Town of Duck has hired a contractor who is “monitoring and counting” pedestrian use of its many crosswalks on N.C. Hwy. 12.

It has long been publicly discussed that the pedestrian crosswalks in Duck slow down the through traffic on N.C. Hwy. 12, creating a bottleneck at the town’s entry; but this is the first time we have heard from a Southern Shores town manager that Duck is concerned about the problem and is willing to cooperate with Southern Shores in addressing it.

Mr. Ogburn suggested to the Town Council that it would be a “good idea” for members to “sit down” with their counterparts in Duck and see “what we can do together.” We wholeheartedly agree.

Duck hired its new town manager, Drew Havens, in February, after longtime former Town Manager Christopher Layton resigned in July 2020, and Joseph Heard, Duck’s director of community development, served as interim town manager.

See Town of Duck Announces Drew Havens Has Been Appointed Town Manager – Town of Duck, North Carolina

Mr. Layton resigned a week after being arrested on assault charges stemming from an incident involving a female co-worker. He was hired in November 2002, about six months after the Town of Duck was incorporated.

According to a public release from Duck, Mr. Havens is a former police officer and firefighter with more than 20 years of municipal government experience, including most recently as manager of the Town of Apex, N.C.

Write to Your Congressman

And finally, Mr. Ogburn encouraged residents and property owners to write to their U.S. congressional representative, Dr. Gregory F. Murphy, to enlist his assistance in the “Build the Mid-Currituck Bridge” campaign.

Emails may be sent to Representative Murphy at nc03gm@mail.house.gov. The Congressman’s mailing address is 313 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515; and his telephone number is (202) 225-3415.  

BEACH NOURISHMENT TAXES ON VEHICLES

We have a confession to make: We never knew that the increase in Southern Shores property owners’ ad valorem taxes to pay for the Town’s share of expense for the 2022 beach nourishment project applied to personal property, as well as real property. 

If the Town Manager ever clarified this point in a Town Council meeting during which beach nourishment was discussed—and we attended, live-streamed, or viewed on videotape all of them—we never heard it. We never heard the Town Council make this point, either, nor did we ever hear a private citizen raise it.

Thanks to retired Judge Vincent Ferretti Jr., of Wax Myrtle Trail, we now know this to be the case. He received his vehicle-tax assessment in August.

In public comments at the Town Council’s meeting, Judge Ferretti characterized the beach-nourishment tax on vehicles as a “penalty” and an “inequity,” because only those property owners who register their vehicles locally pay it, and said he had spoken with Mr. Ogburn, Mayor Tom Bennett, and other members of the Town Council about his objection.

“They recognize this is an issue,” he said. 

Emphasizing that the beach nourishment tax rates assessed on real property in the two newly created municipal service districts and in the remainder of the town are based on the “benefit” that property owners receive from the sand replenishment, Judge Ferretti argued that his car doesn’t “benefit at all from beach nourishment.”

His car, he said, will not increase in value after the 2022 project is done, as, presumably, real property on or proximate to the oceanfront will.

“The nexus to personal property really doesn’t exist,” he said.

While Judge Ferretti said that the N.C. General Statutes “may command” this penalty/inequity, he did not cite any particular statute for his contention.  

We did a very quick skim of the State statutes pertaining to municipal service districts (N.C.G.S. sec. 160A-535 et seq.) and only found this statutory provision on point:

“Property subject to taxation in a newly established district or in an area annexed to an existing district is that subject to taxation by the city as of the preceding Jan. 1.” (NCGS 160A-542(b).

The decision to levy higher taxes on properties in MSDs in order to pay for services in those districts is a discretionary one. (NCGS 160A-542(a).)

Judge Ferretti concluded by requesting that the Town Council ask Southern Shores’ representatives to the N.C. General Assembly to support changing the MSD statute so that the taxes apply only to real property, not to personal property, “which doesn’t benefit at all” from beach nourishment.  

No one on the Town Council commented.

UPDATE ON THE 2022 BEACH NOURISHMENT PROJECT

Mr. Ogburn reported that Dare County opened on Sept. 2 the bids it received from three national marine construction companies on the 2022 beach nourishment project involving Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills, and identified Weeks Marine, Inc., which is headquartered in Cranford, N.J., as the low responsible bidder.

Weeks’s bid was $27,932,500 for the four projects, of which $11,370,102 represents Southern Shores’ project cost.

According to Mr. Ogburn, Great Lakes Dock and Materials of Muskegon, Mich., which submitted the second lowest bid, has done much of the dredging work on local nourishment projects.

The County will issue a Notice to Award the construction contract to the selected contractor by Oct. 2.

We refer you to a writeup in yesterday’s Town newsletter (Sept. 10) for more details about the construction and how the project will proceed.

The Town Council gave Mr. Ogburn all of the authority that he needs to follow up on the Town’s financing through special obligation bonds.

We also refer you to the newsletter for a report on the Town’s application for a Building Resilience and Communities (BRIC) Program grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The Town Council approved paying VHB Engineering $25,000 to prepare and submit an application in the Town’s behalf for a BRIC grant that would pay for remedying multiple stormwater issues along N.C. Hwy. 12.  

POLICE SERVICE AWARD

We conclude our two-part meeting report with congratulating Deputy Police Chief Jonathan Slegal on receiving a well-deserved award for his 20 years of service to Southern Shores. We thank Deputy Chief Slegal for all he does to keep our town safe.   

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/11/21

9/8/21: TOWN COUNCIL UNANIMOUSLY APPROVES MARKETPLACE PROPOSAL, WITH CONDITIONS RECOMMENDED BY PLANNING BOARD.

If Aston Properties would like to increase the visibility of the businesses in The Marketplace at Southern Shores, it could start by replacing this sign with one that advertises them better.

The Southern Shores Town Council unanimously approved yesterday the Town Planning Board’s recommendation to give conditional approval to Marketplace owner Aston Properties’ plan to demolish a wing of the shopping center west of CVS/pharmacy and build a 24,000-square-foot Marshalls department store and a 6,000-square-foot retail space next to it for a store yet to be determined.

Mayor Tom Bennett did not attend the Town Council’s meeting because of illness, so the vote was 4-0.

(For background on the Marketplace proposal, please see The Beacon, 7/20/21, 8/17/21, and 9/3/21. We set forth the principal conditions on 8/17/21 and reiterated the highlights on 9/3/21.

(The Planning Board’s five conditions are enumerated in Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett’s staff report in the Town Council meeting packet at https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/soshoresnc-pubu/MEET-Packet-fb5b5ef67cc245fda641514e8fd6e298.pdf.)

Four Southern Shores property owners spoke at the public hearing before the Council’s vote on Aston’s amended site-plan application and split on the desirability of the project. Consensus existed among them, however, that the destruction of the grove of 11 trees in front of the future Marshalls site is unfortunate and should be avoided.

As indicated on the site plan, 10 mature oaks and one crape myrtle, along with the park, will be removed to accommodate what Aston’s civil engineer, Kimberly D. Hamby of the Timmons Group in Elizabeth City said was Marshalls’ need for parking space, and Aston’s vice president of construction and development, L. Karen Partee, said was the department store’s desire to have its signage prominently displayed.

In a dialogue with Councilman Leo Holland, Ms. Partee confirmed that Marshalls had no flexibility in its “building model” to alter its plan to sacrifice the park.

Ms. Partee further said that “good signage” is an issue with the Marketplace, especially for the storefronts that face east and are hidden from drivers’ views from the highway.    

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth seemed to sum up the majority attitude on the Council about Aston’s amended site plan when she said: “Do I wish the plan was better? Yeah. Do I wish we could have some influence over more aspects of their proposal? Of course. But I think in general we’re getting something that the town needs, which is a vibrant commercial district. That’s something that’s good for the town.”

Councilman Holland also spoke in similar terms about why he supported the proposal, asking: “Do we want a vibrant Marketplace or do we want a Marketplace that looks like the old K-mart?”

Saying “that could happen,” Mr. Holland further described the Marketplace as being “on life support.”

We found it noteworthy that no one on the Town Council questioned Aston Properties about the decline in the Marketplace since the Charlotte developer bought it in 2014. No one sought accountability from Aston.

The shopping center currently has 15 empty spaces for a vacancy rate of 50 percent.

Ms. Morey said the “Marketplace has really struggled” since “Aston took over,” but she did not delve into any of the reasons why.

Ms. Partee faulted the Marketplace’s “bad design” as one reason why businesses do not rent in the shopping center.

An informed source who would prefer to remain anonymous told The Beacon that the source asked Ms. Partee after the hearing if Aston had ever considered altering the design, signage, and appearance of the Marketplace to make it more appealing. Her reply was, “No. That’s not what we do.”

Call us skeptical, but until the Marketplace is a vibrant commercial area, we are not going to count on it becoming one.  

Councilman Matt Neal, who is a local builder, showed interest in critiquing Aston’s proposed construction, but after confirming with Mr. Haskett that “we don’t have any authority over the commercial design standard of the building itself, do we?” he said, “Then my comments are useless.”

We would have liked to have heard them, anyway. We also would have liked to have heard how Ms. Morey would make the site plan better.

At one point during the Council’s session, Ms. Partee informed Mr. Neal that Marshalls has already “approved” the planned façade. She also said that the shopping center will be painted.

The results of The Beacon’s informal, unscientific survey Monday about Marshalls’ arrival in Southern Shores were decidedly mixed, with several resident property owners strongly opposing Aston’s redevelopment plans, and others saying, much like Council members did, that the moribund shopping center needs a commercial transfusion.

Based on the comments we received, we could not begin to assess how many Southern Shores residents—as opposed to residents in Duck, Kitty Hawk, and elsewhere on the beach—will shop at the Marshalls store. A number of people said they would prefer a different store, with Trader Joe’s being the front-runner.

Aston’s demolition is expected to start in January, according to Ms. Partee, who told The Beacon at the Planning Board’s July 19 meeting that the Marshalls store is tentatively scheduled to open in spring 2023.

OPPOSITION TO RUFA RED KNOT CRITICAL HABITAT TABLED

In our 9/3/21 preview of the Town Council’s meeting, we went into some detail about a proposed Town resolution opposing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s proposed designation of critical habitat for the rufa red knot, which is a shorebird that the USFWS has described as “a master of long-distance aviation.”

The Town Council was to consider the resolution of opposition as part of its consent agenda at yesterday’s meeting. Instead, Town Manager Cliff Ogburn asked the Town Council to table the measure, and it unanimously voted to do so.

According to Mr. Ogburn, “Our Congressional representatives have sent a letter to [the Wildlife Service] asking them to take more time before they designate this habitat.”

He described the Town’s resolution of opposition as “premature,” because the habitat designation “may not come to pass.”

We view this turn of events as a good sign, inasmuch as we were not keen on the Town taking a position in opposition to the USFWS without first trying to negotiate. As we reported 9/3/21:

Rufa red knots originate in Brazil and fly as far north on the U.S. East Coast as New Jersey, making known stop-overs, such as at Delaware Bay, where they can feed.

According to the USFWS, “[S]ome knots fly more than 9,300 miles from south to north every spring and repeat the trip in reverse every autumn, making this bird one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom.”

In 2015, the USFWS listed the rufa red knot as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and announced that a proposed critical habitat designation would be forthcoming.

That designation finally happened on July 15 when the Wildlife Service proposed setting aside 649,066 acres of “critical habitat” across 13 states—including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida—for the long-distance rufa red knot.

In its tabled resolution, the Town alleged that the USFWS has “indiscriminately” designated oceanfront shoreline as critical habitat for the rufa red knot, including a 150-mile continuous stretch of N.C. oceanfront in Carteret and Dare counties; and it sought a “more fine-tuned designation of important habitats” for the shorebirds.

Mr. Ogburn told The Beacon that he was concerned that the critical-habitat designation could “significantly impact” the Town’s construction during beach-nourishment projects, although the USFWS’s proposed map appears to stop “at the northern end of the Oregon Inlet.”

We will wrap up our coverage of yesterday’s Town Council meeting later in the week.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/8/21

9/6/21: A MARSHALLS DEPARTMENT STORE IN SOUTHERN SHORES: IS THIS WHAT RESIDENTS WANT?

Under Aston Properties’ reconfigured site plan, all unit space to the left of CVS/pharmacy, up to and including Coastal Rehab, would be demolished to make room for the Marshalls department store and an adjacent 6,000-square-foot retail space in the Marketplace. (Photo by Caroline Walker, OBX Today)

On the eve of a public hearing before the Southern Shores Town Council that will decide a question that not long ago would have been considered unfathomable by year-round residents to ask, we ask you what your answer is to:

Should the Town Council permit a 24,000-square-foot box department store in a “small commercial district” that has always been limited, by community preference, either to uses “deemed essential to local residents” (per the Town’s 1985 land-use plan) or focused “on convenience shopping and services” (per the 2008 land-use plan, the Town’s latest)?

More precisely, we ask you:

Do you support Charlotte developer Aston Properties’ site-plan amendment to the Marketplace shopping center that, if carried out as represented, would result in the first-ever department store in Southern Shores—an “off-price” Marshalls—and another presumably national retailer, yet to be identified, in an adjacent 6,000-square-foot space?

Or do you oppose these changes?

Please tell us why you support or oppose Aston’s proposal, which we have written about on several occasions, including on 7/20/21, 8/17/21, and last Friday in a preview of the Town Council’s meeting tomorrow, which will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.

You will have an opportunity to speak at the public hearing, if you would like. Anyone may sign up to speak. Remarks made at hearings are generally not restricted to the three-minute time limit imposed by the Town Council on public comments.

Before tomorrow’s hearing, we would like to know which way sentiment is running in town on this redevelopment and re-imagining of the Marketplace—or if there even is any sentiment running.

You may comment on the Beacon blog or our Facebook page, or write to us at ssbeaconeditor@gmail.com.

SOUTHERN SHORES LAND-USE PLANS

Aspirations that the 520 year-round residents who lived in Southern Shores in 1980 had for the commercial district on the southern end of town were clear in that year’s land-use plan (LUP), which was the newly incorporated town’s inaugural plan. They wanted “only commercial facilities that are necessary to meet basic needs,” such as a physician’s or lawyer’s office or a drug store.

The goal was similar five years later, according to the second Southern Shores land-use plan, which specified that the “commercial zone in the town shall be very limited in size and restricted to uses deemed essential to local residents.”

Based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics showing that the 1980 population in Southern Shores was 520, and the 1990 population was 1,447, we would guestimate that about 1,000 people lived here year-round in 1985.

By 2000, according to the Census Bureau, that number had increased to 2,201, and by 2010, it was 2,714. (The 2005 population was estimated in the Town’s 2008 land-use plan to be about 2,612.)

Unfortunately, we do not have copies of the Town’s 1992 and 1997 land-use plans. But we know from the 2008 LUP, which we have and you can find on the Town website, that each of the four previous plans was, according to the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, a “sketch plan, a plan for municipalities that are completely platted, know the upper limits of growth, and are not experiencing rapid growth or change.”

Coastal local land-use plans were authorized by the N.C. Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA), which the N.C. General Assembly enacted in 1974 to protect the unique natural resources of North Carolina’s coastal areas.

CAMA created the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), which is responsible for implementing an integrated program of planning, permitting, education, and research to protect, conserve, and manage the State’s coastal resources. All local land-use plans in coastal towns and counties are submitted to the CRC for its certification/approval.

Land-use plans address the protection of coastal resources, such as coastal water quality, wetlands, and fisheries; the desirability of different types of economic development; the reduction of storm hazards, as well as a range of local issues of concern that provide a blueprint to town planners and commissioners for policy-making, planning, and growth.

A key element of every LUP is a vision statement that summarizes the aspirations that residents have for their coastal town’s identity, character, and future. According to Southern Shores’ vision statement, the town is:

“a quiet seaside residential community comprised primarily of small low density neighborhoods consisting of single family homes primarily on large lots . . . interspersed with recreational facilities, . . . beach accesses, walkways and open spaces. These  neighborhoods are served by picturesque local roads (rather than wide through streets) along the beach, in the dunes or in the sound-side maritime forest. The scale and architecture of new development and re-development is compatible with existing homes.

“The community is served by a small commercial district, located on the southern edge of town, which focuses on convenience shopping and services. The desired plan for the future is to maintain the existing community appearance and form.”

PUBLIC OPINION

The Southern Shores public participated in the preparation of the 2008 LUP through a citizens’ survey, conducted in 2005, and a 2007 “Speak out for Southern Shores” workshop meeting held at the Duck Woods Country Club. Some of you may remember the small-group exercise at the club.

The workshop was especially helpful to the Town in developing the LUP vision statement and in identifying local issues. One of the “over-arching themes” that emerged from it, according to the plan, was a concern that residents had over “an increase in commercial development.” (p. 10, 2008 LUP)

In a section of the 2008 LUP that analyzes land use and development, the Town states:

“In the next twenty years, commercial development is, and is expected to remain, limited to small scale local convenience shopping and service establishments at the southern boundary of the town. No industrial, agricultural, big-box retail and entertainment business exist or are desired.” (p. 39)

The Marketplace opened in 1987, so by 2005-07, residents had enjoyed its conveniences for 20 years.

We do not know when the Wal-Mart arrived, but certainly by 2008, the concept of a box-retail store was well known. The LUP analysis that singled out big-box retail stores for disfavor did not result in any Town zoning changes.

Unquestionably, the Marshalls proposal increases the square footage of commercial development at the Marketplace site. The Town Planning Board did a thorough job of assessing the environmental impact of Aston’s site plan amendment, but it did not address the desirability of the project or how it squares with the LUP.

Planning Board member Ed Lawler, however, did express displeasure over Aston’s proposed destruction of the 11-tree grove and park in front of the future Marshalls site.

According to a 2020 U.S. Census municipality population listing published by the N.C. General Assembly, Southern Shores had 3,090 year-round residents as of last year. That is only 400 more people than were guestimated for the land-use plan of 2008.  

Land-use plans express objectives, policies, standards, and goals for long-range planning, but they are only as effective as the people who implement them.

What do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down on the Marshalls project? Please let us know. Thank you.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/6/21

9/3/21: TOWN COUNCIL TO HOLD PUBLIC HEARING TUESDAY ON DEVELOPER’S MARKETPLACE PROPOSAL. And a Preview of Other Agenda Items, Including Opposition to Critical Habitat Designation of the Rufa Red Knot.

The Southern Shores Town Council will hold a public hearing Tuesday about Aston Properties’ proposal to demolish a section of the Marketplace shopping center and build in its place a 24,000-square-foot Marshalls department store and another 6,000-square-foot retail space for a business that has yet to be determined.

The hearing will be held during the Town Council’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center.

All meeting attendees must wear face masks, regardless of their vaccination status.

The meeting will be live-streamed at  https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

The Beacon first reported 7/20/21 on Aston’s site plan amendment application proposing to demolish 19,775 square feet of existing shops to the west of the CVS/pharmacy in the Marketplace and to replace them with a new junior-box Marshalls and a 6,000-square-foot store that has not yet been leased.

The Charlotte-based developer’s plan also calls for modifying and reconfiguring about two acres of existing parking lot, in part by using permeable pavers that would allow it to be eligible under the Southern Shores Town Code for a maximum lot coverage of 67 percent, instead of the commercial zoning district standard of 60 percent.

In order to accommodate the parking lot changes, Aston would destroy a wooded park in front of the future Marshalls site. Its plans show that 10 mature oak trees and one mature crape myrtle would be removed.

The Town Planning Board unanimously recommended conditional approval of Aston’s application at its Aug. 16 meeting.

We reported in detail 8/17/21 on the five conditions that the Planning Board advised must be met by Aston Properties before it can apply for a Town building permit. Besides not exceeding the maximum lot coverage, the most significant of the five addresses stormwater management on the site.

Aston’s current proposed lot coverage is 67.1 percent, not 67 percent, according to Town Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett, whose report on the Planning Board’s conditional approval is in the Town Council meeting packet, as are Aston’s application materials.

See https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/soshoresnc-pubu/MEET-Packet-fb5b5ef67cc245fda641514e8fd6e298.pdf.

(The meeting agenda is on the first two pages of the packet.)

Before Aston may avail itself of the 67 percent maximum lot coverage, it must, according to Town ordinance, “incorporate the use of permeable pavement . . . in excess of 5 percent of the total lot coverage.” (See Code sec. 36-207(d)(5)(b).) 

One of the Planning Board’s five conditions requires Aston to submit documentation to the Town about the permeability of the pavers it proposes using in the parking lot.

As of Sept. 1, Mr. Haskett writes in his report, Aston had not provided sufficient documentation to assess how well stormwater would penetrate the pavers.

The permeability of the proposed pavers, he writes, “could affect the square footage of permeable pavers required.”

It is unclear from Mr. Haskett’s report if Aston Properties has met another Planning Board condition that one of its representatives work with Town Engineer Joe Anlauf to “evaluate the existing stormwater system [at the Marketplace] for glaring deficiencies and address them.”

TOWN MANAGER’S REPORT: Beach Nourishment and Traffic

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn’s chock-full-of-news report has become one of the Town Council’s monthly meeting highlights. Tuesday’s agenda shows Mr. Ogburn giving a beach nourishment update and reports on traffic and the FY 2021-22 tax bills. No other details are provided.

Mr. Ogburn most likely will relate his report to other business that the Town Council will take up after the public hearing, including an advisory agreement with DEC Associates, Inc. that spells out how the Charlotte-based financial consultant will assist the Town in closing the financing for the 2022 beach nourishment project; and a resolution that directs Town Finance Officer Bonnie Swain or her designee to apply to the N.C. Local Government Commission for approval of the Town’s special obligation bond to finance the project.

DEC has received $32,500 for advising the Town in the planning stage of the 2022 project’s financing; it will receive another $32,500 for its closing services.

According to the resolution pertaining to the Local Government Commission’s approval of the project’s funding, the aggregate principal amount of the bond is estimated “not to exceed” $8.1 million.

The Town Council will close out its meeting business with the consideration of two grant applications, one of which is for a $50,000 Dare County Tourism Impact Grant that would be used “to secure traffic data that will be instrumental in helping the Town better evaluate and understand the impacts that tourism related traffic generates,” according to Mr. Ogburn’s agenda summary.

Mr. Ogburn proposes to contract with Streetlight Data, a company that collects “location records from smart phones and navigation devices in connected cars and trucks,” in order to illuminate traffic patterns in Southern Shores.

This data, Mr. Ogburn explains, “can help us to better understand where the traffic that cuts through the residential streets . . . originates . . . [and] the volume of traffic that uses Southern Shores as a cut through by either turning off U.S. 158 or N.C. 12, [as well as where this traffic] exits the residential streets. . . .”

A white paper from Streetlight Data about its methodologies and data sources is included in the meeting packet.

PROTECTING THE LONG-DISTANCE RUFA RED KNOT OR NOT

We do not usually detail items on the Town Council’s consent agenda, which rarely are discussed publicly before a motion is made to approve them. This time, however, we were stopped short by item two of Tuesday’s consent agenda, which reads:

“Consideration of Resolution opposing U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s proposed designation of critical habitat for the Rufa Red Knot.”

Opposing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)? Surely, this is a misprint.

Our second thought was: What is a rufa red knot?

It turns out that the rufa red knot (Calidris canutus rufa) is a “robin-sized shorebird” that is “truly a master of long-distance aviation,” according to the USFWS. (Actually, we think photos on the Wildlife Service’s website show the knot to be much larger than a robin and much more vibrantly colored.)

“On wingspans of 20 inches,” the USFWS writes in an online summary about the birds, “some knots fly more than 9,300 miles from south to north every spring and repeat the trip in reverse every autumn, making this bird one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom.”

See more details at Northeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov)

In 2015, the USFWS added the rufa red knot as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and announced that a proposed critical habitat designation would be forthcoming.

That designation did not occur until July 15 of this year when the Wildlife Service proposed setting aside 649,066 acres of “critical habitat” across 13 states—including New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida—for the long-distance rufa red knot.

Large flocks of rufa red knots, the Service explains, arrive each spring “at stopover areas along the Delaware Bay and the U.S. Atlantic coast . . . with many of the birds flying directly from northern Brazil.”

The knots’ spring migration coincides with the spawning season of the horseshoe crab, whose eggs provide them with a rich food source. Delaware Bay is a prominent stop-over point, apparently, because it provides an abundance of horseshoe crab eggs.

Mussel beds and small clams on the Atlantic coast are also important food sources for migrating knots, in both the spring and the fall, the Wildlife Service says.

In the 19th century, according to the USWFS, rufa red knot populations in the United States were decimated by commercial hunting. After knot hunting ended in 1918 with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the birds were able to recover, but they were again threatened in the 20th century by coastal development and an overharvest of the horseshoe crab.

From the 1980s to the 2000s, the USFWS reports, the knots’ numbers declined about 75 percent.

The smaller populations that remain now, it says, face many hurdles to recovery, including sea level rise, climate change, coastal development, shoreline stabilization, dredging, disturbances by vehicles, people, dogs, aircraft, and boats, etc.

In its proposed resolution, the Town alleges that the USFWS has “indiscriminately” designated oceanfront shoreline as critical habitat for the rufa red knot, including a 150-mile continuous stretch of N.C. oceanfront in Carteret and Dare counties; and it seeks a “more fine-tuned designation of important habitats” for the shorebirds.

In an email to The Beacon, Town Manager Ogburn said his concern with the critical habitat designation is it “will affect our beach nourishment in the future.”

 “[T]o the extent that [the designation] might close beaches during our summer construction windows,” he continued, “it could significantly impact our ability to construct projects and would certainly increase our costs if we were somehow required to construct outside our current windows.”     

Mr. Ogburn said that the critical habitat on the USFWS’s proposed map appears to stop “at the northern end of the Oregon Inlet,” and, therefore, does not appear to directly affect Southern Shores or the 2022 beach nourishment project, but “it could have [an] impact on the southern portion of Dare County.”

As worded now, the Town’s resolution expresses strong opposition to the USFWS’s proposed designation of rufa red knot critical habitat along the shoreline between Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach and along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

It also asks the USFWS to “revisit” its habitat designation methodology in order to arrive at a more fine-tuned area map. This seems like a reasonable request.

We delve into so much detail here about the rufa red knot because we love birds and were charmed to learn about the existence and habits of this one. We thought you might enjoy learning about the knot, as well.

We also think that the USFWS’s critical habitat designation is a reminder that humans coexist with a large variety of other species, and we always need to be cognizant of how our actions affect their lives, especially when we cause potential harm.

The Wildlife Service’s critical habitat proposal is available for public review and comment at https://www.regulations.gov/docket/FWS-R5-ES-2021-0032. Comments must be received by Sept. 13.

***

THE ELECTION

With the Southern Shores municipal election just two months away (Nov. 2)–and early voting starting Oct. 14–you should begin to see political signs in people’s yards soon.

It is already legal in Southern Shores to display a political sign, provided you do not place it in the public right-of-way. Signs may be placed in the right-of-ways of N.C. Hwy. 12 as of Sept. 14.

For news about my Town Council candidacy, including how to obtain a yard sign, I invite you to check out my website, vote4ann.com, and my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/annsjoerdsmaforcouncil.

Political campaigns will be largely electronic this year because of the surge in Delta-variant COVID-19 cases.

The League of Women Voters of Dare County has already announced that its candidates’ forums will be virtual. The one for Southern Shores is scheduled Wed., Oct. 13, at 6:30 p.m. We will pass along more details when we have them.

***

Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone. There will be a trash collection on Monday. The last Friday pickup of the season occurred today.

Have fun and stay safe.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/3/21

8/30/21: ANOTHER DARE COUNTY RESIDENT DIES OF COVID-19.

Another Dare County resident has died as a result of COVID-19, according to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services’ case dashboard today.

The death brings the number of Dare locals who have died of COVID-19 since the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic began last year to 17.

This is the second COVID-19-related death reported in Dare County during the past week. (See The Beacon, 8/25/21.)

The DCDHHS provided no details about the person who died, not even his or her age.

Seven Dare County residents are currently hospitalized with the disease, according to the dashboard. Last week there were eight.

The DCDHHS updates the number of new COVID-19 cases in the county on a daily basis, from Monday through Friday, with Monday’s total including positive tests reported on the weekend.

In the past two daily reports, the health department has reported how many of the new positive COVID-19 tests were in vaccinated people, making them “breakthrough cases.”

A person who tests positive for COVID-19 two weeks after receiving a final vaccine dose is considered a breakthrough case.

Today, of the 103 new cases reported, 20 or 19 percent were of vaccinated people. On Friday, 12 of the 49 new cases—nearly 25 percent—were breakthrough cases. 

The DCDHHS will publish its weekly update about COVID-19 cases in Dare tomorrow.

Last Tuesday, the DCDHHS reported that since the week of April 12, 2021, when the first breakthrough case was identified locally, 250 of the 1,346 positive cases of COVID-19 in Dare County—or about 19 percent—have been breakthrough cases. Of those 250 cases:

  • 136 reported mild symptoms, and 10 reported moderate symptoms
  • One was hospitalized
  • 57 had the J&J vaccine
  • 95 had the Moderna vaccine
  • 96 had the Pfizer vaccine
  • Two had the Astrazeneca vaccine

Of the total number of COVID-19 vaccines administered by the DCDHHS, it said, 5 percent were J&J; 24 percent were Pfizer; and 71 percent were Moderna.

The DCDHHS is now accepting online registration requests for booster vaccine doses from moderately to severely immuno-compromised people, who were vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. You may register at http://www.darenc.com/Register4Vaccine. (See The Beacon, 8/25/21.)

The health department anticipates that all other people who were vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least eight months before they receive a booster dose will be able to get one by the third week in September.

U.S. public health officials are reportedly considering recommending boosters for vaccinated people just six months after they receive their final vaccine dose.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/30/21

8/25/21: ANOTHER DARE COUNTY RESIDENT DIES OF COVID-19.

Another Dare County resident has died as a result of COVID-19, according to today’s dashboard of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, which makes no mention of the death in its now-daily reporting of new cases.

The dashboard shows that seven residents are currently hospitalized because of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus—a total that has held steady recently and is greater than at any other time in Dare County before the emergence of the Delta variant.

UPDATE: As of 8/26/21, there are eight Dare County residents hospitalized.

Since March 2020, 16 local residents have died from COVID-19, according to the DCDHHS.

The Beacon, 8/25/21

8/25/21: COVID-19 VACCINE BOOSTERS AVAILABLE IN DARE FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE MODERATELY TO SEVERELY IMMUNO-COMPROMISED.

Dare County is now accepting registration requests from moderately to severely immuno-compromised people for third “booster” shots of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines.

You may submit your request to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services at Vaccine Registration | Dare County, NC (darenc.com)

According to the DCDHHS website, a call center member will call you back with an appointment date and time as soon as vaccine is available.

The DCDHHS says that it is experiencing a high volume of calls from people desirous of third doses, so it could take several days before you receive a return call.

Repeat: The booster shot is only being offered now to people whose immune systems have been significantly compromised.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that people who are moderately to severely immuno-compromised include those who have:

  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the past two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskoff-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

The CDC also suggests that people talk to their healthcare providers about their medical condition and ask him/her if an additional vaccine dose would be appropriate for them.

The Beacon knows of two over-75 residents in Southern Shores who have registered for booster shots with the DCDHHS. Neither falls within the CDC’s categories, above. One has type 2 diabetes and the other has a history of cancer.

According to the CDC, information about the risks of receiving an additional dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is “limited,” and “the safety, efficacy, and benefit of additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine in immuno-compromised people continues to be evaluated.”

The public-health agency reports that reactions experienced, thus far, by people who have received a third dose of the Moderna and Pfzier vaccines are similar to those of the two-dose series, with fatigue and pain at the injection site being the most common. Although rare, serious adverse effects, such as anaphylaxis, may occur.

The Beacon has largely suspended its local coverage of COVID-19 cases because most readers keep updated daily through other Outer Banks media, as well as through the DCDHHS website. We made an exception today because we have not seen much local news about booster vaccinations.

THE BEACON, 8/25/21

8/22/21: FY 2021-22 PROPERTY TAX BILLS STARTED ARRIVING IN SOUTHERN SHORES MAILBOXES YESTERDAY; TOWN’S TWO-RATE TAX LEVY REVIEWED.

Every Southern Shores property owner will pay a tax amounting to 4 cents per $100 of property value to fund the 2022 beach nourishment project. Property owners in designated districts on or near the oceanfront will pay more.

Property tax bills for fiscal year 2021-22 started arriving yesterday in Southern Shores mailboxes. The ad valorem taxes levied go into Dare County’s General Fund, the Town of Southern Shores’ General Fund, and the Town’s 2022 beach nourishment (“BN”) project fund. 

Considerable public discussion about tax rates for the beach nourishment project was held in the spring by the Town Council and Town Manager Cliff Ogburn. We appreciate, however, that some of you may have missed the public dialogue and the Town Council’s decision-making and explain below what occurred.

But first we note that the General Fund tax rate imposed for FY 2021-22 remains the revenue-neutral rate of 19.58 cents per $100 of property value that was calculated when Dare County reassessed all properties in 2020. You paid 19.58 cents in FY 2020-21, too.

The revenue-neutral rate seeks to achieve the same level of revenue that was raised with the tax rate that was being levied before the reappraisal occurred. In Southern Shores, that rate was 0.2200 or 22.00 cents. In FY 2022-23, you can anticipate an increase in the ad valorem tax rate for the Town’s General Fund to at least that amount. (Note: If two new people are elected to the Town Council in November, this might not be a foregone conclusion.)

On June 1, the Town Council approved the following ad valorem tax rates to fund the beach nourishment project:

  • For properties in municipal service district (“MSD”) 1: 7.15 cents per $100 of assessed value
  • Properties in MSD 2: 3.0 cents per $100
  • Properties town-wide, not in either MSD 1 or 2: 4.0 cents per $100

After holding State-mandated public hearings, the Town Council enacted on July 1 an ordinance creating and establishing the two MSDs, defining them as follows:

  • MSD 1: “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.”
  • MSD 2:
  • “All properties in District 1 and
  • “All properties located east of Ocean Blvd./N.C. 12 and Duck Road/N.C. 12 beginning at the southern town limit extending north to the northern town lines; and
  • “All properties located west of and abutting Ocean Blvd./N.C. 12 beginning at the southern town line extending north to 137 Ocean Blvd., and abutting Duck Road/N.C. 12 beginning at 139 Duck Road extending north to 149 Duck Road.”

(See ORD-2021-04-01-MSD.pdf (southernshores-nc.gov))

The Town views MSD 1, the oceanfront area, as subsuming both MSD 2 and the town-wide district, and MSD 2 as subsuming the town-wide district. Computed cumulatively, the BN ad valorem tax rates, therefore, total for each district:

  • MSD 1: 14.15 cents per $100 of property value (7.15 + 3.0 + 4.0)
  • MSD 2:  7.0 cents per $100 (3.0 + 4.0)
  • Town-wide district: 4.0 cents

If you add the General Fund tax rate of 19.58 cents per $100 of property value to the BN rates, property owners are paying a combined total ad valorem tax rate, per district, of:

  • MSD 1: 33.73 cents (14.15 + 19.58)
  • MSD 2: 26.58 cents (7.0 + 19.58)
  • Town-wide district: 23.58 cents (4.0 + 19.58)

The BN tax rates are expressed in your tax bill as “SS BN” (town-wide); “SSMD1” (MSD 1); and SSMD2 (MSD 2). These rates are only in effect for the 2021-22 fiscal year and may be changed by the Town Council in subsequent years of the five-year debt cycle for the nourishment project.

According to Mr. Ogburn, the Town’s annual debt for the project will be about $1.4 million, of which the Town will pay $200,000 from its undesignated fund balance.

Of the remaining $1.2 million, he has explained, MSD-1 property owners will pay in this fiscal year 20 percent; MSD-2 owners will pay 17 percent; and the remaining property owners in town will pay 63 percent. 

You may access the Town’s FY 2021-22 budget ordinance here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/ORD-2021-06-01-Budget-Ord.pdf.

An explanation of the tax rate-assessment is given on Page 3 of the ordinance.   

Dare County’s FY 2021-22 budget appropriates $177,886,587, of which $112,706,798 is for General Fund expenses. Its property-tax rate has been 0.4005 (40.05 cents per $100 of value) for the past two fiscal years.

You may access Dare County’s FY 2021-22 budget here:

https://www.darenc.com/home/showpublisheddocument/9728/637619387916130000

You may see Dare’s tax rates for the past six fiscal years at https://www.darenc.com/departments/tax-department/tax-rates.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/22/21

8/21/21: TOWN ENDS CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC MITIGATION FOR 2021 SEASON.

Local-traffic-only barriers were removed this weekend.

The Town lifted all cut-through traffic mitigation efforts this weekend, including the left-turn ban at U.S. Hwy 158 and South Dogwood Trail, because vacationer traffic generally trickles off after mid-August as the resumption of school approaches.

Dare and Currituck county public schools start Monday—as do most school systems in North Carolina—while schools in the Hampton Roads area are not open until Sept. 7. 

What has been your road experience today? How heavy has the traffic been on your street? Have you seen or been in backups? Have you noticed any difference this Saturday from last Saturday or any other summer Saturday?

Based on Sunday vehicle-count data this summer, Town Manager Cliff Ogburn decided to lift the South Dogwood Trail left-turn ban on the past two Sundays, Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. We argued against this decision, but it appears, at least anecdotally, to have been a cost-effective one that did not unduly burden residents.

Unquestionably, Saturday cut-through traffic through August is heavier than Sunday cut-through traffic. Should the Town Council have authorized Mr. Ogburn to reinstitute the left-turn prohibition this Saturday and next Saturday, using the funding that was saved by the Sunday decision?

We keep hearing that rental properties on the Outer Banks are booked through October. If that is the case, then the volume of cut-through traffic should reflect it. Please tell us what you have observed today on the residential roads of Southern Shores and on N.C. Hwy. 12 through our town.

Thank you.