The Southern Shores Town Council last night passed a modified version of the lot coverage zoning text amendment (ZTA) and the original version of the nonconforming lots ZTA, endorsing recommendations made by the Town Planning Board and involving that board in anticipated “tweaking” of the latter. Both votes were 4-1. (See The Beacon’s Aug. 21, 2018 report about the Planning Board’s action.)
Said Town Councilman Jim Conners in making the motion to adopt ZTA 18-07, the original proposal to amend the current flawed Town Code ordinance on nonconforming lots (sec. 36-132): “It’s very important that we adopt something to stop what’s going on.”
(The Beacon has written extensively about the recent trend toward constructing houses on nonconforming lots that once made up a single combined conforming parcel. In the usual case, a 100-foot-wide parcel is sold off and developed as two 50-foot-wide lots.)
Agreeing with a majority view that ZTA 18-07 has some problems, Mr. Conners encouraged a “joint effort” among the Town Council, the Planning Board, the Town Attorney, the Town Planning Director, and other staff on “tweaking” the Code amendment, so that “outlier issues” are resolved. The Town Council previously has expressed concern about the adverse impact the ZTA appears to have on some property owners.
New Planning Board Chairperson Glenn Wyder favorably responded to Mr. Conners’s suggestion, saying, “We’re at a place where we can finally nail things down and do it the right way. . . . We are willing to finalize this.”
ZTA 18-07, which became Town law as soon as Mayor Tom Bennett signed it into effect, will return to the Planning Board for what the Mayor characterized as “refinements.” Only Councilman Chris Nason voted against its adoption and subsequent fine-tuning, saying that the stopgap ZTA takes a sledgehammer approach to the development problems it addresses.
In presenting his Board’s actions on both ZTAs, Mr. Wyder cited the great importance the amendments have on land use in Southern Shores and on preservation of the vision that Town founders had. Noting that ZTA 18-04, the lot-coverage amendment, has a history dating back to Aug. 7, 2017, Mr. Wyder described the “systematic approach” that he and his Planning Board colleagues applied to analyzing every provision of the ZTA.
The Chairperson aptly characterized their discussion as “vigorous” and their research as “significant.” Having witnessed their discussion, I can attest to its vigor, preparedness, and thoroughness. I am very impressed with Mr. Wyder’s leadership and the Planning Board’s teamwork. Mr. Wyder was spot-on in his initial remarks when he said that the Board “went above and beyond” in exercising “due diligence.”
The Planning Board approved three of ZTA 18-04’s provisions, which amend the Town Code law on maximum allowable lot coverage (sec. 36-202(d)(6), and rejected three other proposed changes, including exemptions for 500 square feet of the water area of swimming pools and certain types of driveways and parking areas.
The Town Council agreed with the Planning Board’s analysis and passed the recommended changes into law. Only Councilman Gary McDonald dissented, saying he was concerned about neighborhood density and stormwater runoff and would like to leave the current ordinance “as is.”
Pursuant to the new law, gravel walkways will no longer be counted toward the 30-percent maximum allowable lot coverage, nor will “open-slatted decks that allow water to penetrate through to pervious material, not exceeding a total of 25 percent of the total footprint area of the attached single-family dwelling.”
To take advantage of these exemptions, the new law requires an applicant for a building or zoning permit to present a survey that meets the Town’s requirements for a Lot Disturbance and Stormwater Management Permit.
OPINION: The Town Council and Planning Board worked well together on both of these measures. Collaboration between these two bodies, which are independent decision-makers, is essential to carrying out what the Southern Shores Town Code (sec. 24-27) states is the prime objective of the Planning Board: “to bring about a coordinated and harmonious development” of the town. Sec. 24-27 enumerates the Planning Board’s broad powers and duties, the reading of which confirms that it serves the Town, not the Town Council, and is expected to be proactive. One of the Planning Board’s powers is: “To make any other recommendations which it sees fit for improving the development of the area.” It seems to me that if either of the ZTAs enacted last night has an untoward effect, such as increasing stormwater runoff in the roads or in adjacent properties, or too much “sledgehammering,” the Planning Board can step in and propose remedies.
NEW FIRE STATION
Many members of the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept. turned out last night to hear and support architect Kenneth C. Newell’s latest briefing to the Town Council on the proposed new fire station.
For two hours yesterday afternoon, Mr. Newell, who is a partner in the Gastonia, N.C.-based firm of Stewart, Cooper, Newell, PA, also was available to the public in an information meeting at the Pitts Center. Unfortunately, I was one of only two people who attended that event, and the other person has a potential financial interest in the station’s construction.
Mr. Newell informed the Town Council that the station construction project will be out for bids in about two to three weeks and will remain open for four weeks after that. The architect assured Councilman Conners, when he inquired about local contractors, that the project bidding period will be “publicly advertised” and that local contractors will have an opportunity to compete.
When asked by Councilman Fred Newberry what the anticipated cost of the project is, Mr. Newell cited the volatility of market prices and gave a range of between $325 and $425 per square foot. He told Mr. Newberry that the proposed station size is “just over 13,000 square foot.” Earlier, he told me that it is 14,000 square feet. Applying all of these figures, the potential cost for a 13,000-square-foot station, therefore, would be between $4.2 million and $5.5 million; and for a 14,000-square-foot station, it would be between $4.6 million and $6 million (rounding up).
(In his report to Council earlier in the evening, SSVFD Chief Ed Limbacher responded to a question asked last month about compensation for the SSVFD’s services in 2019-20: “We don’t anticipate asking for any more money in the next budget cycle,” he said.)
I plan to write a blog about the proposed new fire station, based on my interview yesterday with Mr. Newell and further research. The Town Council is expected to vote on whether or not Southern Shores will financially participate in the station’s construction at its Nov. 7 meeting.
The new fire station, which is single level and equipped with four “double-loaded drive-through bays,” according to Mr. Newell, would be built on the existing site of the current station at South Dogwood Trail and Pintail Trail.
“We worked with the department to meet its minimum needs” and to be “cost-effective” on a site that poses constraints, he said. “There’s not a lot of fluff in the building.”
Mr. Newell, who has designed 400 fire stations across the country, in 26 different states, also had to meet certain legal requirements, which I’ll explore later.
I refer you to the SSVFD’s website for more details: www.ssvfd.net.
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS UPDATE
Also last night, Town Manager Peter Rascoe gave an update on three major capital improvement projects, saying:
*RPC Contracting, Inc. has already started working on the east end of the East Dogwood Trail walking path. The construction is to be completed by Jan. 23, 2019.
*RPC Contracting, which also was low bidder on the Yaupon Trail rebuilding project, will start working there on Oct. 15. Completion date is May 15, 2019.
*The “specs” are out on the Juniper Trail project, and bids are due to be opened Sept. 25.
As The Beacon reported yesterday, RPC’s winning bid on the East Dogwood walking path was $167,550, which, according to an internal memo to the Town Council from Mr. Rascoe, “includes three bid alternates for construction of feeder crosswalks across East Dogwood Trail and its medial to the new walking path—at Hillcrest Drive, Sea Oats Trail, and Wax Myrtle Trail.” (This memo was included in yesterday’s meeting packet.) Barnhill Contracting Co. and Hatchell Concrete Inc. also submitted bids.
RPC’s bid on Yaupon Trail was $377,320. The only other bidder, Barnhill Contracting Co., submitted a bid of $538,400. I would like to know what accounts for the wide discrepancy in these bids, but I did not raise the question last night.
RECONSTRUCTION TASK FORCE
The Southern Shores Town Code provides that in the event of a “damaging storm and enactment of a building moratorium”—when “no building permits shall be issued”—a special reconstruction task force “will oversee the recovery and reconstruction process and serve as an advisory body to the town council on recovery/reconstruction issues.”
You may read about damaging storms, building moratoriums, and the reconstruction task force in the emergency management chapter of the Town Code at sec. 12-66 et seq. Sec. 12-68(b) specifies the conditions under which an “initial post-storm reconstruction moratorium shall be declared.” Mayor Bennett summarized them well when he said: “This is Hurricane Katrina in Southern Shores.”
The 12-member reconstruction task force only becomes an acting committee upon the declaration of the initial building moratorium. Sec. 12-69(c) specifies the composition of the task force by office or by representation. Last night, the Town Council appointed the people who will serve on the task force, as follows:
1) Two elected officials: Mayor Tom Bennett and Mayor Pro Tem Chris Nason
2) Town manager
3) Two Planning Board members: Chairperson Glenn Wyder and Vice-Chairperson Elizabeth Morey
4) One Board of Adjustment member: Andy Ward
5) One representative each from the Southern Shores Civic Assn. and the Chicahauk Civic Assn.: to be determined (TBD)
6) Building inspector
7) Police Chief or his representative: TBD
8) Fire chief of his representative: TBD
9) One representative from either the realty or the construction community: Matt Neal of Neal Contracting, who is 2018 president of the Outer Banks Home Builders Assn.
OVERALL, last night’s meeting was very successful. I should probably end this lengthy report on a positive note, but instead, I feel compelled to mention . . .
THINGS THAT TROUBLED ME . . .
Town Council’s October Meeting Canceled
Mayor Bennett made a motion last night to cancel the Town Council’s regular meeting of Oct. 2 due to a “lack of agenda items.” Councilman Conners quickly seconded this motion, and it passed, 3-2, over dissents by Councilmen Newberry and McDonald.
Council Resolution 2017-12-01 was cited as authority for this motion. That resolution lists all of dates for regular and special meetings in 2018 and states that “any meeting may be cancelled for lack of agenda items.”
The problem that I have with this cancellation is that the reason offered by the Mayor was disingenuous, at best. Deceitful, as worst. I asked Town Manager Rascoe last month why the October meeting was being canceled, and this is what he wrote to me in an Aug. 8 email:
“The cancellation has been previously noted to the Council at meetings on three separate meetings since January and is due to the Town Manager being unable to attend due to a family commitment.”
It is actions like this motion and meeting cancellation that give those of us committed to transparency and open government pause. It’s not a matter of politics or personalities, it’s a matter of trust and playing by the rules. The fact that Mr. Rascoe is taking a vacation should have no bearing on next month’s Town Council meeting.
Besides the agenda items of the usual five staff reports, I can identify the following others in October: the Planning Board’s report from its Sept. 17 meeting, which includes action on the conditional use permit for the proposed fire station and, possibly, suggestions on ZTA 18-07; the Southern Shores Historic Landmarks Commission’s report on its latest application; public comments—I personally have a problem with construction noise that I’d like to bring up; and any other items that Town Council members would like to put on the agenda, such as followup on the cut-through traffic problem, the local Outer Banks “housing crisis,” as presented last night in public comments by Mr. Neal and representatives from the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce and the Outer Banks Restaurants Assn..; the planning/opening of a branch library in Southern Shores, an interesting idea brought up by Mr. Conners in his final comments; and any other issues that may arise in the MONTH between now and Oct. 2.
After the Town Council adjourned, it met in closed session to discuss a matter pertaining to the fitness of an employee. Mr. McDonald suggested that this matter, too, could be an agenda item in October.
Meetings are canceled for a lack of agenda items mere days before the event, not a whole month out.
Historic Landmarks Meeting Postponed
Also disconcerting for me was to learn, through Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett’s report, that the Historic Landmarks Commn.’s Aug. 28 hearing on an application for 170 Ocean Blvd. was postponed because the Commission did not yield a quorum. That means that three of the five Commission members couldn’t or didn’t show, for whatever reason. I only hope that the out-of-town applicant was informed well ahead of time.
It’s time to do what’s necessary to appoint alternates to the Commission. Its rescheduled meeting is Sept. 25, 9 a.m., in the Pitts Center.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/6/18