12/7/18: THE SAGA OF AN ARCHITECT: COUNCILMAN CHRIS NASON AND HIS DESIGNS ON THE SOUTHERN SHORES OCEANFRONT; And What About That 50-Foot-Wide Lot?

Town Councilman and architect Christopher Nason designed the large red-roofed white house at 62 Ocean Blvd., in Southern Shores where a historic flattop once sat.

Councilman Nason also designed the 10-bedroom, Mediterranean-style house undergoing construction at 64A Ocean Blvd. This property was once part of the parcel that SAGA Construction & Development sought in 2016 to develop as a 16-bedroom wedding-destination/event house.

Further, Mr. Nason is the architect for a proposed house to be built between these two villas on a nonconforming 50-foot-wide lot owned by the red-roof homeowners, Steven D. Love and his wife, Kathleen M. Gorman (“Love/Gorman”). Love/Gorman bought this lot in January 2016 from SAGA, after the Town Council disrupted the developer’s plans by enacting a maximum-house-size ordinance, which Mr. Nason opposed.

All of this information is public record, but it has never been public knowledge, even though the three properties are in a heavily scrutinized, contested, and highly visible area of the oceanfront. I propose in this blog to shed some light on the area.

When and how did Mr. Nason, who is owner of Beacon Architecture & Design in Kill Devil Hills, become engaged in these projects?

Did the Town Councilman, who is in the last year of a four-year term, cast votes on proposed town zoning-ordinance changes that directly affected these projects? If so, should he have?

On Nov. 17, 2018, I reported that SAGA approached Councilman Nason to design its two proposed 12-bedroom, 17-parking-space mega-houses at 98 and 134 Ocean Blvd. at least three months before the Southern Shores Civic Assn. announced the 98 Ocean Blvd. project at its Oct. 8 general meeting.

My report last month was a followup on Mr. Nason’s disclosure at the Nov. 7 special meeting about large houses that SAGA had asked him to design the structures. The Councilman offered this public glimpse into his private business dealings because two Chicahauk homeowners had pointedly questioned his involvement.

In November, I asked you: Do Mr. Nason’s knowledge of the SAGA projects and the Kill Devil Hills developer’s overtures toward him matter?

Today, I will give more facts that I have either uncovered or confirmed, largely by perusing Town permit files, and I will answer that question, directly: Yes. Mr. Nason’s business associations, as well as the business associations of other Southern Shores public officials, elected or appointed, matter. Absolutely, they matter.

Southern Shores property owners deserve to be represented by a Town councilman who makes neutral and objective decisions about town business, especially about its growth and development, based on what is in the public interest, not on what is of actual or potential benefit to him.

As a Town Council member, Mr. Nason is accountable to the public and owes the public explanations about his business dealings when they are pertinent to the public interest.

The following account traces Mr. Nason’s footprints on the oceanfront at 62, 64, and 64A Ocean Blvd.

62 OCEAN BLVD.—NEXT DOOR TO SAGA’S PROPOSED EVENT HOUSE

Architect Chris Nason and Love/Gorman became acquainted before Mr. Nason was sworn into office, and probably before his election to the Southern Shores Town Council.

Love/Gorman purchased 62 Ocean Blvd., the site of “Dunne’s Dune,” a vintage white flattop, on July 2, 2015. Ironically, Mr. Nason measured the flattop, inside and out, as part of his community-service effort to document the historic cement-block cottages, before he designed the $1.5 million house that replaced it.

The Love/Gorman property was then next door to SAGA’s proposed site for its 16-bedroom wedding-destination house at 64 Ocean Blvd.

According to preliminary drawings of the “Love residence” in the Town permit files, “client review” of Mr. Nason’s plans occurred Nov. 13 and Dec. 7, 2015.

Mr. Nason was elected to the Town Council on Nov. 3 and sworn into office on Dec. 1, 2015.

Toward the end of its Dec. 1 meeting, the Town Council went into closed session to discuss with Town Attorney Ben Gallop N.C. Session Law 2015-86, also known as SB 25, and its consequences for Southern Shores. The Council was interested in preventing SAGA’s wedding-destination house and large, high-density structures, generally.

SB 25 amended the North Carolina statute on municipal powers so as to deprive the Town of the power to regulate the number and types of rooms in a house. From October 2001 until SB 25 took effect, the Town controlled occupancy by limiting the number of bedrooms in a single-family dwelling to seven or the septic-system capacity to 14 people.

Upon return to open session, Mr. Nason disclosed that he was designing a seven-bedroom home for “Steve Love and Katie Gorman.” He offered to “recuse myself from any future votes regarding this matter,” if the Council thought it was appropriate for him to do so.

This was commendable on Mr. Nason’s part. I also believe it was necessary.

Mr. Gallop asked Mr. Nason some questions about his relationship with Love/Gorman and his communication with his clients about his role on the Council. Mr. Gallop then said that, if no one on the Council had any objection, he did not believe Mr. Nason had a direct financial interest that would constitute a conflict that mandated his recusal.

Neither Mayor Tom Bennett nor the other three Council members raised an objection, although new Councilman Gary McDonald can be heard on the meeting videotape saying he has no objection “at this time.”

I believe someone should have objected, or, at least, reserved objection, subject to further investigation. As adjacent landowners, Mr. Nason’s clients certainly had a potential stake in any action that the Council might take that would affect the development at 64 Ocean Blvd.

But this was the first day of Councilmen Nason’s, McDonald’s, and Fred Newberry’s terms in office, and the mood was convivial. The meeting also was almost three hours long when Mr. Nason made his disclosure.

At the Town Council’s Dec. 18, 2015 meeting, Mr. Gallop presented three draft zoning text amendments intended to address large residential structures, especially SAGA’s proposed 16-bedroom structure. The ZTAs were referred to the Planning Board for consideration at its Jan. 21, 2016 session.

According to the preliminary drawings of the Love residence, Mr. Nason designed a seven-bedroom, seven-bath, two-story house with a loft, whose enclosed living space was 5123 square feet. His early plans also called for a detached cabana, a 560-square-foot swimming pool with a large concrete patio around it, and extensive house decking.

Had the Town Council sought to enact on Jan. 22, 2016, an ordinance limiting maximum house size to 5000 square feet, as Councilman McDonald has publicly said he wanted to do, Mr. Nason could not have built such a large house on 62 Ocean Blvd.

But the maximum-size zoning text amendment (ZTA 16-03) that Town Attorney Ben Gallop presented to the Council for consideration that January limited the maximum to 6,000 square feet, not 5,000 square feet, and Councilman McDonald did not make a motion to amend it.

Also under consideration was a ZTA (16-02) prepared by Mr. Gallop that would have limited septic-system capacity in residential structures to 14 people. ZTA 18-02 would have prevented the current controversy over SAGA’s proposed 12-bedroom structures, each of which has a proposed septic capacity of 24 people.

It also would have curbed the trend in Southern Shores to build houses with nine or 10 bedrooms, such as Mr. Nason’s Mediterranean-style house at what is now 64A Ocean Blvd., and to add bedrooms to preexisting houses.

The Planning Board recommended adoption of ZTA 16-02, but Mr. Gallop discouraged it because of concerns over its enforceability. I attended the Jan. 22 meeting and do not recall any Council members advocating for ZTA 16-02.

Unfortunately, there is no videotape of the hearing online, only a recording of minutes, which are by nature subjective. Mr. Nason voted against the maximum-house-size ZTA 16-03, which passed 3-2. No motion was made in support of ZTA 16-02.

SAGA SELLS OFF 64 OCEAN BLVD. AS A 50-FOOT-WIDE LOT . . .

A mere three days after the Town Council enacted the 6000-square-foot cap on house size—on Jan. 25, 2016, according to Dare County records—Steven Love and Kathleen Gorman bought a 50-foot-wide lot adjacent to 62 Ocean Blvd. that was part of SAGA’s vacant property at 64 Ocean Blvd.

The Southern Shores Town Code specifies a minimum lot width for development of 100 feet, so the lot purchased by Love/Gorman was considered “nonconforming,” unless it was “recombined” with their 100-foot-wide, two-lot parcel at 62 Ocean Blvd., to make the total width 150 feet.

It’s safe to assume that the $620,000 sale of this nonconforming lot was in the works before Jan. 22, 2016. Comments made during a Town Board of Adjustment variance hearing held four months later for a variance on the 50-foot-wide lot make clear that Mr. Nason’s clients had a preexisting relationship with the seller. (See page 5 in https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/5-16-16-PB-Mtg.pdf.)

The seller was the limited liability corporation that SAGA set up as the owner of 64 Ocean Blvd.: Nags Head Freehold, LLC. Prem Gupta, who is currently SAGA’s chief financial officer, signed the deed as manager of Nags Head Freehold, LLC.

SAGA’s practice of setting up limited liability corporations as owners of its properties obscures its own involvement in real estate deals, but the LLC principals are always traceable. (The LLCs clutter up a blog post, however.)

Nags Head Freehold LLC acquired 64 Ocean Blvd. by gift, dated June 16, 2015, from 64 Ocean Blvd. LLC, whose manager was Sumit Gupta, SAGA’s current chief executive officer, according to the corporation’s website.

The nonconforming Love/Gorman 50-foot-wide lot became known as 64 Ocean Blvd. On May 16, 2016, the Town Planning Board, sitting as the Board of Adjustment, unanimously granted Love/Gorman a side-yard-setback variance on the lot of 12 feet. This variance was the first of a number of such side-yard-setback variances granted by the Board of Adjustment to owners of nonconforming lots before the Town Council stepped in to prevent the creation and (re)development of 50-foot-wide building lots in town. (See below, ZTA 18-07.)

According to the minutes of the Love/Gorman variance hearing (there is no videotape), the owners’ general contractor, Allan Hutten, said, as paraphrased by the notetaker:

“The Love family bought 62 Ocean Blvd. to build a seven bedroom oceanfront family house. . . . SAGA was willing to sell the 50 foot lot (64 Ocean Blvd.) and the Loves bought it. It didn’t make sense to add the 50 foot lot to what they already had because for what they paid it would not reflect in the overall property value if combined. Now the Loves are in a position to try and make the best decision. They would like to have a structure next to them that would satisfy them, be aesthetically pleasing to the community and also maybe get some return if they needed to rent.”

When asked by Board Chairperson Sam Williams what he meant by the phrase, “maximizing value,” Mr. Hutton replied that “if you added that 50 foot lot to the Loves’ other adjoining parcel it would not add much value in contrast to what they paid for it.”

The land at 62 Ocean Blvd. was then vacant, the Dunne flattop having been demolished.

The fact remains that Mr. Love and Ms. Gorman bought the 50-foot-wide lot with their eyes wide open, after considerable controversy in town over SAGA’s proposed wedding house. I believe it was incumbent upon them to do their due diligence regarding the development of nonconforming lots in Southern Shores.

I also believe it is arguable that after Love/Gorman razed “Dunne’s Dune”—the demolition permit was issued Jan. 28, 2016—and both 62 and 64 Ocean Blvd. were vacant, the then-Town Code ordinance on nonconforming lots required the properties to be treated as a single lot. If the then-Town Code is interpreted as I interpret it, then the variance was improperly granted.

The Town Attorney and Town Planner Wes Haskett did not agree, and a variance from the Town-mandated 15-foot side-yard setback was approved.

. . . AND AN 87 ½-FOOT-WIDE LOT

 The remaining 87 ½-foot-wide parcel of land owned by SAGA was sold by 64 Ocean Blvd., LLC, to 64A Ocean Blvd., LLC, on July 19, 2016, for $900,000.

Hence, the Mediterranean-style 10-bedroom house that Councilman Nason designed is being built on 64A Ocean Blvd.

Please don’t ask me how the principals of 64A Ocean Blvd.—who are ophthalmologist Dr. J. Carey Pate and his optometrist wife, Rena Pate, of Raleigh—managed to develop their nonconforming lot or how they made Mr. Nason’s acquaintance.

I know this much: The 64A Ocean Blvd. property was not offered for sale on the multi-listing service. It was a private sale.

According to Town Planning Dept. files for 64A Ocean Blvd., Mr. Nason had his preliminary drawings done by March 14, 2017. He indicated in his plans that his clients had reviewed his work twice in November 2016 and three times in December 2016.

The “Pate Residence,” as Mr. Nason refers to this $2 million house, purportedly consists of 5,852 square feet of enclosed living space, 1,044 square feet of unheated living space on the first floor, and 847 square feet of stairs.

Originally designed with seven bedrooms, Mr. Nason’s final building drafts of the house on file show 10 bedrooms.

Should Mr. Nason have brought this to light during the discussion at the Nov. 7 special meeting about SAGA’s proposed 12-bedroom houses?

DEVELOPING THE 50-FOOT-WIDE 64 OCEAN BLVD.

On July 5, 2018, five days before the Town Council was expected to vote on the zoning text amendment (ZTA 18-07) to curtail the development of nonconforming lots, Mr. Love and Ms. Gorman transferred ownership of 64 Ocean Blvd. to their limited liability corporation, For the Love of Pete, LLC.

At no time during the extended discussion about ZTA 18-07, which the Town Council tabled July 10, 2018, and referred to the Planning Board, did Councilman Nason indicate that he had 64 Ocean Blvd. on his drawing table.

The Beacon reported exhaustively about consideration of the nonconforming lots ordinance, which was filed by Town staff on April 20 and first taken up by the Planning Board on May 21. Mr. Nason never mentioned his relationship with Love/Gorman, nor did he ever attend a Planning Board meeting when the ZTA was discussed.

During the Town Council’s first reading of ZTA 18-07 on June 5, however, Councilman Nason said he had “no problem” with developing 50-foot-wide lots. He voted with Mayor Tom Bennett against approving the amendment.

The Town Council finally enacted ZTA 18-07 on Sept. 5, 2018, after the Planning Board unanimously recommended its adoption. The Council voted, 4-1, to pass ZTA 18-07, with the understanding that the ZTA would return to the Planning Board for further “refinements,” as the Mayor called anticipated fine-tuning of the amendment’s language and exceptions to its operation.

Mr. Nason was the sole dissenter. He offered no disclosures, but this time there was a videotape. I recall his objections as being vague.

According to the meeting video, Councilman Nason said he was “torn” over supporting ZTA 18-07 and called it “a very imperfect solution.”

Despite the understanding that the Planning Board would be shoring up ZTA 18-07, he characterized the amendment as “coming at [the problem] with a hammer instead of a scalpel.” But he didn’t say why.

At no time during the nearly four months after the Planning Board first considered ZTA 18-07 did Councilman Nason publicly offer any disclosures about his work with Love/Gorman nor did he offer suggestions for fixing the ZTA. On Sept. 5, he said: “I still feel like we didn’t quite get there.”

It is clear from site plans in Town permit files that Mr. Nason had been working on the 64 Ocean Blvd. project in early June 2018. The timing of the Love/Gorman ownership transfer—five days before a presumably critical vote in the Town Council about nonconforming lots—is troubling. Mr. Love and Ms. Gorman live in Mechanicsville, Va., not Southern Shores, and their LLC is “headquartered” in their residence.

The two-story house that Mr. Nason designed for Love/Gorman/FortheLoveofPeteLLC consists of 3606 square feet of enclosed living space and 980 square feet of “unconditioned”/unheated space, according to drawing plans on file with the Town Planning Dept. It has five bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, parking for five vehicles, an elevator, and the seemingly usual amenities of an outdoor cabana and swimming pool.

Town Permit Officer Dabni Shelton is currently reviewing the CAMA permit application filed by For the Love of Pete, LLC for the property. When I spoke with her earlier this week, I questioned whether 64 Ocean Blvd. could be separately developed.

ZTA 18-07, RECOMBINATION OF LOTS AND FINE-TUNING

As I read ZTA 18-07, which is now part of the Town Code of Ordinances as Section 36-132(a)(1)-(4), For the Love of Pete LLC cannot build on 64 Ocean Blvd. It must “recombine” the 50-foot-wide lot with 62 Ocean Blvd. into a single lot.

But, wait a minute, you say, Love/Gorman received a variance on the property. Doesn’t that mean 64 Ocean Blvd. is “grandfathered in”—for lack of a better term—to the preexisting Town Code ordinance on recombination, and, therefore, exempt from the operation of the new Sec. 36-132(a)(2)(a)?

Good question.

As I understand it, variances run with the land, so For the Love of Pete, LLC, does not have to apply for its own variance.

But what about the fact that the Town land-use law changed in September? Didn’t Love/Gorman lose the benefit of the variance by delaying? I honestly don’t know.

On Oct. 29, 2018, Town staff filed a new ZTA (18-09) intended to fine-tune and carve out exceptions to ZTA 18-07, actions that were contemplated in September when the Town Council approved the ZTA. (For ZTA 18-09, see https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/ZTA-18-09-Nonconforming-Lots.pdf.)

As I read ZTA 18-09, which will be heard before the Planning Board on Dec. 17, it does not help Love/Gorman/FortheLoveofPete unless they want to sell 64 Ocean Blvd.

ZTA 18-09 contains proposed new language that would allow property owners who own a nonconforming single lot adjacent to land that they also own and on which a single-family dwelling exists to sell the nonconforming lot, without recombining it.

For those of you who have followed the nonconforming lots story, this is the Richard White exception. Mr. White owns a 50-foot-wide former paper road at 85A Ocean Blvd., adjacent to his rental cottage at 85 Ocean Blvd.

ZTA 18-09 also makes clear in a manner that ZTA 18-07 did not that a single family dwelling may not be erected on a currently nonconforming single lot if the lot is under the “same ownership as any adjacent lot.” The term “same ownership” covers the situation that exists with Love/Gorman and their LLC.

When ZTA 18-09 makes its way to the Town Council in January, will Councilman/architect Chris Nason recuse himself?

I conclude this lengthy “saga” of an architect/elected official’s dealings with sensitive land-use issues with a statement of principle:

Property owners are entitled to a Town Council member who upholds the integrity and independence of his office, avoids impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in the exercise of his official duties, and minimizes the risk of conflict of his private dealings with his official duties—all of which Mr. Nason agreed to do when he signed the Town Council’s Code of Ethics on Nov. 16, 2015.

The public deserves full disclosure, and nothing less. Mr. Nason honored that on Dec. 1, 2015, the first day of his four-year term. I await his public accounting on his involvement with 64 Ocean Blvd. and 64A Ocean Blvd. It matters.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, Dec. 7, 2018

 

Shadow
My shadow and I in the public right of way yesterday in front of 64 Ocean Blvd., which is a 50-foot-wide lot. Chris Smith, the worker who confronted me in front of 65 Ocean Blvd., emerged from the construction site on the left, at 64A Ocean Blvd., not from the red-roofed Love residence.
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