Last night’s Town Council meeting was wild. It included two happenings that I’ve never witnessed before: a 45-minute break while the Mayor and Town Council met in closed session with Town Attorney Ben Gallop, and a motion by one Council member to censure another. In bottom-line action:
The Town Council voted unanimously to send ZTA 18-07, about the 50-foot-wide nonconforming lots, back to town staff to rewrite it in light of Council’s instructions about what it specifically seeks to prevent. There currently is a nonconforming lots ordinance in the Town Code. ZTA 18-07 was an attempt to improve on it. I haven’t mentioned this fact since the Planning Board approved ZTA 18-07, because I didn’t expect the Town Council to tackle its difficult-to- understand legalistic language, which I opposed. To its credit, the Council is doing so–but it should have been prepared to do this a month ago. (That latter statement is my opinion.)
In a similar vein, the Town Council voted unanimously to send ZTA 18-04, about changing how the maxmimum 30 percent lot coverage is calculated, back to the Planning Board for reconsideration. This suggestion was first made by builder Andy Ward in his comments during the public hearing for the zoning text amendment. Mr. Ward was appointed to a voting seat on the Planning Board shortly before he spoke, so he will be involved in the reconsideration. I supported this move as a compromise position.
In addition to Mr. Ward, builder David Neal was appointed to another three-year term on the Planning Board. Former Councilman Leo Holland and Kitty Hawk firefighter Michael Basilone, who lives in Southern Shores, were appointed alternates.
Police Chief David Kole presented his report on the no-left-turn weekend. No official Town Council action related to the control of cut-through traffic and the NLT weekend occurred. At the SSCA general membership meeting Monday night, Mayor Bennett indicated that he was following up with NC DOT. In a Facebook post yesterday, I reported that the Mayor said he was talking with DOT about the signage and lights and looking into how to contain costs for a left-turn ban, which he showed support for considering. Specifically, the Mayor told SSCA membership that he was considering a turn prohibition on summer weekends starting in late June and continuing until early August.
ZTA 18-04, PROPOSED CHANGE IN LOT-COVERAGE CALCULATION
Starting with the July fireworks first, the motion to censure came during a passionate discussion about ZTA 18-04, after a public hearing in which all five speakers argued against its passage, in its current form. Councilman Chris Nason made the motion in regard to Councilman Gary McDonald. Here’s the story:
Upon conclusion of the hearing, Councilman McDonald moved to reject ZTA 18-04, which is a restyled version of ZTA 17-03, defeated by the Town Council, 3-2, on Sept. 5, 2017. Councilman Fred Newberry, who seconded Mr. McDonald’s motion, joined with former Councilman Leo Holland and Mr. McDonald last September to defeat ZTA 17-03. I wrote just two days ago about this “second bite of the apple” occasioned by Councilman Jim Conners’s election. (Such political decisions “happen everywhere” in the nation, all of the time, Mr. Conners defended last night.)
Before a vote was taken on the motion, Councilman Chris Nason, an architect who owns Beacon Architecture & Design in Kitty Hawk, said he wanted to discuss it.
It became clear from Mr. Nason’s lengthy remarks that he was the driving force behind the resurrection of the defeated ZTA, which both Councilman Conners and the Mayor supported.
Saying that he respectfully disagreed with the five speakers, including longtime builder Andy Ward, who collectively argued that the changes to the lot-coverage calculation would aggravate stormwater runoff and retention; increase house size; reduce open space; and otherwise hurt the environment and aesthetics of Southern Shores, Mr. Nason explained that the ZTA is designed “to encourage people to do low-impact projects.”
“Everything in [the ZTA] is a compromise,” he asserted. “It won’t change the character and aesthetics of Southern Shores.”
Councilman Newberry interjected: “You’re not going to convince me that four feet of eaves is aesthetically pleasing.” Mr. Nason agreed, saying that two feet would be better.
The Beacon did not time Mr. Nason’s remarks, nor have I viewed the videotape, but I would estimate that he spoke uninterruptedly for 10 to 15 minutes about the various exemptions from the 30-percent lot coverage calculation that ZTA 18-04 would add—including gravel walkways, four feet of eaves, 500 square feet of a swimming pool’s water area, and 50 percent of pervious materials for driveways and parking areas; relevant State standards and lot-coverage calculations in other towns on the Outer Banks; the recommendations from Codewright in the Town Code “update”; and other considerations.
Also while Mr. McDonald’s motion was pending, the Mayor stated the Council’s options on ZTA 18-04 as three: 1) defeat it; 2) pass it; or 3) send it to the Planning Board for further consideration, a measure he appeared to favor.
After Mr. Nason stopped speaking, Mr. McDonald pointed out that all of the speakers in the public hearing were “intelligent” and didn’t need a “lesson” from Mr. Nason. He reiterated the public’s support for leaving the lot-coverage calculation as it is and cited Codewright’s public survey, which showed that 68 percent of those who responded did not want the lot-coverage ordinance to change. (At some point during the discussion, Councilman Conners characterized the consultant’s survey as “poorly written.”)
It was during his rebuttal that Mr. McDonald turned to Mr. Nason and asked: “How much money do you need to make?”
Ka-boom! Fireworks went off! Cannons roared! Mr. Nason called Mr. McDonald’s inflammatory remark “uncalled for,” and Mr. Conners angrily jumped into the fray. Mr. Nason made a motion to censure Mr. McDonald, and Mr. Conners quickly seconded it.
I may have the sequence of events slightly out of order—everything happened so quickly—but suffice it to say that the Mayor restored order in a commendable show of leadership. The motion to censure was defeated 3-2, with the Mayor and Councilmen McDonald and Newberry voting against it.
In the last public-comment period of the night, Glenn Wyder, who is president of the Chicahauk Property Owners Assn. and a member of the Town Planning Board, called Mr. McDonald’s question “out of line” and said his behavior was worse than any misconduct he has seen on the many boards he has served. Mr. Wyder complimented the Mayor for his management of the breach and urged Town Council members to “put your personal differences aside so we can all work as a team for the good of Southern Shores.”
The Beacon believes that both Mr. McDonald’s hot-button question, asked in obvious frustration, and Mr. Nason’s and Mr. Conners’s reactions to it were rash and ill-advised, but not unexpected in a political forum about a divisive issue that came up just last September. (The Beacon wrote about the politics of ZTA 18-04 in its April 20 report after the Planning Board’s April 16 hearing on the amendment. It has become a veritable litmus test for who has more influence in town: the building industry or the public. That’s why Mr. Ward’s comments were so critical.)
As for Mr. McDonald’s motion to defeat ZTA 18-04, it failed 2-3, with Mr. Newberry voting with Mr. McDonald. The five Council members then united to unanimously pass the Mayor’s motion to send the amendment back to the Planning Board for more consideration.
After the meeting, I asked Mr. Gallop what, if any, legal effect a censure would have had, and he said none. Apparently, it would simply have been an official expression of disapproval.
In his comments at the end of the meeting, Mr. Newberry returned to the subject of public opinion and the town’s land-use plan and poignantly said: “We are elected by the people to represent them whether we agree with them or not.”
ZTA 18-07, NONCONFORMING LOTS
Inasmuch as I have greatly detailed the fracas over the lot-coverage ZTA, I will be more concise in my coverage of other agenda items.
I believe the Town Council showed great practical wisdom in suspending the meeting after the first public-comment period to have a closed session with Mr. Gallop about ZTA 18-07. The motion to do so was made by Mr. McDonald and seconded by Mr. Newberry.
The purpose of ZTA 18-07 was to replace the language of current Town Code sec. 36-132, which addresses nonconforming lots, with language that is more comprehensive and less ambiguous. I believe that Town Attorney Ben Gallop achieved this objective, accounting for as many “what-ifs” as he could imagine in his effort to prevent (re)development on 50-foot-wide nonconforming lots.
Unfortunately, the language of ZTA 18-07 is very legalistic and not easy to understand for someone who is not a lawyer. Before the Town Council’s hearing last night, 2015-18 Planning Board member David Neal, who has been especially concerned about the issue and whom the Council subsequently reappointed to the Board, said to me, “People are confused.” I agree.
During the Town Planning Board’s May 21 consideration of the measure, Board member Elizabeth Morey asked Mr. Gallop: “Are you pretty confident that what you have put together is comprehensive enough to stop what we want to stop?”
Mr. Gallop replied that he thought it was. But the Planning Board obviously struggled with his language and approach. (See The Beacon’s coverage on May 16 and May 23 for background.)
By its action last night, the Town Council suggests that it believes Mr. Gallop has been too comprehensive.
After Council members returned from their 45-minute closed session with the Town Attorney, Mr. Conners made a motion to send the ZTA back to town staff for revision so that it achieves the limited purpose of preventing a property owner who has a single structure (house) on a double lot (two 50-foot-wide lots) from 1) razing that structure and building two structures on his/her property; or 2) selling his property to other people who would rebuild on the smaller lots. At least, this is the meaning that I took away from Mr. Conners’s motion and from Mayor Bennett’s explanation to me after the meeting.
THE POLICE REPORT ON NLT WEEKEND AND BIAS (This is an editorial based on news reporting.)
During his report on the no-left-turn weekend, Police Chief David Kole said he was only reporting the facts, i.e., the vehicle counts on the four monitored roads: NC 12 at Skyline Road; 286 Sea Oats Trail; 182 S. Dogwood Trail and South Dogwood Trail at Wood Duck Court; and Trinitie Trail in Chicahauk. He was not reaching any conclusions about whether the weekend was a success or a failure.
But he did make a point of informing the Town Council and the assembled audience about how short-handed the assignment of two officers to the NLT enforcement left his force—apparently, only three officers are on duty during these peak hours when the transient population swells—and sharing the content of some of the anonymous complaints he received. One voicemail left by an unidentified person, the Chief advised, “said the traffic was bumper-to-bumper” on a residential street. But he didn’t name the street or specify the day or the time or the length of the backup.
The Chief also entertained the Town Council with his account of how two irate out-of-towners called him to complain that the traffic citations they received for illegally turning left at South Dogwood Trail during the June 23-24 restriction were “illegal” because their GPS had directed them to take the turn. The Virginian-Pilot’s article, you may recall, had out-of-towners “fussing” at officers about being stopped for left turns that their GPS allegedly suggested they take.
In reporting that only 17 fewer cars traveled on South Dogwood Trail on June 23 than had traveled on June 16, the Chief said, “I was dumbfounded.” I was immediately sorry that I had traversed South Dogwood Trail at least five times that day, monitoring the traffic; without my travel, the Chief could have reported 22 fewer cars.
Gee, I wonder if I went door to door and polled property owners on how many times they traveled north on South Dogwood Trail on June 23–because, for a change, it was wide open–if I could add some more numbers to the 17 total. Perhaps we should install cameras so we know exactly how many cars with OBX or other local license plates travel north on South Dogwood Trail, and then we can subtract them from future vehicle counts. Ditto with Sea Oats Trail and Trinitie.
During the Town Council’s discussion on the NLT weekend, Councilman Chris Nason made the following calculation: After learning that the traffic ban cost the Town $6800 to $7000 to implement, he divided this total by 17 to arrive at what the Town spent per fewer car on South Dogwood Trail, roughly $400.
How do you argue with such illogical thinking? I am dumbfounded. I wonder if Mr. Nason traveled on South Dogwood Trail on either day of the NLT weekend and observed firsthand its conditions.
There’s no way to know who was traveling on South Dogwood Trail and why and which direction they came from on either NLT trial day. Nor do we know if the traffic counter at 182 S. Dogwood Trail was operating properly on June 23, June 16, last year during the comparable June weekend, or any other time. The Chief actually admitted that the devices “don’t always work.” He also said that the devices will not count vehicles that are traveling at less than 3.5 miles per hour. How many cars moving bumper-to-bumper June 16 on South Dogwood didn’t register for the count? Who knows? And what about swift-moving bicycles? Were they part of the count on June 23?
At no time during his presentation did Chief Kole ever mention the positive experience that so many of us had during the NLT weekend. Not once. If he lives in Southern Shores and talks to residents, then he has to know. Either he’s withholding information, and, therefore presenting a biased picture, or he’s not talking to many of the people he serves.
The Chief reiterated that now familiar line about how “the traffic has to go somewhere” and added to it that he knew when he moved to Southern Shores that traffic was a problem, the implication being that when you move to a nuisance, you shouldn’t complain about the nuisance.
Let’s just suppose that there wasn’t a nuisance when some of us moved here and that we know how to get rid of the nuisance–to the betterment of the tourists who drive through our town en route to the northern beaches, as well as ourselves. Are we all supposed to just grin and bear it?
After the Chief concluded his negative assessment, Mr. Conners took yet another thinly veiled shot at me, branding as “despicable” bloggers and other social media people who called the Chief and his report biased. By that point, dear readers, I’d had enough. I didn’t go to law school just to sit quietly by while one public official presents a skewed and incomplete picture of a community event and another public official unjustly criticizes and seeks to intimidate me. I scrapped what I had planned to say in public comments and spoke about bias.
One example: assumptions about vehicle counts that serve an individual’s interests, but are not factually supported. The Chief doesn’t know why people traveling north on NC 12–at least at Skyline Road–on Fri., June 22, were on the road, nor does he know their destinations.
During my remarks, I mentioned that Mayor Bennett had said in his report to the SSCA Monday night that people told him they loved the NLT weekend. My point was that the Mayor had told that truth, whereas the Police Chief would not. The Mayor quibbled with me about omitting the rest of what he told the SSCA, but I wasn’t informing people about all that the Mayor said. I was only reporting that the Mayor had said people loved it.
I will tell you now, as I reported on The Beacon’s Facebook page on Tuesday, that the Mayor reported “mixed results”: People either loved it, he said, or they complained about the cost to the taxpayers for blocking the turn. After the Council meeting, he told me: “I was honest.”
(So much for being concise!)
AND FINALLY . . .
The Town Council unanimously approved the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Plan for fiscal year 2018-19, as presented (See The Beacon on July 2), and approved with a change in one setback, ZTA 18-03, an amendment submitted by the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept. to amend several Town Code sections in order to establish the necessary parking, signage, and setback requirements for the anticipated new fire station.
According to Town Planner and Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett, the new station “site plan is still a work in progress.”
The vote on Planning Board applicants was as follows:
For seat 3, full voting Board member: David Neal, 5-0.
For seat 4, full voting Board member: Andy Ward, 3-2; Leo Holland, 2-3.
For alternate one: Leo Holland, 5-0.
For alternate two: Michael Basilone, 4-1.
The next regularly scheduled Town Council meeting is Aug. 7. The Council may meet before then to take up the revised ZTA on nonconforming lots. I’ll let you know.
The next Planning Board meeting is Mon., July 16. The Board members will select a chairperson for the next fiscal year. I’ll give you a meeting agenda preview soon.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, July 11, 2018