If SAGA Construction secures the CAMA and town permits it needs to develop 98 Ocean Blvd. on the Southern Shores oceanfront, an original Frank Stick design will be destroyed and a 12-bedroom, 12-bathroom, 5981-square foot, three-story house with a claimed septic capacity of up to 24 people and parking for 17 vehicles will be built in its place.
“98 Ocean Blvd. LLC,” the legal identity that SAGA has used as purchaser, reportedly settled on the property, identified as lots 1-2 of block 17, last Friday, buying it from three sisters who live in Virginia and acquired it, in large part, from their parents.
This summer, the flattop at 98 Ocean Blvd., known as the Brooks house, was still in the rental program at Southern Shores Realty. See https://www.southernshores.com/outer-banks-rentals/brooks/081.
According to Town Permit Officer Dabni Shelton, 98 Ocean Blvd. LLC’s application to CAMA (Coastal Area Management Act) for a development permit was filed Oct. 2 and sent to the N.C. Division of Coastal Management the next day. CAMA regulations require a “minor” permit to be issued within 25 days after an application is in hand–therefore, in this case, by Oct. 27. Permits customarily issue well before the 25-day period elapses, Ms. Shelton said. (See below.)
Amit Gupta of SAGA is acting as 98 Ocean Blvd. LLC’s agent.
A SLAP IN THE FACE
SAGA’s plan is a “slap in the face to the vision of Frank Stick, the developer of Southern Shores,” said Sally Gudas, who, with her husband Steve, owns a 1950s-era flat top on Wax Myrtle Trail and has actively sought to preserve flat tops and arrange tours of them.
Building a “12-bedroom structure,” which may be an “event house,” in place of the historic flattop now at 98 Ocean Blvd. (see photo above), Ms. Gudas told me this morning, “is antithetical to the goals of Frank Stick’s original development.”
I will tell you, in full candor, that I agree. It is also antithetical to Southern Shores’ current land-use plan, which endorses a vision of a “quiet seaside residential community comprised primarily of small low density neighborhoods,” not a high-density, congested seaside community with 17 SUVs parked in front of three-story houses.
SAGA’s proposed demolition and construction project at 98 Ocean Blvd. became public Monday when Board member Rod McCaughey announced it at the Southern Shores Civic Assn.’s general membership meeting. Mr. McCaughey called it “bad news.” I have yet to speak to anyone in Southern Shores who feels differently.
Mr. McCaughey reported that the SSCA had received notice last Friday from SAGA of its application for a permit. The CAMA permit system is divided into major and minor permits based on the size and environmental impact of a development project. SAGA’s project is considered minor.
Because the SSCA’s Chicahauk Trail beach access adjoins 98 Ocean Blvd., to the south, the civic association is an adjacent riparian owner entitled to notice and an opportunity to comment or object to SAGA’s application. The Kill Devil Hills-based developer erred in sending certified-mail notice of its application to the landowner on the other side of the beach access, skipping over the SSCA. (An agent for the homeowner at 100 Ocean Blvd. accepted delivery of SAGA’s certified letter notice on Sept. 19. That homeowner did not file comments or objections within the requisite 10-day period after receipt.)
FULL DISCLOSURE: I attended the SSCA meeting and stood up to ask questions of Mr. McCaughey. As I have at other public meetings, I raised the issue of whether the proposed SAGA house qualifies as a “single family dwelling.” Ninety-eight Ocean Blvd. lies within the Southern Shores’ RS-1 residential district, which is zoned for single family dwellings only. I also suggested that the SSCA use some “legal firepower” in opposing this project.
Immediately after the meeting, I circulated among SSCA members who lingered and heard only negative comments about the SAGA project. I spoke with Mayor Tom Bennett that night, as well as two Town Council members. All Town Council members attended the SSCA meeting, except Councilman Christopher Nason. Yesterday, while researching the Town permit file on 98 Ocean Blvd., I spoke further with Mayor Bennett, who happened to stop by Town Hall, and Councilman Jim Conners, with whom he was meeting, as well as at length with Ms. Shelton. Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett is out of town.
I can confidently say that none of the elected officials with whom I spoke wholeheartedly supports SAGA’s project. But that does not mean that any of them are prepared or eager to fight, through legal means—including via amendments to the Southern Shores Town Code—this project and future projects like it. At least, not yet.
SSCA OBJECTS TO SAGA HOUSE
Yesterday, Mr. McCaughey, who heads the SSCA’s bylaws/long range planning/architectural review board committee, submitted a letter of objection to Mr. Haskett and Ms. Shelton, who are the local permit officers (LPOs), writing, in significant part:
“The characterization/classification of a 12-bedroom structure as a single-family dwelling is improper and misleading. A structure with that number of bedrooms surely seems designed to accommodate large numbers of people along the lines of other event houses built in Dare County. [The SSCA] feels strongly that such a structure is out of character with all of the existing single fairly dwellings in Southern Shores and raises concerns with accommodating large numbers of vehicles associated with use of the structure.”
I thank Mr. McCaughey and the SSCA for their opposition. I believe they are representing a majority view of the civic association’s 1802 members. I only wish the SSCA had withheld its response until the end of the 10-day period.
According to Ms. Shelton, “The first day to issue [a CAMA permit] is customarily eight to 10 days from the date of a complete application, which in this case was Oct 9th, when the SSCA submitted their Adjacent Riparian Property Owner notice and letter.” [Content in boldface added 10/12/18.]
MY OPINION: To call SAGA’s proposed structure a single family dwelling or “home” is to distort the common meaning of this term. That the new property owner is identified as a corporation, rather than as an individual, further defies application of this description to SAGA’s project. This is a luxurious rental-house machine—each of the 12 bedrooms is conceptualized as a “suite”—being built on speculation, not a dream house being built by a wealthy individual for personal use.
I am reluctant to say more now about the single family dwelling status of this controversial project and how relevant existing law may or may not apply to it. I have more research that I would like to do, and the project is early in the permitting process.
Ms. Shelton said that the Town is “reviewing” SAGA’s CAMA application. She has not received any applications from SAGA for local permits. A building-permit application requires proof of ownership, and, so far, only SAGA’s purchase offer, accepted by the three sisters in March 2018, is on file.
Rather than talk about legalities, I would like to share with you SAGA’s numbers.
LOT COVERAGE, HOUSE SQUARE FOOTAGE
I asked Ms. Shelton about the proposed SAGA house’s lot coverage, and she said that, when assessing an oceanfront building, it is calculated from the first line of stable natural vegetation (FLSNV). CAMA will make its determination of FLSNV, she explained, and then she will visit the property and make her own independent determination.
According to SAGA’s building plans on file, the developer calculated square-foot coverage of the project as follows:
Proposed residence: 4,435 square feet, a calculation that excludes a 165-square-foot interior garden that is open to the sky.
Proposed concrete parking and driveways: 3,732 square feet. (The plans indicate that six parking spaces will be under the house; 11 will be on the driveway.)
Proposed swimming pool and concrete decking: 1,724 square feet (The project also has a hot tub and tiki bar.)
Proposed wood beach walkway and deck: 416 square feet
The total of these measurements is 10,307 square feet.
SAGA has calculated the lot area to FLSNV as 35,262 square feet, or .81 acres. By SAGA’s calculations, its project would cover 29.2 percent of the lot.
Ms. Shelton pointed out that when determining the size of a structure, CAMA calculates “total floor area,” whereas the Town, in deciding whether a house exceeds the 6,000-square-foot cap imposed by zoning ordinance, takes account only of “enclosed living space.” The Town Code requires living space to be habitable.
According to SAGA’s CAMA application, the “total floor area” for its proposed house is 6105 square feet, whereas the total enclosed living space is 5981 square feet. The developer’s building plans show the following square-footage calculations:
GROUND FLOOR LEVEL
Enclosed area: 265
Storage (non-conditioned): 124
Covered area (non-conditioned): 3443
Enclosed area: 2958
Deck area: 1261
Enclosed area: 2758
Deck area: 888
To arrive at 5981 square feet, SAGA added the enclosed areas of 265, 2958, and 2758 square feet.
As many of you know, the Town enacted the 6,000-square-foot size limit on single family houses when Senate Bill 25 became law in 2015, and it lost the authority to restrict the number and type of rooms. Before then, Southern Shores imposed a seven-bedroom limit on single family dwellings.
SB 25 dealt with many “building design elements” and “aesthetic controls,” most of them having to do with the exterior appearance of a structure. It arose in the context of suburban and urban housing developments. (See https://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/Senate/PDF/S25v3.pdf.)
It may be advantageous to revisit this law after the November election with General Assembly members from Dare County. In the meantime, it is worth noting that the 2015 law allows municipalities to enact zoning regulations pertaining to “the use of buffering or screening to minimize visual impacts, to mitigate the impacts of light and noise, or to protect the privacy of neighbors.”
A PERSONAL NOTE
I join Ms. Gudas in believing, as she told me, that the demolition of the flat top at 98 Ocean Blvd. “will be a huge loss to the essence of Southern Shores.” It will be a loss of history. That such demolition may be an inevitability does not lessen the loss.
I also agree with her that “even more troubling” is the size, scope, and commercial intent of the proposed structure that will replace it. That it is proposed to be located next to the main beach access used by Chicahauk residents and vacationers is also troubling.
On a personal note, I would like to say that I am one of three sisters—I also have a brother—who acquired an oceanfront house in Southern Shores that my parents built. My family’s cottage is historic only in the sense that it was the first house built on pilings, and the flat top contingent wasn’t happy about it. Now it is a dwarf among giants.
The cottage that I own with my siblings sits between two flat tops and always has. This year the flat top to the north of our rental home was for sale, and I couldn’t convince my siblings to buy the property in order to protect our home and the town. Too much money, too much hassle, etc., etc.
I was greatly relieved when an Ohio couple bought the property, not SAGA or another developer of event “homes.” I was then, and am still, prepared to litigate if I have to. I hope the SSCA is, as well.
CELL TOWER EXPANSION
Speaking of money . . . It was also announced at the SSCA meeting that American Tower Corp. will be extending the cell tower at the Duck Road/Ocean Blvd. fork by 20 feet in order to accommodate Verizon Wireless, which is not now on the tower, and to expand AT&T’s cellular capacity.
The current “straight pole-like structure,” American Tower representative Mark Landers explained to the SSCA audience, “will look exactly the same on the outside.” He also said that the expansion is being done to “accommodate” the explosion in cell-phone traffic, which he described as a 40-percent annual increase in data. Too many people are trying to use the network at the same time.
The expansion will take about five months and bring in $5400 more in rent for the SSCA, bringing the total income from the cell tower to just under $40,000. The cell tower will be 150 feet high when it is done.
THE NEXT PLANNING BOARD MEETING IS 5:30 p.m., OCT. 15, in the Pitts Center. On the agenda are consideration of the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept.’s application for a conditional use permit to construct the new fire station at 15 S. Dogwood Trail and a hearing on proposed ZTA 18-08, concerning a change in the maximum building height ordinance, sec. 36-202(d) of the Town Code.
Before the SSCA’s meeting Monday, I thought I would be writing a blog this week about the SSVFD’s new station and ZTA 18-08, which arose, literally, from a situation in my back yard.
Duck-based builder Olin Finch bought the lot behind my residence at 237 Woodland Drive, a once-forested irregular lot in an AE flood zone. I have met on-site with manager Marc Murray, who will be representing Mr. Finch at the Planning Board hearing, and have monitored the development. I had setback concerns.
I was not in town, however, when a convoy of dump trucks traveled down South Dogwood Trail, arriving before 7 one morning, and unloaded fill in the Woodland lot, which Mr. Haskett has aptly described as a “bowl.” I subsequently learned from a neighbor and Mr. Haskett that the added fill exceeded the amount permitted by the Town Code by two feet and had to be removed. Hence, ZTA 18-08.
Section 36-202(d)(7)(b) currently permits “the use of fill or redistribution of fill” for properties in the AE flood zone up to “7 feet above mean sea level.” The amendment would delete that phrase and replace it with up to “the regulatory flood protection elevation.” That brings FEMA into the definition.
I have been advised by informed sources that this is a good change, one that will bring consistency to Code sections and protect homes in the AE flood zone. My own house sits on a ridge, not in a bowl. I will listen carefully to what Mr. Haskett and Mr. Murray say. But what I mostly would like is for Finch and Co. to fill in the trench–a three-foot-high dropoff–that was created between our lots when the trucks brought in the fill.
The Planning Board may or not take up the new nonconforming lots law again. It also may take up the SAGA project. Certainly, property owners and others are free to bring up the project to the Board in public comments.
I encourage the Planning Board and the Town Council to fight the SAGA project. This is not a time for “What can we do?” shoulder-shrugging and delay. This is a time for swift, preventive action.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/10/18; revised slightly 10/11/18