The Town Council voted unanimously at its May 1 regular meeting to proceed with a no-left-turn trial at the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 158 and South Dogwood Trail over the June 23-24, 2018 weekend. The vote was 4-0, with Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilmen Fred Newberry, Gary McDonald, and Jim Conners voting in favor. Councilman Chris Nason was absent.
According to Town Manager Peter Rascoe, who described details of the traffic trial at the meeting, all motorists traveling east on Hwy. 158 from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on that June weekend will be prohibited from turning left on to South Dogwood Trail. This turn, which is at the second traffic light after the Wright Memorial Bridge, is routinely taken by arriving vacationers who seek to avoid gridlock on N.C. Hwy. 12, as they travel through Southern Shores and Duck to the Currituck beaches.
Residents along South Dogwood Trail, East Dogwood Trail, Hickory Trail, and Sea Oats Trail have complained for years about the safety hazards (motorists run stop signs and drive perilously close to pedestrians), inconvenience (residents have trouble exiting their driveways or getting anywhere on the roads by vehicle), and other impositions (e.g., motorists and their passengers exit their vehicles and urinate in yards) generated by cut-through traffic on these residential streets.
Since the advent of cell-phone navigation apps, such as Waze, which direct motorists away from congestion, the residential-street traffic flow has worsened and now typically comes to a standstill at the intersection of Sea Oats Trail with Duck Road (Hwy. 12), as well as the intersection of Hillcrest Drive and Duck Road.
(Full disclosure: I live on a heavily traveled section of Hickory Trail and have seen a tremendous increase in traffic during the past 20 years. Just 10 years ago, I was only concerned about the oppressive traffic on Hwy. 12!)
Mr. Rascoe said that “heavy barrels” will be placed in the left turn lane on Hwy. 158 and that two Southern Shores police officers will be posted at the intersection to ensure “zero-tolerance enforcement” on both weekend days. He also said the cost for this “exercise” would be $6200, $3400 for the barrels and $2800 for police overtime pay.
The no-left-turn trial could not occur without the cooperation of the N.C. Dept. of Transportation, which, Mr. Rascoe said, has an agreement with the town. The Town of Kitty Hawk, which has jurisdiction over the subject area of Hwy. 158, has deferred to Southern Shores and will not participate in the trial, he explained.
(It is important to understand that the Town of Southern Shores owns South Dogwood Trail and the vast majority of other residential roads within its boundaries. Some residential roads are private, but none is state-owned.)
After Mr. Rascoe’s presentation, Southern Shores Police Chief David Kole rose to inform the Council that he considers this trial a “one-time deal.”
“I do not have enough officers to do this through the summer,” Chief Kole said.
Both the police chief and Mr. Rascoe stressed that the town currently does not have the “manpower” to continue enforcing a left-turn prohibition at the Hwy. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection this summer or to consider it next year. If it were to be repeated, new police hires would have to occur, according to Chief Kole.
While Mayor Bennett expressed concern about the “unintended consequences” of the left-turn prohibition, such as the possibility that traffic may divert to other residential streets in town, he supported the June 23-24 trial. The Mayor and all members of the Town Council agreed that this trial would give them data with which to assess the impact of any action they may take to minimize the cut-through traffic in town.
In public comments later, Glenn Wyder, who is president of the Chicahauk Homeowners Assn., expressed concern that this trial will “significantly affect Juniper and Trinitie Trails” in Chicahauk. Juniper Trail intersects with Hwy. 158 at the east end of the Marketplace; Trinitie Trail is a continuation of Juniper.
Mr. Wyder asked that the Town Council come up with a solution to the traffic that addresses both South Dogwood Trail and Juniper Trail.
In previous town discussions about the cut-through traffic on South Dogwood Trail, the Mayor and Town Council have been mindful of diversion to Juniper Trail and have stressed the need to control access to both roads on high-traffic summer weekends. When the Town Council passed its directive Sept. 5, 2017, for the no-left-turn trial, however, it elected to keep control and cost modest by focusing only on Dogwood Trail.
IN OTHER ACTION . . .
The Town Council did not approve a zoning ordinance change proposed by the Planning Board that would have allowed a drive-through business that fronts on U.S. Hwy 158 to operate on a lot less than 20,000 square feet. Current Town Code (sec. 36-57) requires all drive-through facilities in the C general commercial district, which includes the Marketplace, to be located on a lot equal to or greater than 2.5 acres.
The zoning change failed by a vote of 3-1, with Councilman Newberry dissenting. According to Town Attorney Ben Gallop, a unanimous decision was required in order for the zoning amendment, known as ZTA 18-05, to be enacted on its first reading. A second reading of ZTA 18-05 will be held at the Council’s June 5 meeting.
The Planning Board devised the new zoning plan, which categorizes drive-through facilities as either “small” or “large,” allowing both, in response to an application by Spiros Giannakopoulos to operate a drive-through ice-cream shop at 5415 N. Croatan Hwy. Mr. Giannakopoulos’s lot is located between Wells Fargo and First National banks on Hwy. 158 and is only 18,260 square feet, or 0.42 acres.
While the public hearing on ZTA 18-05 tended to focus on the desirability of having an ice-cream shop in the Marketplace and on the Elizabeth City resident-applicant’s business and community reputation, rather than on the proposed zoning changes, the Town Code amendment would apply to any lots smaller than 20,000 square feet that front on Hwy. 158.
Being burdened with a legal mind, I can readily see the what-ifs inherent in this situation, for example: What if the Town Council approves the proposed zoning plan, allowing a drive-through business on a very small lot, as well as Mr. Giannakopoulos’s site plan, and his ice-cream shop must close because of an unanticipated change in circumstances? His lot could be sold to a drive-through business applicant who wants to open a fast-food burger joint there, the type of establishment that Planning Board Chairman Sam Williams said Southern Shores property owners and residents have indicated they do not want. Other subsequent businesses might not seem as desirable as Mr. Giannakopoulos’s family-friendly restaurant.
I also wonder about other locations at the Marketplace that front on Hwy. 158. Currently, there is parking to the west of the main entrance into the shopping center, but that conceivably could change in the future. Brainstorming the possible adverse effects of the zoning amendment is a worthwhile exercise for the Town Council. The ZTA should be evaluated separately from Mr. Giannakopoulos’s business intentions.
In dissenting, Mr. Newberry said he was concerned about the “process” that resulted in the Planning Board’s new zoning proposal and with possible traffic congestion at 5415 N. Croatan Hwy. The prevention of congestion, particularly backups on Juniper Trail, was the reason the 2.5-acre restriction for drive-through businesses in Southern Shores’ commercial district was enacted, according to Planning Board member John Finelli, who represents Martin’s Point, at the Board’s April 16 hearing on ZTA 18-05.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, May 3, 2018