I planned to give you a preview of the Southern Shores Town Council’s agenda for its July 10 meeting today, before I steal away for a few days of R&R, but I got distracted by a story published online by The Outer Banks Sentinel about the June 23-24 no-left-turn trial. I frankly was appalled by the article’s factually inaccurate headlines, “Southern Shores’ left turn ban produces no breakthrough: Slightly reduces S. Dogwood traffic, while adding congestion on other roads,” which were based on Police Chief David Kole’s highly negative and biased assessment of the weekend turn ban.
In an online comment responding to the article, I wrote, “This is nonsense. It couldn’t be further from the truth.” I then referred The Sentinel and Chief Kole to the real-time reports posted by Southern Shores residents, whom I don’t personally know, to The Beacon’s Facebook page, as well as the article I posted to this blog on June 25.
I live on a highly traveled cut-through street near South Dogwood Trail, and I made a point of driving throughout Southern Shores over the June 23-24 weekend to observe traffic. The residential roads, including my Hickory Trail and the Dogwoods, were very lightly traveled. I even drove at the speed limit on a usually congested section of NC 12 on Sunday afternoon, during the peak tourist-arrival time. The traffic flowed smoothly. We had a quiet, peaceful, and safe weekend.
“I was wondering if I was on a different planet last weekend after reading the [Sentinel] article!” wrote Lori Harrell Worthington, who lives on the north end of Sea Oats Trail, today on The Beacon’s Facebook page.
Mary Ann Gouzie Hurd called the article “fake news” and posted, “I live on the most heavily traveled cut through . . . Sea Oats Trail We had NO backups either Saturday or Sunday. Actually had very little traffic.”
This is all I’m going to say about the Sentinel’s article. My online reports speak for themselves. I know what I saw, as do Beacon traffic monitors who biked and drove throughout the town. I understand from Sentinel editor Mark Jurkowitz that there will be a follow-up to the article, based on reader response.
NOW, RETURNING TO THE JULY 10 AGENDA . . . I would like to remind you that there will be two public hearings on zoning text amendments, one of which concerns the highly important issue of lot coverage and how it is calculated and the other of which pertains to the anticipated new fire station; and a second reading of ZTA 18-07, which is comprehensively designed to stop the creation and development of nonconforming 50-foot-wide lots in town.
The Beacon reported April 20, 2018, in detail, on the lot coverage ZTA, which is a second attempt by a three-member majority on the Town Council to change the regulations, and has reported extensively in several blog posts on the nonconforming lots ZTA, which received a favorable 3-2 vote at the first reading June 5, when a 4/5 majority was required for passage.
Another important item on the Southern Shores Town Council’s July agenda, which is also scheduled for a public hearing, but has received less attention, is the Council’s adoption of a Capital Infrastructure Improvement Plan for fiscal year 2018-19.
CAPITAL INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENT PLAN
I publish below the plan recommended April 4, 2018 to the Town Council by the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Plan Committee, which is chaired by Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Jim Conners. The plan prioritizes infrastructure projects and is available on the Town website, if you would like to click links. I thought I’d make it easier for you here, by reproducing the list without links.
Southern Shores Town Manager Peter Rascoe, who attends CIIP Committee meetings, volunteered during a recent meeting that I had with him that the CIIP priority list is driven by “squeaky wheels.” So, if your street is not on the list, maybe you haven’t squeaked loudly or often enough.
The infrastructure project “targets,” in order of priority, are:
GROUP A, “Recommended” Targets:
1. YAUPON TRAIL—Phase 1 (north end): 700 linear feet, plus or minus (+/-) and all remaining bulkheading
2. YAUPON TRAIL—Phase 2 (south end): 1,000 LF (+/-)
The Town’s FY 2018-19 operational budget includes an appropriation of $654,870 for capital infrastructure projects. In order to balance the budget, which projects $6,355,402 in expenditures, Mr. Rascoe and Finance Officer Bonnie Swain transferred $282,828 from the Capital Reserve Fund for Capital Projects to Revenues. These monies, they confirmed in the meeting to which I earlier alluded, must be used for capital projects.
UPDATEON RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS: I am working hard on an update to my June 20, 2018 blog post about restrictive covenants, talking with Town staff and SSCA officials and conducting more research in the Register of Deeds office. I have other people to contact and more research to do. I will write a followup as soon as I can.
Happy 4th of July, everyone.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, June 29, 2018
(Sorry about the technical difficulties! I had trouble with the traffic cone.)
Based on reports The Beacon received from Southern Shores residents, by email and by Facebook post, and my own observations, the Town’s no-left-turn trial this past weekend at the U.S. Hwy. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection gave both homeowners and northbound motorists a break from the stress and aggravation of traffic backups. It created a safer and more peaceful environment.
At no time during the two-day, 8-a.m.-to-6 p.m. prohibition on turning left from Hwy. 158 to South Dogwood Trail did traffic back up on any of the town’s residential roads, including those in Chicahauk, residents reported. Typical of comments from homeowners at the north end of Sea Oats Trail, which is the last entry for “cut-through” motorists to rejoin the traffic flow on NC 12, was this Facebook post from Lori Harrell Worthington:
“This has been a wonderful weekend with no backups in our neighborhood!”
Other Sea Oats Trail homeowners were flabbergasted. Said Mary Ann Gouzie Hurd, who posted on Facebook throughout the weekend: We’ve had “no traffic” all day, each day. This is “unheard of.” More than that, “This is weird.”
Lest there be any concern that Chicahauk was bearing the brunt of the no-left-turn trial, John Booth, who lives on Gravey Pond Lane in Chicahauk, reported “light traffic on Juniper/Trinitie” on both days.
Susan Dineen, who also lives in Chicahauk, agreed. On Saturday, Ms. Dineen wrote: “I watched the Juniper/Trinitie traffic flow all day, and it was very light, which is typical for any day here.”
Pictured at top is a photo of the 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection that a Beacon reader downloaded from the N.C. Dept. of Transportation website at 12:47 p.m. Saturday. (A larger reproduction of the image appears on The Beacon’s Facebook page.)
The depicted conditions represent the worst congestion that occurred during the weekend trial, and it reportedly did not extend very far on the Wright Memorial Bridge. The congestion also did not persist throughout the day, as both Hwy. 158 and NC 12 opened up.
According to Sunday reports, traffic moved at speed on both Hwy. 158 and NC 12 for most of that day, if not all day. I drove through the 158-South Dogwood Trail at 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday and observed traffic moving at speed, with no slowdowns. At 3:30, I drove north on South Dogwood Trail and then turned right on East Dogwood Trail, taking it to NC 12, where I joined the traffic heading north. I was pleased and shocked to be in this traffic moving at the speed limit. I stayed with it until I turned into the dunes on Sea Oats Trail; I could see a clear road ahead on NC 12.
Some readers observed that the traffic volume seemed lighter this past weekend than it usually is on a summertime weekend. Tommy Karole, owner of the Paper Canoe Restaurant in north Duck and a Southern Shores resident, said his employees who crossed the Wright Memorial Bridge reported “light traffic.” Perhaps. Or it may simply have seemed that way because the Hwy. 158 traffic flow was faster. The Town’s traffic counters should provide some insight into the number of vehicles that traveled on NC 12 and elsewhere.
The Beacon eagerly awaits an official report from TOSS Police Chief David Kole about the number of traffic citations issued during the no-left-turn trial, especially for making an illegal left turn; the number, location, and nature of any allegedly related traffic collisions that may have occurred; and the number of vehicles that crossed the Town’s counters.
I received several emails from excited residents who were thrilled to see Southern Shores police officers, “with their blue lights on,” pull out from the road shoulder, where they were parked, observing the intersection, and chase motorists who made illegal turns. The Beacon thanks all of the officers who endured the muggy heat to implement “zero tolerance.”
The OBX Locals Facebook page posted a report that the Southern Shores police issued 26 citations for an illegal turn on Saturday. This figure is unsubstantiated and should not be considered factual, absent police confirmation.
I would like to conclude this post by thanking Town Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald, who listened to residents, who had been complaining for years about the cut-through traffic, and lobbied for a public meeting with representatives from the N.C. Dept. of Transportation. When these representatives made it clear at the Town Council’s Sept. 5, 2018 meeting that DOT would support the Town in any actions it wanted to try to curb the cut-through traffic, Councilmen Newberry and McDonald pushed for the directive that enabled the no-left-turn trial to occur.
The June 23-24 trial results are a meaningful start to a dialogue about traffic in Southern Shores, but they emanate from only one trial over one weekend. Such limited evidence is hardly enough to enable a full and fair evaluation of the effects that a left-turn prohibition at 158-South Dogwood Trail would have on traffic flow through Southern Shores—both on the residential streets and on NC 12. We would like to see another trial occur this summer in July, which is our peak vacation month, or August.
If you agree, please let the Mayor and the Town Council know: Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let them know what you think.
Deeds transferring property in Southern Shores from its developers to initial buyers contained a number of restrictive covenants, a standard one of which specified a minimum lot width of 75 feet or 100 feet for every dwelling constructed.
These covenants expressly ran with the land and, thus, moved from deed to deed as the property was transferred from one owner to the next. They were tied to the land, not to the owner, and did not have an expiration date. Subsequent deeds in a property “chain” commonly referred to them.
I finally had an opportunity to do research at the Dare County Register of Deeds in Manteo. What I discovered in looking up old deeds, which are unavailable online, was a clear intent by Southern Shores developer Frank Stick, his partners, and their business entity and successor, the Kitty Hawk Land Co. (KHLC), to establish minimum dimensional requirements for building lots.
They didn’t have a town zoning code. They had restrictive covenants.
During the past two years, an unwelcome trend has emerged in Southern Shores to redevelop 100-foot-wide land tracts on or near the oceanfront—which are platted and recorded as two 50-foot-wide lots—as two “nonconforming” lots. Since the Town enacted zoning ordinances in the 1980s, the minimum width for a lot has been 100 feet, and the minimum size has been 20,000 square feet.
In proposed Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 18-07, which The Beacon has covered extensively, the Town seeks to amend the Town Code of Ordinances to ensure that the development of smaller nonconforming lots does not continue to occur.
Although difficult to understand, ZTA 18-07 essentially requires the “recombination” of adjacent lots under the “same ownership” into a single conforming lot or multiple lots, if certain situations apply. Those situations involve proposed development and/or sale.
ZTA 18-07 would replace the current confusing and inadequate Town Code section on nonconforming lots, which is sec. 36-132.
The proposed amendment received a 3-2 favorable response from the Town Council on its first reading June 5. Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Chris Nason, an architect who has designed oceanside houses in Southern Shores, voted against it. The second reading for ZTA 18-07 is expected to be July 10.
Having now unearthed the bedrock restrictive covenants of Frank Stick and his vision of Southern Shores, I’m left wondering: Are these decades-old restrictive covenants legally enforceable? If so, by whom? The Town? The Southern Shores Civic Assn.?
In not enforcing them, has the Town, the Southern Shores Civic Assn., or both allowed illegalities to occur?
In this special report, I will detail three property situations in which restrictive covenants were ignored, to the detriment of the Southern Shores vision and land-use plan. But before I do, I’d like to impart some history.
The Beginnings of Southern Shores
“Founding Father” Frank Stick bought the 2800-acre tract that he named Southern Shores shortly after World War II. He envisioned an ocean-to-sound residential community of open space and luxurious privacy for people of more modest means than the ultra-rich who owned oceanfront property in the Northeast.
I have referred to this arrangement in previous posts as a non-negotiable “package deal.” Purchasers bought two lots, but always treated them as one lot for development purposes.
The Stick-McMullan-Aydlett partnership was nothing if not orderly: The partners divided the Southern Shores subdivision into blocks, some of which had sections, and decided the minimum building lot size per block, as well as minimum dwelling setbacks from Ocean Boulevard and from side and rear boundaries.
In 1967, my parents bought a pair of oceanfront lots for $10,000. I now know that underlying their 1967 deed was a 1951 deed from KHLC to the initial buyers that restricted the construction of a dwelling to “each 100 feet of property conveyed.” My parents’ deed references this 1951 deed by its recording citation, but I had never looked it up before. The earlier deed also includes a covenant requiring a dwelling to be constructed 100 feet from the east edge of Ocean Boulevard.
Mr. Stick (1884-1966), who was a nationally known wildlife artist, as well as a conservationist, and real-estate speculator, investor, and developer, designed the Southern Shores “flat top,” based on block homes he had seen in Florida. He built his own flat top in 1947 at 60 Ocean Blvd. from cement blocks. For some time after this, flat-top construction was made mandatory through a restrictive covenant in deeds that regulated architectural design.
The Irony of 64 Ocean Blvd.
All of the oceanfront properties around the Stick home site were 100-foot-wide lots, made up of two 50-footers, but they were platted in blocks in which the minimum required building lot width was 75 feet.
According to Ms. McNaughton’s book, a cluster of flat tops developed in this area that became known as “The Compound.” In 1948, Edward Spencer Graves of Lynchburg, Va., built an atypical two-story flat top at 64 Ocean Blvd. for his mother, who had 17 grandchildren and entertained “a constant parade of houseguests” from Lynchburg.
Known as the Graves Cottage (pictured above, at top), this historic home was destroyed by SAGA Realty & Construction to make way for its proposed 16-bedroom-with-a-ballroom “event” house, which it planned to build in 2016.
SAGA was forced to abandon its construction when the Southern Shores Town Council, by a vote of 3-2, capped home size at 6,000 square feet. Mayor Bennett and Councilman Nason, who has worked with SAGA, opposed the size limitation.
My research shows that the underlying deeds at 62 and 64 Ocean Blvd. contain the standard Frank Stick-KHLC restrictive covenant about the minimum building lot being 75 feet of frontage, and subsequent deeds refer to “restrictive covenants as may appear of record in the Public Registry of Dare County” or similar language. And yet, a 50-foot-wide lot now exists between the large houses at these addresses.
How did this happen?
It happened because 1) Edward Graves unduly complicated ownership by leaving each of his mother’s grandchildren an undivided interest in Lots 3 and 4, which made up 64 Ocean Blvd. property, and an acquired 37 ½ feet of adjacent Lot 5, originally part of 66 Ocean Blvd.; and 2) the Gupta family, principals of SAGA and related limited liability corporations (LLCs), bought the property through a 2013 court-ordered estate sale.
According to the deed history, Amit Gupta, who is a co-founder and partner of SAGA, submitted the winning bid for 64 Ocean Blvd. Several months later, Amit assigned his bid to 64 Ocean Blvd., LLC, which was managed by his brother, Sumit Gupta, another co-founder and partner of SAGA. Sumit (i.e., 64 Ocean Blvd., LLC), in turn, gifted Lot 3 to Nags Head Freehold, LLC, which their father, Prem Gupta, managed.
SAGA’s website lists Amit Gupta as its president; Sumit Gupta as its Chief Executive Officer; and Prem Gupta as its Chief Financial Officer.
In January 2016, after the Town Council restricted house square-footage, Nags Head Freehold, LLC sold this nonconforming lot, labeled “64A Ocean Blvd.,” to Steven D. Love and his wife, Kathleen Gorman, who own the adjacent property at 62 Ocean Blvd.
As I read the current, albeit fuzzy nonconforming-lot law, Town Code sec. 36-132(a)(2), the Guptas—no matter what corporate veil they use—should have been prevented from selling Lot 3. But, even if you view the law as favorable to them, the restrictive covenant requiring frontage of 75 feet should have run with Lot 3.
Taking no apparent notice of the covenant, however, the Town has treated 50-foot-wide Lot 3 as buildable: On May 16, 2016, the Board of Adjustment unanimously granted Mr. Love and Ms. Gorman a variance for 12-foot side-yard-setbacks.
The land tract at 64 Ocean Blvd., where a large house has long been under construction (see photo above, at bottom), is now 87 ½-feet wide, a size that is permissible under the old restrictive covenants, as are 10-foot-wide side setbacks; but impermissible under the current zoning law. (Would anyone care to measure the setbacks at the site?)
The Board of Adjustment’s approval of a variance on Lot 3 opened the door for other property owners, including those at 103 Ocean Blvd.
103 Ocean Blvd.: Did Confusion Lead to Illegality?
On July 18, 1967, the KHLC transferred two 50-foot-wide adjacent lots at 103 Ocean Blvd., to Moses E. and Mary V. Goldman, a married couple. Among the covenants listed within, the deed restricted the construction of a dwelling on the site to a land width of at least “75 feet of either ocean or highway frontage.”
Subsequent deeds in the chain of title for 103 Ocean Blvd., expressly referred to this and other covenants, even citing the book and page number of the Dare County Registry on which the first deed was recorded.
Thanks to action by the Town’s Board of Adjustment, however, 103 Ocean Blvd. is now the site of two three-story rental houses, each built on a 50-foot-wide lot.
How did this happen? To find out, you have to track the deeds.
On May 24, 1968, the Goldmans transferred a “one-half, undivided interest” in their property to Frederick and Mary Randall. This deed explicitly referred to the 1967 deed and stated that the transfer was subject to “those certain restrictions set forth in the deed of Kitty Hawk Land Company to the Grantors [the Goldmans].”
Thus, Moses and Mary Goldman had 50 percent, and the Randalls held the other 50 percent—of a 100-foot-wide property. They did not each have a 50-foot-wide lot. They thereafter built a brick duplex on the site that overlapped the two lots
Mary Randall died. On July 15, 1982, Frederick Randall and his second wife, Marguerite Randall, transferred their one-half interest to Edwin B. Goldman and his wife, Dorothea Goldman.
Edwin, you might speculate, was the son of Moses and Mary, but I could not confirm this relationship. Edwin and Dorothea’s deed clearly refers to the restrictive covenants recorded in 1967.
You might suppose that with the Goldman family owning all of 103 Ocean Blvd., the property would end up with the younger generation when the elders died, but that is not what happened. Instead, the one-half interest that Moses and Mary Goldman owned passed under Moses’s will in 1988 to Charles and Paula Pagano. Two trustees, including one named Harry L. Goldman, sold the interest to the Paganos, who sold it, in 2000, to Jimmie and Dana Summerell of East Lake, NC.
The Summerells, who are local investors, had to know they were not purchasing a 50-foot-wide lot. They also should have known the restrictive covenants that ran with the property, as well as the Town’s zoning requirements.
In the meantime, Edwin and Dorothea transferred their one-half interest to the Dorothea B. Goodman Trust, which became known in 2015 as the Georgia J. Goldman Trust.
Apparently with the advice of the Town of Southern Shores—public comments by Board of Adjustment members have indicated such—the Summerells and the trustees of the Goodman Trust executed transfers by gift in January 2017 that split the 100-foot-wide property into two 50-foot-wide lots, one owned by the Summerells, the other by the trust.
Shortly after these transfers occurred, the Board of Adjustment approved side-setback variances that enabled the two sets of owners to build on more lot square footage. They replaced the decades-old duplex with two near-identical three-story rental houses that look like they belong in crowded Nags Head, not Southern Shores. (IMHO)
Was the property owners’ and the Town’s disregard of the restrictive covenant requiring a minimum building-lot size of 75 feet in width legal? Should the Civic Assn. have intervened?
315 N. Dogwood Trail: Divided into A, B, C Lots
I now shift to soundside Southern Shores. In a June 4 blog, I looked at the online deed history of 315 North Dogwood Trail, an approximately 180-foot-wide land tract. (To view a deed recorded before 1999, you must go to the Register of Deeds.)
I took some heat in the June 5 Town Council meeting for referring to this property as being “subdivided,” although I clearly used the word in a non-legal sense to mean dividing a whole into smaller parts. I conceptualize what happened to this tract as an “un-combining” of lots—just like the un-combining at 64 Ocean Blvd. and 103 Ocean Blvd. See what you think about its treatment.
On Feb. 4, 1966, the KHLC transferred the land, designated as lots 34, 35, and 36, Block D, Section B, Soundside, to P.J. M. Bayne and his wife, Margie S. Bayne. Among the “covenants running with the lands and binding on the parties . . . their heirs and assigns,” listed in the deed, was the following:
“No more than one dwelling shall be constructed on each 75 feet of lot frontage, but one guest house may be built on each 100 feet of frontage in addition to the main dwelling.”
In 1973, the KHLC established the new road of North Dogwood Trail, which necessitated a revision of the boundary lines of the Payne property. KHLC and Margie S. Bayne, now a widow, agreed to an amended plat of the three lots, recorded in a new map book.
This agreement specifically stated that the “terms, conditions and restrictions stated in the instruments by which [Mrs. Bayne] initially acquired” her property interest still pertained.
In October 1991, Margie Bayne, now known as Margie S. Young, executed a deed of gift of the three soundside lots to Fred M. Suthard, reserving a life interest for herself. This deed makes no mention of the KHLC’s restrictive covenants, but Ms. Young does take “exception” to any “restrictions and covenants of record and any governmental regulations that may affect” her gift to Mr. Suthard.
Nearly 23 years later, in 2014, the executor of the Estate of Fred M. Suthard transferred title to the three soundfront lots to Raffaele Dibari and Shannon D. Dibari. The Dibaris bought the 37,000-square-feet parcel of land, which had a 45-year-old house on it, for $425,000. The parcel was treated, again, as a whole, not as parts.
Subsequently, the Dibaris subdivided—broke up? partitioned? un-combined?—the parcel by the lots, each of which is approximately 60 feet wide. They designated them 315A, 315B, and 315C N. Dogwood Trail.
Two years later, an Ohio couple paid $255,000 for the 315A lot. I only learned about this property because the Ohioans put “315A” up for sale on May 25. The online multi-listing for the lot indicates a sale is “pending.”
According to their respective deeds, the Dibaris and the Ohio couple both took title to their property subject to “easements and restriction of record, if any, in the Dare County Registry.”
This should mean that 315A is not a buildable lot because it is not 75 feet wide, as the underlying restrictive covenant in the Paynes’ deed requires. If, however, this covenant no longer has legal force, then the lot should be considered nonconforming under current Town Code zoning law.
The Dibaris, who still own adjacent lots B and C, appear to have a right to sell the A lot—because of a gap in the current nonconforming-lot law, which ZTA 18-07 would fill—but building on it is a different matter.
Questions arise: Do decades-old restrictive covenants have any meaning today? Does it matter if subsequent deeds do/do not refer to them as conditions of the land transfers? (It is fairly routine for land transfers to be subject to “restrictions of record.”)
What is the value of a restrictive covenant if it is not enforceable or enforced?
Shouldn’t adjacent and nearby property owners be able to trust that restrictive covenants will be enforced?
I am not a real-estate attorney, nor do I aspire to activate my law license in North Carolina and become one. I have not done any legal research on restrictive covenants, and I am not going to render a legal opinion on them. I do remember one guiding principle, however, from my first-year property-law class:
A restrictive covenant generally will not be enforced if the character of a neighborhood has changed so substantially as to defeat the purpose of the covenant.
You have to question the use and value of restrictive covenants if some property owners can blithely ignore them—especially those covenants that serve to regulate the density of development and, thus, have a profound effect on other property owners’ quality of life and land investment and on the character and ambiance of a town.
Restrictive covenants such as the ones I’m highlighting are what make Southern Shores, Southern Shores.
During the Town Council’s June 5 hearing on ZTA 18-07, Mayor Bennett expressed concern that the proposed amendment would “punish” some property owners by depriving them of an anticipated investment.
I would like to meet the Southern Shores property owner who thinks he/she would be “punished,” and then I’d like to go to the Register of Deeds and research his/her chain of deeds.
Frank Stick and company knew what they were doing. Do we, now?
In just one week, the Town’s no-left-turn trial, designed to assess the impact that closing South Dogwood Trail to arriving vacationers would have on motorist behavior and traffic flow, will take place. The Beacon is seeking traffic monitors, on foot, on bicycles, and in vehicles–or posted at their living-room windows–to file reports and photographs of what they see, especially at the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 158 with S. Dogwood Trail, at the Marketplace, in Chicahauk, and on streets in the dunes of Southern Shores (Wax Myrtle, Sea Oats, Hillcrest, etc.).
According to Town Manager Peter Rascoe, who first described details of the “exercise,” as he calls it, at the Town Council’s May 1 meeting, all motorists traveling east on Hwy. 158 from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on June 23 and 24 will be prevented from turning left on to S. Dogwood Trail by “heavy barrels” blocking the turn lane. This turn, which is at the second traffic light after the Wright Memorial Bridge, is routinely taken by Duck- and Currituck-beach-bound vacationers who cut through Southern Shores to avoid gridlock on N.C. Hwy. 12.
Two Southern Shores police officers will be posted at the Hwy. 158-S. Dogwood Trail intersection to ensure “zero-tolerance enforcement” on both weekend days, Mr. Rascoe said. Although mindful of the possibility that traffic may divert to Juniper Trail, the Town Council elected to keep control and cost modest by focusing only on S. Dogwood Trail. The Town will not post officers at Juniper Trail.
Mr. Rascoe also announced that the entrance to Southern Shores Landing off of Hwy. 158 will be closed during this time. The Beacon confirmed with Mr. Rascoe later that residents and guests of the Landing will be able to exit the community directly on to Hwy. 158. The Beacon would like to hear from Landing property owners if they notice increased traffic through their community on June 23-24.
The Beacon will accept reports and photographs from monitors who prefer to remain anonymous, but asks that monitors identify themselves by name, for verification purposes.
Please send your emails to email@example.com, preferably with photos in the body of the email, rather than as an attachment; or post your observations and photos to The Beacon’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/southernshoresbeacon.
Please be sure to include basic facts with your report: Where, when, who, what? (And why, if relevant.) Thank you!
In other news and observations around town:
PUBLIC FORUM EXPECTED THIS SUMMER ABOUT TOWN CODE UPDATE PROJECT, MODULE ONE; THE BEACON WILL TELL YOU WHEN
Town Planner and Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett announced at the Town Council’s June 5 meeting that the Planning Board has finished its review of Module One of the Town of Southern Shores Code of Ordinances Update, prepared by planning consultant CodeWright, of Durham. A public forum must be held before the Town Council can begin the “adoption process,” Mr. Haskett said.
The project is about a year behind the schedule outlined by CodeWright principal Chad Meadows, who signed his contract with the Town in September 2015. CodeWright’s total compensation was expected to be $78,000, an amount that Town budget documents show was exceeded in FY 2017-18.
Presumably, Mr. Meadows will be conducting the Module One public forum, as he has other public forums concerning the Town Code rewrite.
Mr. Meadows uses the word module to describe a group of related Town Code chapters. Module One—which is the first of three modules—encompasses the substantive issues that, according to a citizen survey conducted in December 2015-January 2016, concern property owners the most: buildings and building regulations; zoning; subdivisions, and the like. In other words, Module One covers Town Code sections commonly referred to as the Building Code and the Zoning Ordinance.
Among some of the key questions of Module One that were to be addressed by CodeWright in its assessment and proposed Town Code revision were:
1) The determination of lot coverage (which is the subject of a current Zoning Text Amendment, ZTA 18-04; see The Beacon’s reports on April 12 and April 20);
2) The determination of the maximum height for buildings;
3) The removal of trees on residential lots; and
4) The control of stormwater runoff.
The issues in Module Two, which the Planning Board, presumably, will take up soon, are far less controversial. They include streets, sidewalks, and other public properties; businesses and business regulations; and waterways and beaches.
The Town Code of Ordinances was last updated and revised in August 2009. A number of property owners, including members of The Beacon’s editorial board and myself, did not believe an “update”—we perceived it as a rewrite—was necessary and discouraged the Town Council from awarding a contract to CodeWright.
At the time of the contract award, Tom Bennett was in his first term as mayor, and the Town Council consisted of Jodi Hess, Larry Lawhon, David Sanders, and Leo Holland. Mrs. Hess, Mr. Lawhon, and Mr. Sanders all lost their bids for reelection in November 2015—but, before they did, they sat down for “stakeholder” interviews with Mr. Meadows.
Mr. Meadows kicked off his project on Oct. 20, 2015, instead of waiting until after the Nov. 3 election. The three Town Council seats that the incumbents lost were hotly contested by a field of seven candidates. Current Councilmen Gary McDonald, Fred Newberry, and Chris Nason won the election.
The Town Code Update Project has unquestionably been a hot button for some of us, who did not believe that the scope of the project was accurately represented. We are wary of building and zoning ordinance changes that may inure to the benefit of developers, builders, architects, and all manner of construction contractors, but not to current property owners or the future look, character, and quality of life in Southern Shores.
Among its duties, which are spelled out in the Town Code, the Planning Board must ensure that the Town’s land-use plan is implemented. Southern Shores is a town dedicated to low-density development and the preservation of open spaces.
We are eager to see the Planning Board’s recommendations. Under Chairperson Sam Williams’s direction, the Board has painstakingly reviewed Module One, a process that consumed more than a year. As soon as the Town announces the public forum date and time, The Beacon will publicize them. If you attend no other town meeting this year, please attend this one.
APPLICANTS NEEDED FOR PLANNING BOARD VACANCIES
Speaking of the Planning Board . . . please remember, the terms of four Board members, two regular-voting members and two alternates, are expiring June 30. At least two of these seats will be filled by people who are not currently on the Planning Board. (One of the alternates’ seats has been vacant since Glenn Wyder was appointed to the Board as a regular-voting member.)
Please consider serving your Town as a member of this very important body, which needs a diversity of opinion in order to thrive. You do not have to have a background in planning or the building industry to apply and serve, just a willingness to read, listen, learn, and analyze and a love for Southern Shores.
Here again is a link to the application you must complete in order to be considered for a Town Council appointment to the Planning Board:
TOWN CHANGES RECYCLING PICKUP DAY TO WEDNESDAY; HOW WILL VACATIONERS RESPOND TO THIS INCONVENIENT TIME? HOW WILL YOU?
The Town has announced that, starting July 4, the pickup day for residential recycling will be Wednesday. Bay Disposal, Inc., the Powell’s Point-based garbage collection service that handles trash pickup in Southern Shores, will be taking over recycling service.
Garbage pickup days will remain the same. From June 1 until Sept. 3, 2018, trash placed in the proper receptacles will be picked up curbside on Mondays and Fridays. After Labor Day, servicing will occur only on Mondays.
I asked Town Manager Rascoe what prompted the change in the recycling pickup day, telling him how dreadful I thought Wednesday was for Southern Shores cottage renters, who arrive and leave on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
I know from 27 years of experience as a hands-on Southern Shores rental-property owner that renters do not put out their trash—and, since the recycling program began, their recyclables—until the morning of their departure, or, at best, the night before. If they continue this pattern, recycling cans will now sit out by the street for up to five days. I can already see the beer cans and pizza boxes strewn about the ground. In windy conditions, recycling receptacles that are chock-full to overflowing will topple over, and their contents will spill out for all of us to enjoy. (If you think rental companies will step up and handle moving the recycling cans, think again.)
Mr. Rascoe explained that there had been “management” problems with the current recycling contractor, Waste Management of Virginia, and he had rebid the contract in anticipation of WMV’s two-year contract expiring June 30. Town Finance Officer Bonnie Swain said that WMV was missing cans and even missing streets on pick-up Mondays. She described Bay Disposal as “the lowest responsible bidder.”
But why Wednesday? It seems to me that any other day would be better.
The answer: Because Bay Disposal picked Wednesday. It doesn’t have the trucks to pick up both the garbage and the recycling on the same day.
“We’re going to see how this goes,” Mr. Rascoe said, assuring me that he is sensitive to environmental consequences.
I didn’t even get into how residents are going to react to the change. What do you think?
AIRPLANES FLYING LOWER THAN 1,000 FEET OVER SOUTHERN SHORES: HAVE YOU SEEN ANY?
A reader recently contacted The Beacon about a potential safety problem: Low-flying airplanes. I’m talking here about small airplanes towing aerial banners and advertising.
“Will you marry me, Sue?”
“McRib is back!”
“Happy Hour, ½ Price, BK Shuckers”
The Beacon’s reader zeroed in on airplanes “flying those low passes over our houses towing the banners when they go back south.”
Federal Aviation Administration regulations specify minimum safe altitudes for operating an aircraft. Over “congested areas,” and Southern Shores is that, aircraft must maintain an altitude of 1,000 feet above “the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.” Over “other than congested areas,” the minimum permitted altitude is 500 feet “above the surface except over open water,” such as the mighty Atlantic Ocean, “or sparsely populated areas.”
In the case of water, a pilot may not operate an aircraft closer than 500 feet to any “person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.”
These altitudes do not apply to takeoffs and landings. An airplane landing at First Flight Airport, at the Wrights Brothers Memorial, which is owned and maintained by the U.S. National Park Service, may seem to come in right above your head if you’re in the right spot in KDH.
The Beacon would like to know if anyone else in Southern Shores has noticed aircraft seeming to fly over the residential districts at an altitude lower than 1,000 feet. If you have, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you’ve seen. Be sure to provide the facts of when, where, and what.
Airplanes can appear to be flying lower than they actually are, so it’s advisable to take a photograph of a plane, if you can, with some height-reference points.
For information about filing a complaint with the FAA, see:
In a 3 ½-hour meeting Tuesday night at the Pitts Center that featured four public hearings and a surprise announcement by Planning Board Chairman Sam Williams, the Southern Shores Town Council split 3-2 on approving ZTA 18-07, a zoning change intended to halt a recent trend in town to develop nonconforming lots, in particular, lots that are 50 feet wide. Councilmen Fred Newberry, Gary McDonald, and Jim Conners voted in favor of the ZTA, and Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Chris Nason opposed it.
A second reading of ZTA 18-07 will likely be held at the Council’s July 10 meeting, although a special meeting could be held earlier. According to Town Attorney Ben Gallop, the ZTA did not “pass.” The vote to approve it on first reading fell short of the required majority. On second reading, only a simple majority is required.
As expected, the Town Council also unanimously approved two other zoning text amendments recommended by the Planning Board, including one that changes the Town Code to allow “small” drive-through facilities to operate in the commercial district, if they front on U.S. Hwy. 158 (ZTA 18-05), and was before the Council on a second reading; and another pertaining to the installation of small-cell facilities in residential districts to improve cellular-phone signals (ZTA 18-06).
Mr. Nason, an architect and owner of Beacon Architecture & Design in Kitty Hawk, did not participate in the drive-through facilities matter (ZTA 18-05), because of a financial interest. He described ZTA applicant 5415 OBX LLC, represented by Spiros Giannakopoulos, who also sought a conditional use permit (CUP) to operate a drive-through ice cream shop on the 18,260-square-foot commercial lot at 5415 N. Croatan Hwy., as “a client.”
The Council voted 4-0 to grant Mr. Giannakopoulos’s CUP.
After a robust discussion led by Mr. McDonald about how Town Manager Peter Rascoe balanced the proposed FY 2018-19 budget that was filed May 1, the Town Council approved the budget, 4-1, with Mr. McDonald dissenting.
Mr. McDonald questioned a transfer of $282,828 from the Capital Reserve Fund, which is used for capital projects, to FY 2018-19 revenues in order to make up for a shortfall in revenues and expenses that appeared in preliminary figures presented April 17 by Mr. Rascoe in a “draft” budget. (See The Beacon, “FY 2018-19 BUDGET SESSION: Preliminary Figures Show Expansion of Capital Projects, Staff; Major Investment in SSVFD, Employee Compensation,” April 24.)
“We’re using money that was designated for a specific project”—in this case, $195,000 for work on Yaupon Trail that was delayed—“to balance the budget,” Mr. McDonald argued.
The Beacon will explore Mr. McDonald’s concern, and Mr. Rascoe’s response, in an upcoming blog post.
In other budget discussions, Councilman Newberry brought up future payments for the proposed new fire station, which has been estimated will cost up to $6 million and has yet to be approved by the Town Council.
Noting that revenues are unlikely to increase, Mr. Newberry asked: “Do we start trimming the budget, or do we raise taxes?”
Councilman Nason agreed that next spring, when the FY 2019-20 is prepared, “A tough discussion [will] be had.”
The May 1 proposed budget differed only minimally from the April 17 draft budget, showing bottom-line expenditures of $6,355,401, compared with $6,388,835 in the draft.
And finally, Planning Board Chairman Sam Williams, who presented the Board’s recommendations on all of the ZTAs and answered Council’s questions, announced that after nine years as chairman, he will not be seeking another three-year term on the Board when his current term ends June 30.
Mr. Williams, a dedicated and diligent public servant who has worked extremely long hours as Board chairman, expressed an interest in having more time with his family.
The Beacon extends its best wishes to Mr. Williams and his family. We hope Mr. Williams enjoys his grandfather time, but also continues to share his knowledge and experience with the Town.
Mr. Williams’s decision creates a certain vacancy on the Planning Board, which the Town Council must fill by majority vote. The three-year term of Board member David Neal is also expiring June 30. He previously has indicated an interest in continuing for another term. In addition, a vacancy currently exists in one of the two Board alternate positions, and the term of alternate Carlos Gomez is ending June 30.
I will conclude this post with a few more comments about the discussion on ZTA 18-07, which proved to be confusing and somewhat divisive. To say the least, the issues raised by the ZTA are complicated.
It is unfortunate that the public hearing on ZTA 18-07 was the last one on the agenda, rather than the first, because so many people had left by the time it started. It is also unfortunate that Mr. Gallop did not explain to the remaining public the meaning of the vote.
After the Town Council voted, 3-2, to approve the ZTA, as written, without any changes—on motion by Mr. McDonald, seconded by Mr. Newberry—members of the audience were left asking, literally: What happened? Did it “pass”?
When I posed this question to Mr. Gallop after adjournment, he explained that, to be enacted, the ZTA needed to be approved by a “super majority” of four of the five Council members. On second reading, a simple majority, or three of the five, will be sufficient. Mr. Gallop would not characterize the ZTA as having “passed.”
Southern Shores’ low-density character is a key feature of its land-use plan and of its unique appeal. The Town’s zoning laws specify a minimum lot width of 100 feet and a minimum lot size of 20,000 square feet. These dimensional requirements are listed among those for setbacks, lot coverage, and building height, etc., in Town Code section 36-202(d), which covers the RS-1 single-family residential district.
But many lots in Southern Shores were platted and recorded as 50-foot-wide lots, and then typically sold in combinations of two or more, before the Town was incorporated and the Town Code was enacted. To my recollection, they were sold as “package deals” and developed as if they were single lots of 100 feet or more in width. It is because of this development history that Southern Shores has been able to preserve its open spaces.
It’s also because of this history that the nonconforming-lot dilemma has arisen.
When my parents purchased oceanfront property in Southern Shores nearly 50 years ago, they were offered one tract of land consisting of two 50-foot-wide lots: Take it or leave it.
They were not given the option of buying only one of the 50-foot-wide lots. I don’t know why their land wasn’t platted as one 100-foot-wide lot because, clearly, the developer’s intent was to preserve large lot sizes.
The neighbors to the immediate south of my parents’ property, who were a generation older than they, bought three adjacent 50-foot-wide lots and built a marvelous flat-top house on two of the lots, leaving the lot between my parents’ property and theirs, vacant. (Part of a dune deck overlaps the third 50-foot-wide lot, however.)
In the discussion about ZTA 18-07, Mayor Bennett seemed most concerned about the interests of people like my parents’ original neighbors: The ZTA would prevent such property owners—actually, now their grandchildren and great-grandchildren—from selling their third vacant 50-foot-wide lot.
LOW DENSITY, ABUNDANT SPACE
I think it is relevant to quote in full paragraph (a) under sec. 36-202, which expresses the intent of the regulations:
“The RS-1 district is established to provide for the low-density development of single-family detached dwellings in an environment which preserves sand dunes, coastal forests, wetlands, and other unique natural features of the coastal area. The district is intended to promote stable, permanent neighborhoods characterized by low vehicular traffic flows, abundant open space, and low impact of development on the natural environment and adjacent land uses.”
I found it very disconcerting to hear Councilman Nason say during the hearing on ZTA 18-07 that he has “no problem” with developing 50-foot-wide lots and increasing density. He may not, but the Town does and has since its 1979 incorporation.
Mayor Bennett worried about “punishing people”—such as my parents’ original neighbors and their descendants—who would be compelled by ZTA 18-07 to “recombine” their lots into one single lot if they tried to sell a nonconforming lot separately. But, if they were permitted to sell their third 50-foot-wide lot, their buyer would build on the lot, with the aid of variances, in contravention of the intent expressed in both sec. 36-202 and the Town land-use plan.
Mr. Gallop’s explanation that “over time,” the Town’s intent “is to reduce nonconformings” did not seem to resonate with the mayor.
“We need to put more work into [the ZTA],” Mr. Bennett said.
Councilman Conners spoke for Mr. Newberry, Mr. McDonald, the Planning Board, and property owners who publicly supported the ZTA, when he said that it was about “stopping runaway development so [Southern Shores] doesn’t look like Kitty Hawk or Kill Devil Hills.”
He exhorted his Council colleagues: “Let’s move forward.”
A soundfront lot at 315A North Dogwood Trail in Southern Shores came on the market May 25, listed for sale by Beach Realty-Duck. Asking price: $285,500.
What a steal! You think, before wondering: What gives? 315A? When did land on the north end of Dogwood Trail, where the road narrows to a single lane, get subdivided?
(Please note: I am not using the terms, subdivided and subdivision, in a legal sense. The three lots at 315 N. Dogwood were treated for decades as a single parcel, although they were platted separately. I am speaking of that single combined tract as being subdivided.)
Promoted by the broker as “the only soundfront lot” for sale in Southern Shores, 315A N. Dogwood Trail is advertised—and comes up in a multi-listing search—as land. But the property details of the listing (#100656) show a house having been built there in 1970, and the online Dare County property tax records still depict an old colonial on the site.
If you read further in the listing, you’ll soon discover that what is being called 315A N. Dogwood Trail is only about 13,330 square feet in area—a size that makes it 6,670 square feet smaller than the minimum 20,000-square-foot lot size required in Southern Shores. (See Town Code sec. 36-202(d))
Lots that do not meet the Town’s legally mandated dimensional requirements, such as the minimum size of 20,000 square feet and the minimum width of 100 feet, are considered nonconforming. These requirements exist to ensure that Southern Shores retains its desirable low-density character, which is a central feature of its land-use plan.
The Town Council will be voting tomorrow on an important zoning text amendment (ZTA 18-07) that seeks to ensure that nonconforming lots, like 315A N. Dogwood Trail, are neither created nor developed in Southern Shores. The public hearing on ZTA 18-07 is one of four hearings scheduled during the Town Council’s 5:30 p.m. meeting at the Pitts Center, behind Town Hall. (See The Beacon, May 24.)
Not only is 315A N. Dogwood Trail a nonconforming lot, but the broker is encouraging potential buyers to inquire by representing: “Complete site plan with 4 bedroom home and pool available for review.” This lot, the listing pitch continues, is a “great opportunity to build your own soundfront home.”
Under both current zoning law (Code sec. 36-132), and ZTA 18-07, which replaces a section of the current law, however, 315A N. Dogwood Trail is not a buildable lot.
Anyone who buys 315A N. Dogwood Trail, as an Ohio couple did in 2016, according to tax records, will be making a mistake. My research shows that the Ohioans paid $255,000 for this nonconforming lot, which was created by a Virginia couple who purchased 315 N. Dogwood Trail and subdivided it.
Property records reveal that Raffaele and Shannon Dibari of Burke, Va., bought 315 N. Dogwood Trail in 2014 from an estate for $425,000. Talk about a steal.
The Dibaris’ purchase consisted of a combined-three-lot parcel of land that was about 37,000 square feet and 180-feet-wide and had a nearly 45-year-old house on it. Subsequently, they subdivided their parcel into three approximately 60-foot-wide lots, which they designated 315A, 315B, and 315C N. Dogwood Trail. The couple still owns adjacent lots B and C. All three of the lots are vacant: The house is gone.
How, you might ask, did this happen . . . and just two years ago?
The answer: It shouldn’t have. The current zoning law on nonconforming lots says that the Dibaris could not do precisely what they did. At least, it appears to. The law is less than clear. But no one stopped them. Who should have? Would enforcement be any better under the proposed new law?
ZTA 18-07, which the Planning Board recommended with amendments, is a rewrite of Town Code sec. 36-132(a). It intends to stop an unwelcome two-year-old trend in Southern Shores to redevelop 100-foot-wide lots as two nonconforming 50-foot-wide lots. This subdivision has been possible because in old pre-Town Zoning Ordinance Southern Shores, it was standard to plat and record a 100-foot-wide tract of land as two separate 50-foot-wide lots. The original sale of the three lots at 315 N. Dogwood Trail as one land parcel dates to 1969.
ZTA 18-07 posits five “situations” that should “trigger” the “recombination” of adjacent lots—one or more of which is nonconforming, as 315A, B, and C are—that are “under the same ownership.” One of the situations included is “prior to the sale or transfer of land.” Thus, the new sec. 36-132 would prevent the Dibaris from doing what they did, just as the old law did, but the question remains: Who’s going to stop them?
The answer is still, under the new law, no one—not until such time as the owner of the nonconforming lot applies for a zoning or building permit, and the Town Planning Dept. learns about the subdivision and sale. And then what will the Town do?
I think this is unacceptable. The proposed zoning law needs, and the Town Council should give it, sharper teeth.
My problem from the beginning with ZTA 18-07, which Town Attorney Ben Gallop conscientiously drafted and redrafted with assistance from Town Planner and Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett, is that it addresses situations that compel “recombining” lots, rather than clearly stating 1) what a property owner can and cannot do; 2) which Town official or department has authority to ensure that property owners do only what they can do; and 3) what penalty, if any, should be assessed against a property owner who violates the law on nonconforming lots.
I understand Mr. Gallop’s approach, but it concerns me. In a May 17 blog, I suggested that the Town think in terms of preventing property owners from what I called “un-combining,” i.e., subdividing. It is not too late to amend ZTA 18-07 by adding a section that states that it is illegal to subdivide adjacent lots that are required under new sec. 36-132 to be recombined, and that any such subdivision is subject to penalty.
Teeth. A property owner shall not subdivide.
In other respects, I believe Mr. Gallop and Mr. Haskett have done a commendable job. They have expanded upon the triggering situations listed in the first draft of ZTA 18-07 to include those that contemplate the sale of land, not just development or redevelopment.
I also believe that the definition of “same ownership,” as that term is used in the proposed new sec. 36-132, has come a long way, but still could use more fine-tuning. I suggest including within the “case of an individual owner,” those who are non-family-member associates or acquaintances of the owner. Sec. 36-132(a)(4).
Under ZTA 18-07, single 50-foot-wide lots that are not adjacent to another lot under the same ownership and that met all legal requirements at the time of their “creation and recording” (which 315A did not) may exist and be developed. The Planning Board wisely recommended that the side-yard setback for these lots be 12 feet, rather than 10 feet, as the original draft of ZTA 18-07 specified. The 12-foot standard has been firmly established in variance hearings before the Board of Adjustment and represents a majority view. The Town Council should endorse it.
GETTING PAST THE ICE CREAM
The other public hearings before the Town Council tomorrow concern the lot size required to operate a drive-through facility on U.S. Hwy. 158 (ZTA 18-05); the erection and appearance of new poles for the installation of small-cell facilities in the single-family residential district (ZTA 18-06); and the proposed fiscal year 2018-19 budget.
I have written extensively in the past two months about all of the above and will make only a few points now concerning the first of them.
Honorable members of the Southern Shores Town Council: Get past the ice cream. ZTA 18-05 is not about opening up an ice-cream shop. It is about radically changing the zoning law on drive-through facilities in Southern Shores.
Please think like legislators, which you are, and ask yourselves: “What if?”
If you approve ZTA 18-05 and thereby allow a “small” drive-through customer-service facility to be located on a lot that is less than 20,000 square feet, provided it has frontage along U.S. Hwy. 158 (and meets other building requirements), what will be the consequences?
The Southern Shores Town Code currently requires a “drive-through facility or establishment” to be located on a lot equal to or greater than 2.5 acres. According to the Planning Board’s Martin’s Point representative, John Finelli, who spoke during the Board’s hearing on ZTA 18-05, the 2.5-acre restriction was enacted because the Town didn’t believe a drive-through business “was appropriate for every location.”
“We were trying to keep congestion off of Juniper Trail,” he explained.
Besides the congestion inevitably engendered by applicant Spiros Giannakopoulos’s proposed ice cream shop at 5415 N. Croatan Hwy., which is only 18,260 square feet, there is the overriding concern of: How would/could the proposed zoning change on drive-throughs affect the redevelopment of other commercial properties that front on Hwy. 158 at the Marketplace and elsewhere?
Just because there are now two banks on either side of 5415 N. Croatan Hwy. doesn’t mean there always will be.
Just because there is parking to the west of the main Marketplace entrance now doesn’t mean that the land couldn’t be used for small drive-through businesses.
And what about the building site where TowneBank is and the land adjacent to it? These properties front on U.S. Hwy. 158, too.
Before the Town Council carves out an exception for Mr. Giannakopoulos’s ice-cream shop, it should know whether it’s opening a Pandora’s box, and, if so, what menaces might be released.
The ultimate what-if is: Suppose Mr. Giannakopoulos decides he wants out or he dies—lawyer thinking—and 5415 N. Croatan Hwy. passes to another business entity. Is the Town going to be OK with a drive-through express KFC or Burger King, a Brew-Thru, or even a drive-through dry-cleaning facility on this highly visible site that fronts on a very busy highway?
We all scream for ice cream, but that’s not what ZTA 18-05 is about.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, June 4, 2018; updated, June 5, 2018
The three-year terms of four Planning Board members, including those of Chairman Sam Williams and full member David Neal, and two alternate seats, expire June 30, according to documentation on the Town of Southern Shores website.
One of the two alternate positions has been vacant since April 3, when the Town Council appointed then-alternate Glenn Wyder to the Board to fill an unexpired term. The other position is held by Carlos Gomez.
The Town Code (sec. 24-24(a)) requires the five Planning Board members and two alternates to be appointed by the Town Council, for staggered terms of three years. It further requires the Town Council to fill vacancies occurring for reasons other than term expiration as they occur, for the period of the unexpired term.
The Town Council appointed Mr. Wyder to the Board during its regular April meeting, but failed to fill his vacated alternate seat for the remaining three months of his term. Alternates are non-voting members of the Planning Board who may be called upon to participate and vote on Board business in the absence of a regular member.
The Planning Board advises the Town Council by making recommendations on matters pertaining to the physical development of Southern Shores. It is the front-line watchdog or enforcer of the Town’s land-use plan, which supports “small low-density neighborhoods,” achieved by “single-family homes primarily on large lots.”
The Planning Board does not make law; the Town Council does.
Since April 1, 2014, the Planning Board has served in a dual capacity as the Town’s Board of Adjustment (BOA), whose decisions are subject to court appeal, not to Town Council approval. The BOA is a quasi-judicial body that has legal representation and conducts due-process hearings. (See Code sec. 36-365.)
Among its duties, the BOA has the power to grant variances from dimensional lot requirements, such as the side-setback variances that it granted during the past two years to Southern Shores property owners of 50-foot-wide nonconforming lots. (The Beacon has covered these cases extensively. See last month’s blog posts.)
According to the minutes of the Town Council’s April 1, 2014 meeting, Town Planner Wes Haskett recommended the abolition of the Town’s separate Board of Adjustment and its consolidation with the Planning Board, pursuant to action by the N.C. General Assembly that took effect in October 2013. The separate BOA reportedly had not met since Nov. 20, 2008.
Mayor Tom Bennett and Council members Jodi Hess, David Sanders, Larry Lawhon, and Leo Holland unanimously approved ZTA 14-01, which consolidated the two boards and specified the BOA’s powers, duties, hearing requirements, review standards, etc. This ZTA became Article XII of the Town Code’s Chapter 36, which is about zoning.
According to the Planning Board records online, Mr. Williams has been Board chairman since his July 1, 2009-June 30, 2012 term, reelected by the full Board each year.
The Town Code requires the Planning Board to elect a chairman and vice-chairman, subject to the approval of the Town Council, for one year; it also provides that a chairman may be reelected. (Sec. 24-24(c)) There are no term limits for the chairman or for any Planning Board members. Board member Joe McGraw is listed on the Town website as vice-chairman.
Mr. Neal is finishing his first term, as is Mr. Gomez, and The Beacon believes both should be reappointed. They are thoughtful, open-minded, and conscientious public servants with experience in the building industry.
Mr. Williams has served on the Board since March 25, 2008, the past nine years as chairman. While The Beacon believes Mr. Williams has been an asset to the Planning Board and the Town, and merits reappointment, we also believe that a change in chairmanship is overdue. We hope the other Planning Board members will consider the advantages of bringing a “fresh eye” to the chairmanship.
Municipal planning boards, whose members are usually appointed, not elected, should not be dominated by one individual, whose personal leadership style, land-use and development perspectives and priorities, and even personal and professional relationships within the municipality inevitably affect the Board’s business and its recommendations. Any one of the current Planning Board members, who include Elizabeth Morey in addition to Mssrs. Wyder, McGraw, and Neal, would do an excellent job as chairman and should be given an opportunity.
I have often heard Town officials and staff lament that Town residents do not apply for Planning Board vacancies, and recruitment is difficult. Judging from my online research about municipal planning boards and boards of adjustment nationwide, this lament is common. I do not know how much actual recruitment is done in Southern Shores, but I will do my part here in digging up the application, which can be hard to find on the Town website. Here it is:
Please consider serving your town, your neighbors, and the greater Outer Banks community by applying for a position. Regardless of how the Town Council handles the expiring terms of Mssrs. Williams, Neal, and Gomez, there is a vacant alternate seat, with no obvious candidate. You must submit your completed application to Town Manager Peter Rascoe, who will forward it to the Town Council.
Finally, in light of the flurry of activity before the Board of Adjustment in recent years, The Beacon would like to suggest that the Planning Board take time to review and evaluate its performance as the BOA, as well as Article XII of Town Code Chapter 36, especially the language on the standard of review for granting a variance. Questions about “hardship” to a variance applicant proved somewhat confusing in hearings.
The Beacon also would like to know if the Planning Board, which unanimously recommended ZTA 14-01 to the Town Council, still believes the consolidation of the two boards is in the best interest of Southern Shores. Besides variance requests, the BOA is responsible for hearing appeals of certain administrative decisions.