8/31/18: ALPHA-GAL SYNDROME: A Little-Known Red-Meat Allergy Triggered by a Lone Star Tick Bite; Most Prevalent in Southeastern USA

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The lone star tick. Only the females transmit alpha-gal sugar.

“I just laid down on the bathroom floor and called for my husband . . . A minute or two later, I felt the itching on my hands and then on my feet, and I looked around, and it was everywhere—hives, just intense itching. We decided it was time to go to the emergency room.”—JOANNE, alpha-gal allergy sufferer

Have you ever heard of alpha-gal syndrome?

I hadn’t, until I met with a friend earlier this month in Chapel Hill, and she told me she had been diagnosed with this unusual syndrome. Alpha-gal syndrome is an allergy to red meat that a person develops after a lone star tick bites him/her and transmits a sugar molecule called alpha-gal. I’m serious! The sugar is the allergen.

Joanne, whom I quote above, had a full-blown allergic reaction in October 2016 after eating “two very small ribs.” First, she had severe gastrointestinal distress; then the hives came. She was 65.

Alpha-gal is not a tick-borne disease; it’s a tick-borne allergy. If you’ve never heard of it, either, it may be because alpha-gal syndrome, which is characterized by a delayed allergic reaction after eating red meat, has only recently been identified. Also, many people who have the allergy don’t know they have it.

Just eating a hamburger or a few spare ribs can bring on a full-body case of intense hives or a severe bout of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, or even life-threatening anaphylaxis in people who, like Joanne, have been eating hamburgers and spare ribs all of their lives without incident.

I told my friend Linda I always knew she was an alpha gal. This alpha-gal, however, is short for galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, which allergist and immunologist Dr. Scott Commins, of the University of North Carolina Dept. of Medicine, described in a Sept. 12, 2017 UNC podcast as “a carbohydrate or sugar that has two galactose sugars linked in an alpha-1-3 linkage.”

Dr. Commins is an associate professor in UNC’s Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology and Thurston Arthritis Research Center. He is also a nationally recognized expert in alpha-gal syndrome. The UNC allergist trained as an allergy and immunology fellow in the University of Virginia lab where, and when, the first alpha-gal allergy cases were identified and studied.

Although scientists in Georgia reported in the late 1980s upon what were most likely 10 cases of alpha-gal allergies caused by tick bites, they did not publish their findings, nor did the Georgia Allergy Society or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention follow them up. It was not until 2009, when the U.Va. research team, led by Thomas A.E. Platts-Mills, M.D., Ph.D.,  published a report of 24 cases of “delayed anaphylaxis to red meat,” occurring after tick bites, that alpha-gal syndrome gained research traction.

Interestingly, before they made the tick bite-red meat-allergic reaction connection, Dr. Platts-Mills and his colleagues grappled with what Dr. Commins calls in the “Alpha-Gal Allergy—with Dr. Scott Commins” podcast the “cancer side of alpha-gal.”

Starting in 2004, more than 20 percent of the patients who were receiving intravenous infusions of the cancer drug, cetuximab, in clinical trials developed sudden-onset alpha-gal syndrome and experienced anaphylactic-type reactions. A few fatalities occurred. Most of the affected patients lived in the southeastern United States, which, it turned out, not coincidentally, is a hotbed region for ticks.

I published this blog first on my medical information website. Because the Outer Banks is a hotbed within that hotbed region for ticks, I thought I’d share it on the Beacon blog. The alpha-gal story is fascinating.

ALPHA-GAL SUGAR AND TICKS

Chemists and those inclined toward chemistry will understand what Dr. Commins means by an alpha configuration. The rest of us need know only that alpha-gal sugar, which coats some proteins, is present in non-primate mammals, such as cows, sheep, pigs, and even dogs and cats, but we humans don’t have it. We can make an immune response to alpha-gal sugar, however—producing what are known as IgE (immunoglobin E) antibodies— if we eat foods that are derived from species that have it.

While most of us who are non-immuno-compromised eat these kinds of animal products without becoming reactive to the alpha-gal sugars in them, some of us become reactive, i.e., allergic. Those who do react produce a novel IgE response that is different from typical IgE responses directed toward protein allergens. (Allergies are caused by exposure to substances called allergens or, more generally, antigens. Most food allergies are caused by protein allergens, such as peanuts, not by sugars.)

Much of Dr. Commins’s research is focused on why some people react to alpha-gal, while others don’t.

My friend Linda, who lives in the woods (as I do), became potentially allergic after she was bitten by a lone star tick, which carries alpha-gal molecules from the blood of the animals it commonly bites.

Linda is outdoorsy and tick-savvy. She covers her arms and legs and wears boots when she’s out in her woods, and she checks herself for ticks regularly. She knew that she had been bitten by a lone star tick, which also transmits unwelcome diseases, and told her primary-care physician about it during a subsequent checkup. Her doctor did a screening blood test and diagnosed her with alpha-gal, before Linda, who is largely a vegetarian, had experienced any symptoms. She had never heard of it.

Since her diagnosis, my friend has avoided eating beef, pork, and lamb—“anything essentially that has hooves and walks on four legs,” Dr. Commins says, adding venison, bison, and buffalo to the list—or anything that may be cooked in a stock with these meats and has felt fine. Dr. Commins also discourages ice cream consumption.

According to the UNC medical professor, only a “small fraction” of people who test positive on an alpha-gal blood test actually develop allergic responses after eating red meat. That’s good news.

Contrary to what you may assume, lone star ticks do not come from Texas. They are named for the white, star-shaped spots on their backs (see above) and primarily live in the southeastern United States. Only the females transmit alpha-gal sugar and disease. With warmer winters prolonging tick seasons, lone-star-tick populations are starting to spread farther north and west. Like many of their tick “cousins,” they travel on deer, which we have in abundance on the Outer Banks.

In the podcast, Dr. Commins cautions that lone star ticks should not be assumed to be the only cause of alpha-gal syndrome. The allergy exists in Australia, Europe, and parts of Asia where the lone star tick does not.

Most people with alpha-gal syndrome do not know they have alpha-gal until they become ill, which typically does not occur, according to Dr. Commins, until four to six weeks after a tick bite, at which point the patient may have forgotten about the bite, if he/she even noticed it.

Besides the lapse in time between a tick bite and allergic symptoms, there is a two- to six-hour delay between the eating of red meat and the development of an alpha-gal reaction. These delays make alpha-gal easy to overlook.

To diagnose alpha-gal, Dr. Commins says, a physician relies on two-fold proof: 1) a clinical history; and 2) a positive blood test.

CLINICAL HISTORY: SYMPTOMS

Because the red-meat allergic reaction doesn’t start until an average of three or four hours after eating a hamburger or a steak, most alpha-gal allergy sufferers are stricken during the night when they are asleep. One explanation for the hours-long delay, Dr. Commins says, is that the digestive process for fat takes that long. In contrast, most allergic responses to food, such as peanuts or eggs, are immediate.

The alpha-gal allergic reaction often begins with intense itching, particularly on the palms and soles of the feet. It then spreads to the rest of the skin.

“We have patients tell us repeatedly that their hands begin to itch and turn red,” Dr. Commins explains. “Then they often get systemic hives all over their skin. [The process usually] starts with skin and itching and hives and redness, perhaps swelling, then [patients] often tell us that they feel light-headed, so we think their blood sugar is dropping. Often there is a gastrointestinal component to this as well—so really severe abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting—all the hallmarks of an anaphylactic allergy reaction.”

In a Sept. 19, 2017 University of North Carolina Dept. of Medicine podcast that Dr. Commins did with Joanne, one of his alpha-gal allergy patients, the allergist says that he worries when two organ systems—the skin being one—are involved in the reaction.

If a patient just has hives, then he or she can probably manage the reaction with an antihistamine, such as Benadryl®. It there is a second organ system involved—typically, the gastrointestinal system and/or the cardiovascular system (blood-pressure changes)—then Dr. Commins advises the patient to call 911 or go immediately to the emergency department of a local hospital. The reaction can be life-threatening.

Joanne, who is a Duke University professor, describes waking up around 2 a.m., feeling nauseated and having extreme and sudden “gastrointestinal distress.” Her face was flushed and very hot. After having severe diarrhea, she started feeling itching on her hands and feet, “and I looked around,” she says, “and it was everywhere—hives, just intense itching.”

She went to an emergency room with her husband and was treated for anaphylaxis: “They gave me some fluids. They gave me maybe two Benadryl tables, and then just observed me, and after a while I was fine.”

The emergency physicians did not diagnose Joanne with alpha-gal. Instead, they referred her to her primary-care physician, who happened to be at UNC. She did some computer research and came up with the possible alpha-gal diagnosis, which the physician herself had never made. Armed with the tentative alpha-gal diagnosis and with the knowledge that, as a gardener, she received many tick bites, Joanne pretty much diagnosed herself, through Internet research, before she saw Dr. Commins.

Joanne had eaten red meat her whole life, without any difficulties. She had even eaten meat every night for several consecutive nights before the consumption of those “two very small ribs” that induced her allergic distress and brought her to the bathroom floor.

HYPERSENSITIVITY & CETUXIMAB

Judging from her symptoms, Joanne probably did not experience anaphylaxis.

According to the online Mayo Clinic, anaphylaxis, which is a severe hypersensitivity induced by exposure to an allergen, is characterized by:

*Difficulty breathing

*Rapid, weak pulse

*Dizziness or lightheadedness

*Drooling and inability to swallow

*Full-body redness and warmth (flushing)

Anaphylactic “shock” occurs when there is a sharp drop in blood pressure, along with breathing difficulties, hives, and itching. Such shock can be fatal.

“Hypersensitivity reactions are a classic side effect of cetuximab,” write French researchers in a 2014 oncology journal article in which they report upon three cancer patients in Normandy, France, who developed life-threatening symptoms with cetuximab treatment, one of whom died. (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4116358/.)

Elsewhere, they write that “Hypersensitivity reactions are a classic side effect of monoclonal antibodies.”

In 2004, when ImClone and Bristol Meyers Squibb were investigating the monoclonal antibody, cetuximab, in clinical trials for treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer, they did not know about this “classic side effect.” Early in their studies, however, it became clear that the antibody was causing hypersensitivity reactions, primarily in patients in a group of southern U.S. states. (Very roughly speaking, monoclonal antibodies are one type of substitute antibodies formed in a lab and used in cancer immunotherapy.)

Cetuximab was produced in a mouse cell line, not from human cells. According to Dr. Commins, patients who received this intravenous medication reacted “on the order of one in five or one in four on first infusion.”

“These reactions . . . developed rapidly and symptoms often peaked within 20 minutes following or during the first infusion of the antibody and occasionally proved fatal,” write Drs. Commins, Platt-Mills, and John W. Steinke in a 2015 article, “The Alpha Gal Story: Lessons Learned From Connecting the Dots.” Because of marketing delays, it was not until 2006 that the true severity of the reactions became obvious.

Eventually, the U.Va. researchers deduced that the mouse cells—mice being one of the species that make alpha-gal—were “decorating” the cancer drug with alpha-gal sugar, so that when the medication was given to people who were alpha-gal allergic, they reacted.

At the same time, Dr. Commins says in a podcast, Dr. Platt-Mills and he were seeing patients in the U.Va. Asthma and Allergic Disease Center who were not on cancer drugs, but were telling us, “Hey, doc, I think I’m allergic to beef (or pork, or lamb) but it doesn’t happen every time, and it happens in a delayed way.”

Dr. Platt-Mills had developed a blood-screening test for alpha-gal allergy to use in the cancer-drug context. He and Dr. Commins applied it to clinic patients with a meat allergy, and “that opened the Pandora’s box,” Dr. Commins says. A CDC map of the incidence of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the United States and, ironically, Dr. Platts-Mills’s own experience with a tick bite and a meat-eating allergic reaction helped the researchers to make the eventual causative connection.

Both the clinical-trial cancer patients and the walk-in clinic patients who experienced allergic reactions had been bitten by lone star ticks. Amazing.

THE GOOD NEWS

The best news about alpha-gal syndrome is that it appears to be a transient allergy, not a life-long immune response. Besides taking Benadryl upon the appearance of symptoms, Dr. Commins recommends using EpiPen or epinephrine auto-injector, which is used for other allergies. Epinephrine is the same as adrenaline.

In an excellent July 2018 New York Times Magazine article about alpha-gal, Dr. Commins suggests that an enzyme in the tick’s saliva may work as an immunological adjuvant, essentially telling the bite victim’s immune system to see alpha-gal as a threat that warrants an allergic reaction.

If he is correct about the enzyme being “what it is about the tick that creates this risk,” then the development of an allergy shot that uses this salivary component may not be that far off. An allergy shot would desensitize people with alpha-gal and prevent future allergic reactions.

In the meantime, you know the tick drill: Cover up and tuck in; use insect repellant on your exposed skin, clothing, and gear; keep your dog on a leash; tick-proof your yard by clearing brush and leaves; and check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks.

Ticks are rarely higher than knee-high–despite the myth about them falling from trees– but they have an unnerving habit of crawling up your skin, once they’re aboard.

Ann, 8/31/18

UNC podcast with Dr. Scott Commins, Sept. 12, 2017:

https://www.med.unc.edu/medicine/news/chairs-corner/podcast/alpha-gal

UNC podcast with Dr. Commins and Joanne, Sept. 19, 2017:

https://www.med.unc.edu/medicine/news/chairs-corner/podcast/alpha-gal-patient

commins
Dr. Scott Commins 
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8/21/18: A CHANGING OF THE GUARD: THE ‘NEW’ PLANNING BOARD REJECTS REVISED ZTA ON NONCONFORMING LOTS AS INADEQUATE PROTECTION FOR TOWN; APPROVES 2 OF 5 PROPOSED EXEMPTIONS FROM 30-PERCENT LOT-COVERAGE CALCULATION: Chairperson Glenn Wyder Takes Charge

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In a meeting last night that served notice that the new Planning Board, chaired by Glenn Wyder, will be well-prepared, proactive, and highly protective of Southern Shores, the five volunteer Board members unanimously rejected a scaled-back version of the nonconforming lots zoning text amendment (ZTA 18-07A)—which Mr. Wyder said “you could drive a truck through”—and recommended removing from the lot-coverage ZTA most of the proposed exemptions, including those for swimming pools and driveways.

The Board threw its support behind the previous comprehensive nonconforming lots ZTA (18-07), which the Mayor and Town Council directed Town Attorney Ben Gallop to revise, after they postponed action on the ZTA’s second reading at their July 10 meeting.

Although the Board rejected three exemptions proposed by ZTA 18-04, which seeks to change the calculation of 30-percent residential lot coverage, it approved the exemptions of gravel walkways and open-slatted decks that allow water to penetrate through to pervious material. (See below.)

During the hearing on ZTA 18-04, Planning Board member David Neal, a local builder, pointed out that the amendment would enlarge the buildable footprint for a house, a fact that has prompted many property owners to oppose it. Mr. Neal and newly appointed member Andy Ward, another local builder, voted only in favoring of exempting gravel walkways from the lot-coverage calculation.

(The Beacon has written extensively about these two zoning text amendments. Please refer to blogs posted in May, June, July, and earlier this month for background and analysis.)

Before deciding these weighty matters, the Planning Board, sitting in its capacity as the Board of Adjustment (BOA), granted a special variance to the owners of the Pink Perfection, a classic flat top built on the oceanfront in 1954, so that they may build a roof atop a new dune deck, in the same style as the roof on a historic dune deck that will be demolished. The Board stressed the “special and historic nature of the property” in approving a variance from Town Code sec. 36-99, which prohibits roofs on dune decks.

Mr. Wyder signaled a changing of the guard early in the meeting when he announced that speakers making public comments—outside of those given during a BOA hearing—henceforth will be limited to three minutes and that there will be no informal dialogues among Board members and members of the audience or any calling out from audience members. Mr. Wyder’s formalized procedural rules are designed to move meetings along and to keep discussions focused and on point.

IMO, last night’s meeting proceeded at a fairly brisk clip, with two welcome breaks taken at opportune times. Whenever Mr. Wyder thought that the robust and thorough discussion among the Board members, chiefly involving Mr. Ward, Mr. Neal, and the Chairperson, was becoming redundant or “circular,” as Mr. Wyder described it, he intervened. That these Board members clearly had done substantial research in preparation for the meeting gave their discussions both depth and momentum.

OPINION: From both a procedural and a substantive standpoint, this Planning Board meeting was the best I have ever attended, hands down. All of the members are independent-minded and thoughtful. They each have their own way of processing information and communicating, but they are united in their concern for Southern Shores. The three builders on the panel—Joe McGraw is the third—each have decades of experience and history with Southern Shores, and the fifth member, Elizabeth Morey, a political-campaign consultant, has a background in government regulatory work.

MORE OPINION: When Mr. Neal spoke during the “Pink Perfection” variance hearing about “thinking outside of the box” and “getting away from cookie-cutting this town,” I was overjoyed.

“I’m here to represent what I think is good for the Town of Southern Shores,” he said, citing the 40 years in which he has lived and worked here and the unfortunate changes he has seen. In Mr. Wyder, who claimed a 25-year Southern Shores history, I believe we have a strong leader who is equally committed to serving the Town.

NONCONFORMING LOTS, ZTA 18-07A

Speaking of unfortunate changes . . . the recent trend toward developing 50-foot-wide lots that were once part of a larger parcel of two or more 50-foot-wide lots is one of the worst that I’ve seen in my decades of Southern Shores life. It’s ruinous.

I may be misquoting Mr. Wyder in his truck analogy. He may have driven a “Mack” truck through ZTA 18-07A. I know the New Jersey native referred to the Lincoln Tunnel, too, in describing the “loopholes” of ZTA 18-07A.

The first reading of the original nonconforming lots ZTA, 18-07, garnered 3-2 support from the Council, with Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Chris Nason dissenting. Councilman Jim Conners was especially enthusiastic about the amendment, saying it was about “stopping runaway development so [Southern Shores] doesn’t look like Kitty Hawk or Kill Devil Hills.”

Mr. Conners then exhorted his Council colleagues: “Let’s move forward.”

By July 10, the date of the ZTA’s second reading, the newest Town Councilman clearly had changed his mind. After the Town Council returned from a closed session during the July meeting to discuss ZTA 18-07, Mr. Conners made a motion (which all supported) to send the ZTA back to Town staff for revision so that it achieved the limited purpose of preventing a property owner who has a single structure on a double-lot or larger parcel (at least two 50-foot-wide lots) from:

1. Razing that structure and building two structures on his/her property; or

2. Selling his/her property so that someone else can raze the structure and rebuild on the smaller lots.

The Town Council deliberately omitted from the regulation the sale of vacant land that consists of two or more 50-foot-wide (or otherwise nonconforming) lots. That omission is the primary loophole that Mr. Wyder could drive his truck through.

“Did Council want to leave out vacant lots?” Mr. Neal asked Mr. Gallop.

“Yes,” the Town Attorney answered.

The key paragraph of ZTA 18-07A reads:

“Prior to the demolition of an existing principal building, redevelopment exceeding 50% of an existing principal building’s value, or construction of a new principal building when such existing or proposed principal building is located or proposed to be located on two or more lots any of which are non-conforming, all lots underlying the existing or proposed principal building shall be recombined into a single lot.”

It quickly became clear in last night’s meeting that the Planning Board, which unanimously approved ZTA 18-07 on May 21, recommending that the Town Council adopt it, was not going to permit the exclusion of undeveloped parcels. (In this case, “parcel” means a tract of land that consists of more than one nonconforming lot.)

Both Mr. Wyder and Mr. Ward came prepared with examples of vacant parcels in Town, which, if they were sold as separate 50-foot-wide lots, would result in a proliferation of development that would seriously compromise the low-density nature of Southern Shores–its character, appeal, and habitability–and otherwise cause irreparable damage. Southern Shores would indeed look more like Kitty Hawk or KDH.

Mr. Wyder said he had identified six vacant parcels of 100 or 200 feet in width, between the Southern Shores Crossing and the Ocean Boulevard-Chicahauk Trail intersection, a distance of about 8/10 mile. If each of these parcels were sold in 50-foot-wide lot increments and developed as such, he said, 13 new houses could be built. “I have a problem with this,” he said, stressing that he had looked at only one short stretch of the beach.

Mr. Ward identified a section of the oceanfront—at 76A, 76B, and 76C Ocean Blvd., formerly known as 76 Ocean Blvd.—in which such lot sales have already occurred. These three were sold Dec. 28, 2017, ahead of anticipated lawmaking to prevent such transactions. (As I have written, restrictive covenants that run with the land might prevent the construction of houses on these small nonconforming lots, but someone has to be legally qualified and otherwise willing to enforce them. That’s a topic for another blog.)

“I think the tear-down is a slam dunk,” Mr. Ward said, meaning everyone wants to stop the demolition and redevelopment that ZTA 18-07A seeks to stop. But it doesn’t go far enough.

“We need to stop” sales like the one at 76 Ocean Blvd., he continued. “It’s plain and simple. . . . People don’t want to see a bunch of 50-foot lots developed.”

“I think the Council got in the weeds” at the July meeting, Mr. Neal suggested, citing considerable confusion about ZTA 18-07.

Earlier in the meeting, Mr. Ward suggested that “an easy fix” could be made to ZTA 18-07 to except lots owned by the same owner that are adjacent, but not parallel to each other. At the July Town Council meeting, a property owner expressed concern about her ability to build on a 50-foot-wide lot that she owns that backs up to another parcel that she co-owns in an L-shaped configuration. The parcels are adjacent, but perpendicular to each other.

After the Planning Board members discussed whether they should draft new language for ZTA 18-07A “on the fly,” ensuring it covers vacant land and making other crucial changes, and after Mr. Gallop told them that “You can change 07A to 07—that could be your recommendation,” Chairperson Wyder took decisive action. He moved to reject ZTA 18-07A in its entirety and to recommend to the Town Council that it adopt 18-07. Mr. Ward seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

Mr. Wyder will present the Board’s action to the Town Council at its Sept. 5 meeting. Mayor Bennett and Councilmen Conners, Fred Newberry, and Gary McDonald all attended last night’s meeting.

LOT COVERAGE ZTA 18-04

I have been writing about the zoning text amendment to change the calculation of residential lot coverage since the Beacon premiered in April. By then, it or an earlier version of the ZTA had already been around at least eight months.

The ZTA effort dates to an Aug. 11, 2017 memorandum from former Planning Board Chairperson Sam Williams to Mayor Bennett in which Mr. Williams advised that the Board, which had been painstakingly reviewing the proposed Town Code rewrite submitted by consultant Codewright, would be making recommendations to the Council for possible Code changes on a piecemeal basis, before its full review was finished.

Mr. Williams zeroed in on two zoning changes that the then-Board decided to take up: 1) the manner in which building height is calculated; and 2) the manner in which lot coverage is calculated.

In its report, Codewright did not advise the Town to change its lot-coverage ordinance, which is codified at Town Code sec. 36-202(d)(6). Instead, it gave the Town options to consider, one of which was to do nothing to the ordinance. ZTA 17-03, the lot-coverage amendment that the Planning Board approved last August and recommended to the Town Council in September, represented another option.

The Town Council defeated ZTA 17-03, Sept. 5, by a 3-2 vote, but the measure was resurrected as a slightly altered ZTA 18-04 in February 2018, after the newly elected Mr. Conners joined Mayor Bennett and Councilman Nason in a motion to do so.

ZTA 18-04 would eliminate from the building footprint, and, therefore, from the lot-coverage calculation the following:

*50 percent of the area consumed by pervious materials and turfstone/pavers for driveways and parking areas

*Gravel walkways

*The outermost 4 feet of [roof] eaves

*Up to 500 square feet of the water area of a swimming pool

*Open-slatted decks that allow water to penetrate through to pervious material (not to exceed a total of 25 percent of the total footprint area)

Lot coverage is the ratio of the total footprint area of all structures on a lot to the net lot area. The footprint typically includes principal (your house) and accessory structures, such as garages, carports, covered patios and roofed porches, decks, swimming pools, driveways, and parking pads.

The chief objectives of lot-coverage laws are 1) to ensure stormwater retention in the ground, so that runoff into streets and adjacent lots doesn’t occur; and 2) to protect open space, which is a critical element of Southern Shores’ land-use plan.

Last night, as it did April 16, when it previously considered ZTA 18-04, the Town Planning Board largely focused on the stormwater issue. Only Mr. Ward and Mr. Neal expressed appreciation for the environmental “aesthetics” affected by lot coverage.

I’m not going to belabor the Board’s discussions. Chairperson Wyder quickly moved into deliberations of each exemption listed above, and the members voted on whether they supported the exemption or not. They recommended removal of any exemption that they did not support, to wit:

*50 percent of the area consumed by pervious materials and turfstone/pavers for driveways and parking areas: REMOVE, 5-0 vote

*Gravel walkways: SUPPORT, 5-0 vote

*The outermost 4 feet of [roof] eaves: REMOVE, 5-0 vote

*Up to 500 square feet of the water area of a swimming pool: REMOVE, 5-0 vote

*Open-slatted decks that allow water to penetrate through to pervious material (not to exceed a total of 25 percent of the total footprint area): SUPPORT, 3-2 (Mr. Ward and Mr. Neal dissenting)

The Board then unanimously approved a motion that included all of the above decisions, which Mr. Wyder will relay to the Town Council at its Sept. 5 meeting.

The Planning Board’s next meeting is Sept. 17. I will pass along agenda items as soon as I learn about them.

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76A Ocean Blvd., one of three adjacent nonconforming lots on the Southern Shores oceanfront that once were a part of a larger vacant combined parcel on the site. (Photo courtesy of Dare County GIS)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/21/18

8/20/18: PLANNING BOARD PREVIEW: LOT COVERAGE AND NONCONFORMING LOTS ZTAs TO BE CONSIDERED TONIGHT; Reservations about ZTA 18-07A, the Rewrite

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The Southern Shores Planning Board meets today, 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center, to consider two zoning text amendments of consequence to property owners and the future of the town’s development: one concerning how the 30-percent lot coverage limitation is calculated, and the other addressing “nonconforming” lots, in particular, lots that do not meet the Town’s minimum requirements for width and size.

For the first time since July 2009, someone other than Sam Williams will be chairing the meeting. Newly elected board chairperson Glenn Wyder will be presiding, and newly appointed board member Andy Ward will be sitting in the seat held by Mr. Williams, who chose not to seek another term.

The Beacon has written extensively about ZTA 18-04, the proposed lot coverage change, which dates to August 2017 and has been the subject of multiple public hearings in the Planning Board and the Town Council. Resident property owners have been vocal in opposition to the ZTA, which they believe will lead to larger houses, denser development, and less open space in Southern Shores.

The original text of ZTA 18-04, styled as ZTA 17-03, was recommended by the Planning Board and defeated in the Town Council, 3-2, last September. The zoning text amendment resurfaced as ZTA 18-04, by motion of the Town Council, 3-2, which had changed by one member, and was approved by the Planning Board, with amendments. The Town Council’s hearing on ZTA 18-04 in July resulted in the measure being tabled and sent back to the Planning Board for further consideration.

I no doubt will delve more into the history of ZTA 18-04 in my report on the Planning Board’s action tonight. My primary purpose in writing this blog, belatedly, however, is to give you a closer look at the proposed nonconforming lots regulation, ZTA 18-07A, which is a revision of an earlier, more comprehensive ZTA, known as ZTA 18-07.

Although a majority of the Town Council was enthusiastic about ZTA 18-07 at its first reading, it did not garner the super majority needed to pass it. Subsequently, it became clear that Councilman Jim Conners, who usually votes with Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Chris Nason, but had aligned with Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald in this instance, had withdrawn his support for the measure; and the Town Council voted to send the ZTA back to the Town Attorney and Town Planning Director for revision.  Upon receipt of the revision, styled as ZTA 18-07A, the Council voted to refer it to the Planning Board for consideration.

If approved by the Town Council, ZTA 18-07A would replace current Town Code sec. 36-132(a). It pertains only to single-family residential districts.

Earlier, I wrote that I would not analyze the merits of ZTA 18-07A. I since have decided to engage in a little analysis of the language of the Town Code change and to invite you to comment.

ZTA 18-07A consists of two significant paragraphs:

1. The first paragraph seeks to permit construction of a single-family dwelling and customary accessory buildings on:

“any single lot which met all legal requirements at the time of its creation and recording in the Dare County public registry.”

It further states that “All applicable dimensional requirements other than lot area and lot width shall be met . . . except that a lot having a lot width of fifty (50) feet or less may use a side yard setback of twelve (12) feet.” [Otherwise, the Town requires 15-yard setbacks.]

I have decided that without a definition of “single lot,” I am uncomfortable with the wording of what might appear to be a fairly straightforward provision.

More troublesome to me is the second paragraph of the amendment. I insert in the text of the paragraph (below) bracketed letters [a], [b], and [c], so you may more easily read it.

2. The second paragraph seeks to prevent the division of 100-foot-wide lots that have been developed as single lots into two 50-foot-wide lots for purposes of new development. This is how the key provision reads:

“Prior to [a] demolition of an existing principal building, [b] redevelopment exceeding 50% of an existing principal building’s value, or [c] construction of a new principal building when such existing or proposed principal building is located or proposed to be located on two or more lots any of which are non-conforming, all lots underlying the existing or proposed principal building shall be recombined into a single lot.”

Would anyone care to take a crack at what this provision means? It is too much legalese for me, and I am a former lawyer. (Actually, my law license is active in Maryland, which doesn’t require continuing legal education, and inactive in North Carolina and the District of Columbia, which do. So, you could say that I’m a Maryland lawyer.)

More problematic for me than its meaning is what it permits. I ask you: Does option [c] above permit my siblings and me to sell a VACANT 100-foot-wide oceanfront piece of property that we own, separately, as the two underlying 50-foot-wide lots that are on record? I think it does.

I was certain that predecessor ZTA 18-07 precluded such a division, sale, and development, which I believe is as it should be. Low-density development on the oceanfront is essential to the preservation of Southern Shores’ character, look, charm, and commercial appeal.

I also believe that each of the 50-foot-wide lots comprising the oceanfront property that my family owns is arguably a “single lot.”

I am one of four siblings, and we are not unanimous in our views on what to do with the Southern Shores property that our parents gave us. We’re not all similarly situated financially. There’s also another generation behind us that does not have the affection for and attachment to Southern Shores that my siblings and I have

I trust the Planning Board, under Mr. Wyder’s direction, will thoroughly explore what the language of ZTA 18-07A prohibits and what it permits, and whether this language serves the Town’s land-use plan and objectives. A majority on the Town Council may not wish to engage in “what-if?” analysis, which ZTA 18-07 sought to do, but I believe the Planning Board has an obligation to do so. Southern Shores’ future depends on its careful deliberation.

Please let me know what you think.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/20/18

8/14/18: BUSINESS AS USUAL: CATCHING UP WITH NONCONFORMING LOTS, THE DRAFT SSVFD CONTRACT, THE EAST DOGWOOD TRAIL WALKWAY PROJECT, POTHOLES, & MORE: The Aug. 7 Meeting

beachscene

In the shadow of Councilman Gary McDonald’s censure, the Southern Shores Town Council still managed to conduct business as usual at its Aug. 7 meeting, considering topics that ranged from the draft of a new fire services contract, to bids on the East Dogwood Trail walkway project, to the designation of a 1950s-era oceanfront house as a historic landmark, to pothole repairs and unsightly recycling cans. (See The Beacon, Aug. 9, for a report on the censure.)

Mayor Tom Bennett and the Town Council also honored Sam Williams for his nine years of service on the Town Planning Board and Planning Board alternate Carlos Gomez for his two years. (Mr. Williams actually served 10 years on the board, nine of them as chairperson.) Here are some of the other meeting highlights:

NONCONFORMING LOTS ZTA: BACK TO THE PLANNING BOARD

The Town Council voted unanimously to send the revised nonconforming-lot zoning text amendment, known as ZTA 18-07A, to the Town Planning Board, which will hold a hearing on the measure at its Aug. 20 meeting. The Council scheduled its own public hearing on ZTA 18-07A on Wednesday, Sept. 5, which is the date for its next regular meeting. PLEASE NOTE THE MEETING DAY CHANGE.

The Council declined to reconsider ZTA 18-07, the original Town Code amendment proposed to end the trend in town toward the development of nonconforming 50-foot-wide lots. The Planning Board unanimously approved ZTA 18-07. (For more about ZTA 18-07A, see The Beacon, Aug. 2.)

DRAFT FIRE SERVICES CONTRACT: CONCESSIONS MADE

The Town’s current 10-year contract with the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept. expires June 30, 2019. Town Manager Peter Rascoe reported that he has been meeting with SSVFD Fire Chief Ed Limbacher for months to negotiate a new contract, a draft of which he presented to the Town Council. (See the Aug. 7 meeting packet, available on the Town website.)

According to Mr. Rascoe, the draft contract contains two “major concessions” from the SSVFD, including:

  1. The SSVFD agrees to submit an annual budget to the Town Council for its review and approval. In the current contract, the SSVFD’s compensation is calculated as a portion of Town property taxes. The base budget for future SSVFD operations will be set in the first year of the contract.
  2. In the event of a “default and termination of the contract” by the SSVFD because of an inability to provide fire services, the SSVFD agrees to be contractually obligated to “convey over to the Town all real and personal property.” Mr. Rascoe described this concession in a follow-up email as a “refinement and uncomplication” of the SSVFD’s legal obligation.

The Town Manager said that the draft contract does not obligate the Town to fund any “debt service” for the new fire station, upon which the Council has not yet voted.

The Town Council unanimously passed a motion stating that it agrees in concept with the draft fire services contract and looks forward to working with the SSVFD.

PLANS FOR THE NEW FIRE STATION: COUNCIL & PUBLIC REVIEW

Mr. Rascoe announced that the architect for the new SSVFD fire station, who is being funded by the Town, will present the potential building plans and site plan to the Town Council at its Sept. 5 meeting, in order to obtain feedback before the design is final. The architect’s drawings will be on display at the Pitts Center from 3 to 5 p.m. that day for the public to review. Bids on the project will be received in October, according to Mr. Rascoe.

The Town Council will take up both the final plans for the proposed new station and the SSVFD’s financing package at its November meeting. The Council has not yet approved funding of the $5-$6 million-plus fire station.

EAST DOGWOOD TRAIL WALKWAY

Mr. Rascoe announced that a pre-bid conference had been held with all potential contractors on the East Dogwood Trail walkway project and that bids are due today. In response to a follow-up inquiry by The Beacon, he said that four companies had attended the conference: Barnhill Contracting Co., RPC Contracting Co., Hatchell Concrete Inc., and Millstone Marine Construction. The Town Manager will officially inform the Town Council at its Sept. 5 meeting which contractor received the contract.

[UPDATE, 8/14/18: The Beacon has learned that Mr. Rascoe awarded RPC Contracting the contract. More details to come.]

The East Dogwood Trail walkway will start at the intersection of North, South, and East Dogwood Trails, and run along the south side of East Dogwood Trail to its intersection with N.C. Hwy. 12 (Duck Road). It will be a 5-foot-wide concrete path.

Mr. Rascoe previously announced that the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau will be contributing a matching grant for one-half of the project’s cost, up to $119,000.

Mr. Rascoe also gave updates on the Yaupon Trail improvements project and the Juniper Trail project. He said informal bids on the Yaupon Trail project will be reviewed Aug. 23 and a contract award made before the Town Council’s September meeting. The Yaupon Trail construction had to be delayed because of an environmental concern; construction activities in the water there cannot begin until October. The Juniper Trail project was not out for bid, as of last week’s meeting, according to Mr. Rascoe.

“SMALL WORLD” DESIGNATED HISTORIC LANDMARK

The Town Council voted unanimously to approve 116 Ocean Blvd., a small frame house with a gable roof known as “Small World,” as a historic landmark. Formerly known as the Small Cottage, the oceanfront house was built in 1954—the work product of Southern Shores founder and developer Frank Stick’s architect, Harry Lawrence, and his builder, Curtis Gray.

Lee Whitley, chairperson of the Southern Shores Historic Landmarks Commission, formally presented to the Council the historic-landmark application for Small World, which the five-person Commission unanimously approved.

Mayor Bennett told Ms. Whitley that he was concerned about the “upkeep and maintenance” of the Small cottage, which has experienced considerable deterioration. Ms. Whitley replied that the Commission has “no impact” on such issues, and that once the house is designated a historic landmark, the owners “can’t dramatically alter it.” Town Planning Director Wes Haskett noted that maintenance is not among the criteria that the Commission is required by the Town Code to apply in evaluating a property.

After describing the house, which has neither heat nor air conditioning, as “weathered,” but “structurally sound,” Councilman Jim Conners made a motion to approve its historic designation, and the Mayor seconded the motion. Clayton Small, one of the three grandsons of the original owners who now own the house, told the Town Council that he and his brothers intend to make improvements with the money they will be saving in real estate taxes.

THE BEST FOR LAST? POTHOLES & RECYCLING PICKUP

As I previously reported on The Beacon’s Facebook page, Town Manager Rascoe said that most of the calls received at Town Hall from residents during the three weeks before the Aug. 7 meeting were about potholes on Town-maintained streets. The potholes, Mr. Rascoe said, are being “triaged” based on safety, with the most hazardous potholes being repaired first.

You should be seeing both pothole repair crews and Town mowers out and about, attending to the streets and the grass in the public rights-of-way.

The rains this summer have certainly contributed to the creation and enlargement of potholes, as well as served as a deterrent for their repair. The irony of fixing potholes now, shortly before hurricane season begins, has not been lost on Town employees.

The Town has a hotline for reporting potholes. You may call 261-2394, option 5, or email info@ southernshores-nc.gov. See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/pothole/.

The Town Council ended its business meeting with an extensive discussion about how the change in the recycling day pickup, from Monday to Wednesday, has aggravated the problems of roadway obstruction and littering posed by recycling and trash cans. In my opinion, none of the Town Council members seemed pleased with the pickup day change, upon which The Beacon has previously reported, and all were concerned.

Rather than renew the Town’s recycling-pickup contract with Waste Management of Virginia (WMV), which ended June 30, 2018, the Town Manager awarded the new recycling contract to Bay Disposal, which also handles trash removal. In so doing, Mr. Rascoe said, the Town saved $30,000 over what it was paying WMV, but Bay Disposal cannot pick up both trash and recycling on the same day. The move to Wednesday means cans sit out on the roadside longer than they did before, and more litter occurs.

The only solutions offered by the Town Council were to ask Bay Disposal to pick up both recycling and trash on Monday, which it reportedly cannot do, or to terminate the recycling contract, which the Town Manager just awarded, and give it to another company. Mr. Rascoe said that Bay Disposal has indicated a willingness to consider changing its operations next year.

When asked by the Town Council what other towns do with recycling, Mr. Rascoe replied that:

Two towns recycle by subscription only. (I learned after the meeting that they are Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills.)

One town handles the recycling itself, except for pickup in areas east of the 158 bypass, such as the beach road. (Nags Head)

One town handles recycling and trash pickup like Southern Shores does, contracting with waste-management services. (Duck)

 The discussion ended with Mr. Rascoe saying, “I hear you. I’ll see what we can do.”

AND FINALLY, A QUESTION:

Mr. Rascoe reminded the Town Council that there will not be a meeting in October because he will not be available. In a follow-up email, the Town Manager confirmed that he has a “family commitment” in early October and that the Town Council has been informed of the cancellation at three previous meetings.

My question is why is Mr. Rascoe’s absence considered sufficient reason to deny property owners their right of access to the Town Council for one month and the Town Council members their monthly opportunity to confer over business in front of the public?

As The Beacon’s reports of today, last week, and in recent months attest, the Town is juggling a lot of balls. The September meeting is going to be chock-full of business items, concerns, and decisions. The Town and the public need more opportunities for dialogue, rather than fewer—especially before the November meeting, when the SSVFD and its new station will be headlining the agenda.

Mr. Haskett is now deputy town manager. Surely, Mr. Haskett can substitute for Mr. Rascoe, who can submit a written report, if he’d like. Finance Officer Bonnie Swain attends all Town Council meetings, as do other Town employees. Ms. Swain can report on financial matters. They’re both astute and experienced professionals.

If the Town Council believes it absolutely cannot do without Mr. Rascoe, then it should postpone its October meeting so that the Town Manager can attend. It’s ridiculous to me that Mr. Rascoe’s absence is viewed as just cause for canceling a monthly meeting.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/14/18

 

8/9/18: THE SOUTHERN SHORES TOWN COUNCIL VOTES, 3-1, TO CENSURE COUNCILMAN GARY MCDONALD; We Are Troubled by Behind-the-Scenes Maneuvering, Exclusion of Council Member, and Revival of Motion Defeated in July

 

disapprovedcensure

In a reversal of action taken at its July 10 meeting, the Southern Shores Town Council voted, 3-1, at Tuesday night’s meeting to censure Councilman Gary McDonald for remarks he made to Councilman Chris Nason during a heated debate last month about a proposed zoning text amendment. The Town Council majority voted for the censure after Mayor Tom Bennett first gave Mr. McDonald several opportunities to apologize to Mr. Nason, which Mr. McDonald declined to do.

According to a lengthy resolution that they approved, Mayor Bennett, Mr. Nason, and Councilman Jim Conners censured Mr. McDonald for his “improper behavior” as a Council member. Town Manager Peter Rascoe confirmed that he had prepared the resolution at the Mayor’s request. The document sets forth in detail why the three Council members thought it was necessary to invoke an “official expression of pronounced condemnation and disapproval” of Mr. McDonald.

It became clear during early remarks Tuesday that the Mayor and Councilmen Nason and Conners had conferred with each other, legal counsel, and Mr. Rascoe, about the censure before the meeting, deliberately excluding Councilman Newberry from their discussions and raising the question of whether they had violated the North Carolina’s open-meetings law. (I discuss the open-meeting question below.)

In my opinion, Mayor Bennett, who bears ultimate responsibility for the censure, has no excuse for intentionally excluding Councilman Newberry from the behind-the-scenes maneuverings, and the other two Council members showed a lack of good conscience in going along. I don’t believe Mr. McDonald should have been blindsided, either, but not conferring with him can be justified.

The Mayor has dealt a major blow to public trust.

Of that point, I am certain. Otherwise, I have struggled with how to report upon what occurred. I decided not to write a blog yesterday because I wanted to give myself time to process events, to think, and to consult with the Beacon editorial board, only a few of whom actually attended the meeting.

I am not a detached observer. I know and empathize with both Mr. Nason and Mr. McDonald and have been vocal about my opinions, including in public comments on Tuesday. (In fact, I am quoted in a meeting-excerpt transcript attached to the resolution, calling out from the audience, for which I apologize. I should show more restraint.)

Not only was I shocked that Mayor Bennett and Councilmen Nason and Conners felt compelled to take such an extreme and divisive action—a “do-over,” essentially, of the failed motion in July—but their action has left me with despair over our Town’s well-being and its leadership.

How does this censure possibly serve the Town of Southern Shores?

In the month since Mr. McDonald asked Mr. Nason, a local architect, during an argument about proposed changes in lot-coverage computation, “How much money do you need to make?”, neither mediation nor reconciliation occurred. Instead, it would appear that anger and hurt feelings festered and escalated. Having been a mediator in legal disputes, I know how important an apology is to an aggrieved party, but I also know that an apology cannot be coerced from someone. Demanding an apology from someone in a public forum, at the risk of censure, is likely to make a person more intransigent, not contrite.

I wish that the Mayor had consulted a counselor/mediator, rather than the Town attorney, in deciding how to move forward with what the resolution calls Mr. McDonald’s “breach of decorum.” Instead, the resolution inflates Mr. McDonald’s remarks, exaggerating their significance and, in my opinion, distorting their meaning—at least, the meaning that many of us who attended the July meeting inferred—although Mr. Nason is certainly entitled to his feelings.

The censure resolution does not end the conflicts among the Town Council members. It only inflames them.

There also now are the added questions of what effect, if any, the defeated July motion to censure had or should have had—who’s minding the rules?— and the propriety of the activities engaged in by the three elected officials who invoked censure.

SURPRISE ATTACK

The censure motion was not on the Aug. 7 meeting agenda posted on the Town website, so the public had no notice. It was a surprise “attack,” if you will. Mayor Bennett opened the business portion of the meeting by announcing that he was going to move to amend the agenda to add the censure item, unless Mr. McDonald apologized to Mr. Nason for his comments. After Mr. McDonald declined to apologize, the Town Council voted, 3-2, to amend the agenda, with Mr. Newberry and Mr. McDonald dissenting.

The open-meetings law, which is codified at N.C. General Statutes sec. 143-318.10, provides that when a majority of a governing board’s members meet or gather to discuss public business, the public must be given notice and access to the meeting or informal gathering. The meeting need not take place in person. Any simultaneous communication by electronic means or by telephone by a majority of the board constitutes an official meeting that must be open.

The three Council members, who constitute a majority and a quorum, denied that simultaneous conferencing occurred. I am nonetheless troubled by the fact that they clearly conspired together, in secret, to pull off what Beacon editorial board member Geri Sullivan called in public comments a “coup.”

Even if the three Council members did not technically violate law, they certainly violated its spirit. The open-meeting laws, also known as sunshine laws, are designed to foster public trust and confidence in government and to ensure transparency in local government decision-making. In my opinion, their secretive behavior rises to the level of an “appearance of impropriety,” which a Council member is ethically bound to avoid.

Every Southern Shores Town Council member must acknowledge in writing a Town Code of Ethics that governs them. Here is a copy of Mr. McDonald’s acknowledgment: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/McDonald.pdf. The Code of Ethics does not address “improper” conduct, per se. It speaks about avoiding impropriety.  A lack of civility or rudeness is not what is customarily meant by impropriety, which is more on the order of wrongfulness, dishonesty, or an ethical breach. A “breach of decorum” generally does not rise to the level of impropriety.

Robert Hobbs Jr., a partner in the local law firm of Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, substituted for Town Attorney Ben Gallop at Tuesday’s meeting. He read into the record another N.C. statute, 160A-75, pertaining to voting by municipal government officials and when an official should be excused. This statute served as the basis for a motion by Councilman Conners to excuse Councilman McDonald from voting on the censure motion because it was a matter “involving the consideration of . . . [his] official conduct.”

Seconded by Mr. Nason, the motion to excuse Mr. McDonald passed, 3-2, with Councilmen Newberry and McDonald dissenting.

Frankly, I don’t understand why Councilman McDonald’s excusal was subject to motion and vote. The statute clearly states that a municipal board member “shall” be excused when matters of a certain nature, which constitute a conflict of interest for the member, are being voted upon. It seems to me that Mr. Hobbs (or the Mayor) should have excused Mr. McDonald without a motion.

I believe the same is true of the motion to censure Mr. McDonald that was made and defeated, 3-2, at the July 10 meeting. Mr. Gallop should have excused Mr. McDonald from voting. If he had, the vote presumably would have been 2-2, with the Mayor and Councilman Newberry voting not to censure, and Councilmen Conners and Nason voting for censure. Mr. Bennett showed good judgment then.

If the vote had been 2-2, would the motion have been defeated? What is the rule? There are no rules of procedure for Town Council meetings in the Town Code. Do Robert’s Rules of Order apply? If so, then the motion failed. Is it proper to ignore the July vote because the Town Attorney erred and to allow a “do-over”? It certainly doesn’t seem right to me.

MEANING OF THE WORDS

I also believe that Mr. McDonald’s remarks to Mr. Nason on July 10, albeit rude and inappropriate, have been distorted and overblown. If I were he, I would have apologized for speaking thoughtlessly and rashly. In my opinion, however, his words did not constitute an accusation that Mr. Nason was promoting the changes in lot-coverage calculation in order to directly benefit financially.

At the July meeting, Mr. McDonald was clearly frustrated by the fact that the lot-coverage ZTA, which had been defeated in September 2017, was again before the Town Council, in a slightly modified form, as the result of a motion by Mr. Nason, which the Mayor and Mr. Conners supported. After listening to Mr. Nason explain, at length, why the ZTA should be adopted, Mr. McDonald said, according to the transcript:

“[A] majority of our community is against this. I don’t know why it came back up . . . well, I . . . [turning toward and addressing Councilman Nason directly] How much money do you need to make?”

My interpretation of this remark was not that Mr. McDonald was accusing Mr. Nason of acting in furtherance of his own direct financial interests, but rather that, as an architect who works with Southern Shores builders, he would benefit, as all professionals involved in the construction industry would, if the ZTA passed. Many property owners, including myself, believe the proposed lot-coverage changes would allow larger houses to be built and would stimulate remodeling projects. (The Beacon has extensively covered ZTA 18-03. The Planning Board will take it up again at its Aug. 20 meeting.)

After refusing to retract what he said or to apologize, Mr. McDonald then said: “The truth sometimes hurts.”

I honestly don’t know what that means. What truth? That as an architect, Mr. Nason stands to gain from more construction work in Southern Shores? That’s how I interpreted what Mr. McDonald said, in the heat of a passionate argument.

Somehow these two statements became, in the language of the censure motion, “unsubstantiated statements.” Of what, exactly? Mr. McDonald never accused Mr. Nason of dishonesty or any other unethical behavior. And yet, the resolution states:

“NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, based on Councilman McDonald’s unsubstantiated statements made publicly and personally to Councilman Nason, and his refusal to publicly retract them and publicly apologize to Councilman Nason and the citizens of the Town of Southern Shores, the Southern Shores Town Council does hereby CENSURE Councilman McDonald for his improper and unsubstantiated statements made to Councilman Nason, thereby constituting improper behavior as a member of the Town Council.” (Made personally? How are alleged personal comments relevant?)

It seems to me that Mr. McDonald is being censured for what Mayor Bennett, Mr. Nason, and Mr. Conners believe he was insinuating.

CONTENTIOUSNESS

Before the censure vote was taken, Councilman Newberry asked Mr. Hobbs what censure is, legally, and what constitutes misconduct. The lawyer replied that there is “no precise definition” of censure and characterized it as a “statement of displeasure,” of disapproval. It has no legal effect, but, in my opinion, it does have a shaming effect. In this case, it also may have a chilling effect on what Town Council members say to each other—to the detriment of the public’s interest.

In explaining his about-face on the censure motion, Mayor Bennett characterized Mr. McDonald’s comments as having “jeopardized” Mr. Nason’s livelihood, which was something he could not permit. Stressing that an apology could have ended the matter, he said he approached Mr. Nason and asked him: “What do you want to do, Chris?”

After Tuesday’s meeting, I spoke at length with Mr. Nason, who was visibly upset. He told me about how distressing the past month has been for him with the media coverage about Mr. McDonald’s remarks and the inquiries he has received. As I said before, I empathize with him. I’ve been in the fish bowl, too, and it’s no fun. You don’t want press; you just want your privacy.

Nonetheless, I think Mr. Nason, Mayor Bennett, and Mr. Conners came up with a poor solution that has set a poor precedent.

On the one hand, Councilman Conners argued Tuesday that the three were not “ganging up” on Mr. McDonald—although they clearly kept Mr. Newberry, who often sides with Mr. McDonald on Council matters, out of their confidences.

“We’re ganging up on that kind of [improper] behavior,” he said. On a lack of civility.

On the other hand, Mr. McDonald argued, “I didn’t know I didn’t have the right to free speech,” and pointed out that “Transparency is still an issue” in Southern Shores.

After a rift like this one, where does the Town Council go from here?

I’ll be back soon with news about potholes, recycling cans, the draft fire services contract, and other routine Town business. In the meantime, I welcome your comments.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/9/18

 

8/7/18: A RECORD SUMMER FOR MOSQUITOES: WALKING SWAMPY LOTS, ENTERING THE DOG DAYS, I Am a Magnet for These Bloodsuckers: Here’s Why

mosquito

In the insect-infested environment in which we live, this summer has been one of my worst for mosquito bites, if not the worst.

Have you ever experienced so many mosquitoes in Southern Shores? When will their plague end?

Last week, I met with the site manager for a local builder who is going to construct a house on the lot behind my house. I was concerned about property lines—in particular, respecting mine—and after getting an unsatisfactory response about lot markers from a man who was clearing trees I contacted the site manager.

(The hirsute heavy-equipment operator replied to my inquiry about markers by telling me to “get off my construction site.” I assure you I was neither rude nor hysterical, but I did have to shout to be heard.)

The site manager and I met at noon. While standing in water-soaked low ground, I was besieged by mosquitoes. Not thinking that I needed to apply insect repellant for my short visit—which I always do when I walk my dog or go out at night—I was eaten alive by these female bloodsuckers.

When I returned from my swampy walk, I had at least 10 new welts—arms, legs, shoulders—on my body, bringing my summertime bite total to a new record. My left leg alone has 50 welts on it now. I don’t even want to estimate how many hits I’ve suffered.

You know that person at the back-yard barbecue who can’t stay because, while most every other guest is enjoying a cool cocktail, she/he is being unmolested by summer’s dive bombers? I am that persecuted person. I am a magnet for mosquitoes.

When I see standing water on the roads and in yards, I see mosquito misery–for magnets like myself. Mosquitoes need moisture to hatch their eggs, and the incubation time for their eggs is shorter in extremely hot weather, like we’ve experienced in recent years. Southern Shores has been a slice of heaven this summer for these parasitic visitors, who have reproduced quickly.

Has the mosquito-be-gone truck that brings us chemical relief stopped circulating through town? The last time I remember hearing it was in June.

In a Beacon blog that is a little different from my usual fare, I republish below most of a column that I wrote in June for my medicine and health blog, which appears on another website. I did not delve into mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus, which has claimed fatalities in North Carolina; I simply explored my mosquito magnetism.

It’s not just bad luck or my imagination. I actually am more desirable to mosquitoes than other people. Back in June, I delved into both online journalism sources and professional biology and medical entomology journals for the column that I wrote. The following is an overview of what I learned:

THE HIGH ATTRACTOR TYPE

I am among the 20 percent of people whom scientists say mosquitoes find especially irresistible. Medical entomologists call me a “high attractor type.”

Judging by what I’ve read about my attractor type, it just may be, as my neighbor once coyly suggested, that I’m sweet. The chemicals secreted by my skin may make me prime bait for skeeters, who use sight first and then smell to hunt for victims.

Amazingly, some of my “sweetness” may be attributable to the fact that I have Type O blood!

According to entomologist Joseph M. Conlon, who advises the American Mosquito Control Assn.: “Type O individuals may share a propensity for exuding certain odors that mosquitoes find attractive.”

Apparently, I emit eau-de-mosquito.

In several sources, I read that 85 percent of people produce a secretion that signals what blood type they have. Type O blood has actually been found in scientific studies to be twice as attractive to mosquitoes than Type A blood. Types B and AB are similarly unappealing.

I also do something that she-devil mosquitoes can’t resist: I breathe. In particular, I exhale carbon dioxide. Mosquitoes are crazy about CO2.

3,000 SPECIES OF MOSQUITO

According to the American Mosquito Control Assn., there are more than 3,000 species of mosquito in the world, 176 of which have been recognized in the United States.

Americans are fortunate that malaria, the Zika virus, and other tropical diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are not endemic in the States. Those of us who offer good landing spots for these bloodthirsty potential disease vectors do have to be concerned about West Nile virus, however.

[As of July 24, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had received just one report from North Carolina of a West Nile virus infection in a human, but, sadly, it was a fatal case. The person, who lived in southeastern North Carolina, died in July, according to The Raleigh News & Observer. The N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services would say only that the victim was an adult. Virginia reported its first 2018 case of a human infection last week in Fairfax County, according to The Washington Post.

[Between 2003 and 2016, CDC data show that 48 people died from a West Nile virus infection in North Carolina.] 

In North America, mosquito season starts in the summer and continues into the fall. [I think it started in Southern Shores in May. According to The News & Observer, Carl Williams, North Carolina’s Public Health veterinarian, said: “We see most cases of West Nile virus from July through November.”]

All mosquitoes feed on plant nectar. The females add blood to their diets in order to obtain the protein that they need to create and develop their eggs. Their mouth parts differ from the parts that the males have. Females have proboscises, which are elongated straw-like appendages that pierce the skin of a human host and search for a blood vessel to suck. Once they find their target, proboscises release saliva into the wound, which in turn elicits a histamine response from the target—you or me.

I’m sure you’ve heard of histamine in the anti-histamine sense, as in taking a medication to neutralize or antagonize your body’s histamine response, which is typically to an allergen, such as pollen or ragweed. Histamine is a physiologically active compound released by your immune system. When it combats a mosquito’s unwelcome saliva, histamine causes your blood vessels to swell—thus creating the welt or bump on your skin that we call a bite. The vessels, in turn, irritate nerves, causing your skin to itch.

CARBON DIOXIDE

It is well-established that female mosquitoes are attracted by carbon dioxide. They can smell CO2 from a distance of up to 160 feet.

There are only trace amounts of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, but there are high concentrations of it in the plumes of air we humans exhale. (Scientists use the term plumes to describe our exhalations. I like it.) This is why mosquitoes buzz around your head, near your mouth, nose, and ears.

Female mosquitoes have two sensory organs: their maxillary palps and their antennae. CO2-sensitive olfactory neurons, which also detect human skin odorants, are housed in sensilla on the maxillary palps.

Not surprisingly, given their gas preference, female mosquitoes are attracted to those people who tend to give off more carbon dioxide than others do. Larger people exhale more CO2—mosquitoes usually leave children alone—and pregnant women in their third trimester reportedly produce about 20 percent more CO2 than their non-pregnant peers.

Pregnant women also emit more “volatile odors,” according to Dr. Laura C. Harrington, a mosquito biologist and entomologist at Cornell University, and they have extra body heat. Evidence exists to suggest that mosquitoes are sensitive to thermal stimuli and like warm bodies.

After drinking a 12-ounce beer, Conlon says, a human being becomes the perfect host for a mosquito. He/she is breathing a little harder, and his/her skin is a little warmer.

I’m not a beer drinker, nor am I particularly large or pregnant, but I may produce more carbon dioxide because of a “higher metabolic rate”—another “risk factor” identified by entomologists. I’ve always considered the phrase, “higher metabolic rate,” layperson-speak, but I suppose you can apply it to athletes. If stress and anxiety amp up “metabolic rate,” then my plumes are CO2-loaded.

SKIN ODORANTS

According to Conlon, more than 350 compounds have been isolated from odors produced by human skin, and researchers are “just beginning to scratch the surface” on what people-exuded compounds and odors might appeal to mosquitoes.

Among the compounds known to attract them are lactic acid, a byproduct of vigorous physical activity that’s excreted through sweat; acetone, a chemical released in your breath; and estradiol, a form of estrogen. Ammonia and uric acid, also emitted in sweat, are known lures, as well.

Genetic “factors” apparently influence the amount of uric acid and other substances naturally emitted by each person.” Research on identical and fraternal twins reportedly suggests that there is an underlying genetic mechanism to skin odors and, hence, mosquito appeal.

Some of the scientific articles I skimmed, however, suggest that, absent CO2, female mosquitoes don’t find lactic acid and other natural skin odors all that attractive.

Mosquitoes are decidedly attracted to chemicals emitted by bacteria, with or without CO2, including the bacteria found on human feet. They cue into foot odor: The stinkier, the better. Mosquitoes actually have shown a preference for Limburger cheese!

VISUAL STIMULI

I said at the top of this blog that mosquitoes use their sight first, then their olfactory sense, to locate a blood source. Mosquitoes are drawn to people wearing dark colors, particularly black, navy blue, and red. They also gravitate toward people who move, such as walkers and runners, tending to avoid stationary targets. This may be because of thermal appeal.

So, when I’m out walking my dog in my favorite red shorts, emitting my Type-O-blood and goodness-knows-what-else scents, I’m pretty much inviting these parasites to feast on me. It doesn’t help that I tend to sweat in the heat, and I sometimes take my dog out after I’ve been on my treadmill, because I’m already hot and sweaty!

I scrub my feet every day, and they’re not cheesy smelling—but I may start scrubbing them more often. But what do I do about the rest of my skin? Like all human skin, my skin is teeming with resident flora. There’s no telling what dermal microscopic life might catch a mosquito’s fancy. How many showers can a mosquito magnet take in one day?

And what about the sunscreen that I wear religiously because I’m protecting my already damaged skin from further sun damage? Do mama mosquitoes like the way it smells?

Apparently not. Scientists say that perfumes, colognes, and other fragrances that we apply to ourselves have no effect on mosquitoes.

I’ll conclude this summertime advisory by telling you that rubbing garlic on your skin; taking vitamin B; drinking apple cider vinegar, or trying other non-toxic home mosquito-repelling remedies doesn’t work. Plant-derived oils, such as lemon eucalyptus and rosemary oil, have a repellant effect—substantially less than DEET, however—but they evaporate from your skin quickly.

Unless you want to wear netting and cover every inch of your skin, you’re left to depend on a chemical repellant or to take your chances.

Please pass the DEET.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, Aug. 7, 2018

8/2/18: NONCONFORMING LOTS ZTA SCALED WAAAAY BACK: See What You Think; The Beacon Withholds Comment for Now/Also, the New SSVFD Contract and a Piece of Southern Shores History

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Smallhouse
“Small World” at 116 Ocean Blvd.

The revision of the proposed zoning text amendment on nonconforming lots was made public earlier this week when staff posted on the Town of Southern Shores website the meeting packet for the Town Council’s meeting next Tuesday. Current ZTA 18-07 has been reduced to one paragraph in the new version, styled as ZTA 18-07A. You may find it in its entirety, with its application form, preamble, etc., on pages 15-18 of the packet:

https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2018-08-07.pdf

The Beacon chooses to refrain from comment now about the substantially truncated ZTA, preferring to hear first from Town Attorney Ben Gallop, Town Planning Director Wes Haskett, and the Town Planning Board. The Planning Board will be taking up ZTA 18-07A, as well as ZTA 18-03, about lot coverage, at its Aug. 20 meeting.

The proposed ZTA would amend current Town Code sec. 36-132(a), which deals with nonconforming lots, by replacing it. The replacement language consists of two paragraphs, numbered (1) and (2), as follows:

Section (1) states, in pertinent part, that a single-family dwelling and customary accessory building may be erected on any single lot that “met all legal requirements at the time of its creation and recording in the Dare County public registry.” This means that any lot with a width of less than the current required minimum width of 100 feet, or the current required minimum area of 20,000 square feet, is permitted—provided it met all legal requirements in effect when it was first created.

Section (1) also states that if such a lot has a width of 50 feet or less, it may be developed with a side-yard setback of 12 feet, which is three feet less than the Town Code-mandated minimum requirement of 15 feet.

Section (1) is straightforward enough. Section (2) is the rub. It states as follows:

“Prior to the demolition of an existing principal building, redevelopment exceeding 50% of an existing principal building’s value, or construction of a new principal building when such existing or proposed principal building is located or proposed to be located on two or more lots any of which are non-conforming, all lots underlying the existing or proposed principal building shall be recombined into a single lot.”

Got it? It’s proposing three scenarios when recombination would be triggered if two or more lots “any of which are non-conforming” are involved.

It further states:

“A plat prepared by a North Carolina licensed surveyor showing the recombination shall be shall be [sic/redundancy] recorded in the Dare County public registry, and a copy of the recorded plat shall be provided to the Town prior to the issuance of a zoning or building permit for the demolition, redevelopment or development upon the newly created lot. The lot created by a recombination required by this section shall be deemed to equal or exceed the standards of the Town under Chapter 30, and are [sic/verb should be “is”] exempt from the subdivision process under Chapter 30. The unlawful demolition of a principal building in violation of this section shall preclude the application of section (1) for the underlying lots unless and until a recombination occurs under this section as if the principal building had not been demolished.”

That’s it.

Fire Services Contract; Historic Landmark Designation

About 50 percent of the meeting packet prepared for the Town Council’s meeting consists of a draft fire services contract and related materials. The Town’s contract with the SSVFD expires at the end of this fiscal year. Negotiation of the next contract will likely be an ongoing dialogue. The Aug. 7 meeting marks the first public presentation and discussion of the draft contract.

Materials related to the historic landmark designation of the oceanfront house at 116 Ocean Blvd., which was built in 1954 by chemist Dr. Lyndon F. Small and his wife Marianne C. Small, constitute most of the remainder of the meeting packet.

Now called “Small World,” the cottage at 116 Ocean Blvd., described by the current Small family owners as “a frame structure and gable roof built upon a poured concrete slab,” could have used some TLC over the years. I don’t think architect Harry Lawrence or builder Curtis Gray—part of Southern Shores founder Frank Stick’s team—would have minded. According to the family, Lyndon and Marianne Small knew Mr. Stick and were lured to Southern Shores by him.

The house at 116 Ocean Blvd. is well-worn, to say the least. But I am so glad that the Small family is seeking to preserve it, rather than to demolish it. It is a testament to a special time in Southern Shores, when the land was wide-open and the spirits of those who built houses and vacationed here were adventurous and free. The developers made money, but they also sought to protect the natural environment. The house coexisted with the beach; it didn’t overwhelm it, or obscure other people’s views, and Southern Shores was a secluded getaway for vacationers who opened their windows to feel sea breezes and hear the ocean’s roar.

At one time, it was a Small world, after all.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, Aug. 2, 2018