12/9/18: MAYOR, TOWN MANAGER SCHEDULING POWER PLAYS, HEAVY-HANDED DRAFT ‘LARGE HOUSE’ ZTA STAND OUT IN AGENDA FOR TOWN COUNCIL MEETING

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Mayor Tom Bennett would have sole, exclusive authority to cancel any Town Council meeting he wants “for lack of agenda items,” and the number of public budget planning sessions for fiscal year 2019-20 would be reduced from two to one, if the Town Council approves the 2019 Council meeting schedule submitted by the Town Manager’s office at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The Town Council meets Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.

The Council also will take up a Town staff-prepared draft zoning text amendment to create and regulate an “oceanfront overlay residential district” that substantially differs from the draft amendment that the Council unanimously directed it to prepare at the Nov. 7 meeting on large houses. I will analyze the differences below.

At that same meeting, you will recall, the Council defeated, by a vote of 3-2, a more modest proposal by Councilman Gary McDonald to restrict residential occupancy by redefining the living space used to evaluate house size and/or by restricting septic-use capacity and parking. The Mayor and Councilmen Jim Conners and Christopher Nason opposed Mr. McDonald’s motion.

The FY 2019-20 budget will be the Town’s first with the additional annual expense of $333,551.96, to pay for the debt incurred to construct the new $5.4 million Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept. fire station. The Town Council unanimously voted to finance the 25-year mortgage secured by the SSVFD. (See The Beacon’s report on fire station funding, 11/23/18.) Although not yet indicated, a property-tax increase is a possibility.

Inasmuch as Mr. Nason has a client who is actively constructing a house on the oceanfront at 64A Ocean Blvd. and another client who is seeking to construct a house on the oceanfront at 64 Ocean Blvd., The Beacon does not believe Mr. Nason should have participated in either vote taken on Nov. 7. He also should abstain from any vote that the Town Council may take on the draft ZTA. (See The Beacon, “The Saga of an Architect,” 12/7/18.)

Missing from the Town Council’s meeting agenda is the appointment of a Planning Board member to fill the unexpired term created by Chairperson Glenn Wyder’s sudden death. The first Board alternate is not automatically elevated.

According to Code sec. 24-24, Planning Board “vacancies occurring for reasons other than expiration of terms shall be filled as they occur, for the period of the unexpired term, by the council.”

Glenn’s death, which shocked and saddened many of us, occurred just two weeks ago. While I know many people are grieving, I do not believe it is disrespectful to Glenn and his family to be thinking about his “replacement.” In fact, I believe Glenn would advise us: “Move on. The Planning Board has a lot to get done.” The Board next meets on Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center.

Planning Board membership is open to all Town residents. You will find an application for the Board here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/10-14-16-Board-Volunteer-Application.pdf.

(Please consider the remainder of this blog an editorial, not a news report.)

CHANGES IN MEETING SCHEDULE ARE UNDEMOCRATIC POWER PLAYS

During his tenure as mayor, Mr. Bennett has succeeded in eliminating the Town Council’s agenda workshop meetings, which took place at 9 a.m. on the third Tuesday of the month, and three of the four Council committees (Planning, Finance, and Public Safety), whose meetings were open to the public.

He retained the Capital (Infrastructure) Improvement Planning Committee and has consistently assumed its chairpersonship, either alone or with a co-chairperson.

Mr. Bennett now seeks to control the scheduling of the remaining 12 monthly meetings by assuming sole power to cancel them for the undefined reason of “lack of agenda items.” When a meeting may be canceled for this reason and whether or not agenda items are lacking—there are always staff reports and public comments—would be solely within the discretion of Mayor Bennett to decide, without oversight, if the Town Council approves this change.

I find this power play both undemocratic and appalling. If any change should be made to the meeting-cancellation clause in the Council Meeting Schedule Resolution (2018-12-01), it should be to make cancellation contingent on a unanimous vote of the Town Council.

In light of the emergence of SAGA Construction and Development’s proposed 12-bedroom, 17-parking space “mega” structures on the Southern Shores oceanfront, cancellation of the October 2018 meeting—on Sept. 5 by a 3-2 vote, with the Mayor and Councilmen Nason and Conners in the majority—looks suspicious.

As we now know, Councilman Nason knew months before the Sept. 5 meeting about SAGA’s plans. (See The Beacon, 11/17/18.)

And, as I’ll tell you now, because I’ve read the Town permit file on 98 Ocean Blvd., it was only a “mistake” by SAGA that kept the Southern Shores Civic Assn. from being informed about its development plans a month earlier than it was.

Had SAGA properly notified the SSCA as the rightful adjacent riparian owner to the south of 98 Ocean Blvd., in early September, instead of the Southern Shores Realty Co. (SSR), c/o Frank Stone, which owns 96 Ocean Blvd., the SSCA would have learned about its development around Sept. 8.

And once the SSCA learned, the Town would have learned, too.

Instead, SAGA sent a CAMA-required notice, dated Sept. 6, 2018—one day after the Town Council voted to cancel the October meeting—to SSR, which did not accept delivery until Sept. 19.

The SSCA, which owns a beach access adjoining 98 Ocean Blvd., finally received notice from the Kill Devil Hills developer on Oct. 5, three days after the date of the Council’s canceled meeting.

How does a big developer, one with more than 10 years of experience on the Outer Banks, make that kind of mistake? Surely, its attorney, E. Crouse Gray Jr., who has 40 years of local real-estate experience, knows CAMA requirements and what constitutes adjacent property.

Likewise appalling, and flagrantly so, is the proposed elimination of one of the traditional work sessions between the Town Council and the Town staff for annual budget planning. These important sessions give the Town Council an opportunity to interact meaningfully with the Town Manager and Town Finance Officer in the preparation of the fiscal-year budget. These are times for probing questions. The sessions also give the public an opportunity to observe and participate in the budget process.

Reducing both the Town Council’s participation in, and the public’s access to, budget planning is yet another way in which the Town of Southern Shores, under Mayor Bennett, perpetuates a closed government. I honestly am shocked that Mayor Bennett and Town Manager Peter Rascoe seek to do this after the serious concern that has been repeatedly expressed by Town Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald about budget planning to accommodate the new fire-station debt.

Councilman Newberry, in particular, has sought planning for the $333,551.96, annual debt, which will remain at this level for the first 10 years of the 25-year loan. He now has his answer: He will not be included.

 ZTA CREATING “OCEANFRONT OVERLAY DISTRICT” LAYS AN EGG

 At the Nov. 7 meeting on large houses, Councilman Conners made a motion, which was approved unanimously, to:

“direct Town staff to draft a proposed zoning text amendment to the existing Town Code, for Council’s review at its December meeting, proposing an oceanfront area residential overlay district to encompass all properties east of N.C. Hwy. 12 and those properties abutting the west side of N.C. Hwy. 12, as well as development standards for this overlay district . . . ”

Not only does the draft ZTA not define the “oceanfront residential overlay district” in this manner—only referring vaguely to “the oceanfront area of the Town”—it does not track all of the precise development standards that Mr. Conners enunciated in his motion.

I consider the failure to effectuate the motion, as made and approved, a breach of public trust. The draft does not reflect what the Town Council authorized. (See the footnote below, which reproduces Mr. Conners’ motion, verbatim.) It also does very little to address the problem of large high-occupancy houses.

The draft ZTA appears to create a residential district, abbreviated as “RSOF-1,” via an amendment to the Town Code that would create a new section, 36-209. But the draft only refers to RSOF-1 once, citing RS-1 in all other proposed subsections. (Code sections 36-209 through 36-238 are “reserved,” meaning, essentially, they haven’t been written yet.)

For example, a subsection (d) in the draft, which is titled “Dimensional Requirements,” reads as follows:

“The dimensional requirements and analysis of the RS-1 zoning district shall apply except the following requirements shall apply to all single-family dwellings:

“(1) Impervious pavement side yard (setback): 10 feet.”

Presumably, the phrase “to the RSOF-1 zoning district” should be inserted after the word, “apply”—an implication is sloppy drafting—but even assuming this, what is the intended result here? I’m confused. Would someone please write to me and explain it? What impervious pavement? And how do these 10 feet square with the standard side-yard setback of 15 feet?

Unlike Mr. Conners’s motion, the draft ZTA does not set forth regulations for setbacks, building height, and lot coverage of houses that have 4,000 square feet of enclosed living space or less—except the impervious pavement side-yard setback, which I don’t get. The section on “Dimensional Requirements” is also so poorly written that are contradictions within it.

Significant among the restrictions imposed upon single-family dwellings that are between 4,000 and 6,000 square feet are a maximum building height of 28 feet and a maximum allowable lot coverage of 25 percent—both of which were included in Mr. Conners’s motion. How the floor on this house-size category (4,000 square feet) is anything but arbitrary—as Mr. Conners acknowledged at the Nov. 7 meeting—I do not know.

After these regulations, the draft ZTA goes off in a new direction, one that was neither expressed in the original motion nor discussed. It requires all single-family homeowners, presumably in the RSOF-1 district, to conceal their refuse and recycling receptacles in a “fenced area hidden from view of the public, but accessible to users of the property.”

Excuse me?

What does “hiding” trashcans have to do with the public safety, health, and welfare?

I believe the Town exceeds its municipal authority with such a heavy-handed regulation. Not only must homeowners create fenced areas, but subsection (e) of the draft specifies that this “area” must be of a “sufficient size to enclose and contain the number of trash receptacles required by Town Code Sec. 26-6.”

What—no dictates on the aesthetics of the fences?

The regulations that really take the cake, however, are the ones that require landscaping buffers. I have to wonder where Big Brother lives in town. I know when he moved in.

Not only does the draft ZTA require rows of plantings, of a specified width, on property lines of single-family dwellings—presumably in the RSOF-1 district—it also prescribes the types of permissible plantings: “All plantings shall be of a species that is known to adapt to and survive in local conditions.”

So now the Town Attorney, the Town Council, the Town Manager, the Town Planning Director, whoever, are telling us what the vegetation in our yards should look like. Will homeowners have to submit their plant species choices to the plant police?

We’re talking about people’s homes here, folks, not buffer strips next to banks or other commercial buildings or in shopping-center parking lots. We’re also talking about sticking homeowners with a big landscaping bill. How biased and discriminatory.

The section on parking requirements does not vary from Mr. Conners’s motion, except to note that there is already a parking section in the Town Code: Sec. 36-163. Yes, and it’s rather extensive. It should have been the Town Attorney’s guide.

To address large houses through parking requirements, the Town Council has to amend Sec. 36-163(1)(a)(1), which specifies that three parking spaces are allotted “for each dwelling unit with up to eight-person septic capacity and one additional space for each additional two (2) persons of septic capacity . . . in excess of eight-person septic capacity up to 12-person septic capacity.” Over 12, the Code allows one additional space per person of septic capacity.

This is how SAGA counted up to 17 parking spaces: three spaces for up to eight people; two spaces for four people up to 12-person septic capacity, and one space per person for 12 and up to the house’s maximum septic capacity, which in SAGA’s case is 24.

Of course, the Town’s ordinance on off-street parking requirements assumes a maximum septic capacity of 14 persons. That was the law until Jan. 22, 2016.

I have a great idea: Scratch this cumbersome, intrusive, and regressive draft ZTA and draft two others: One that limits maximum house size in residential districts to 5,000 square feet (or less) and another that limits septic-system capacity to 14 persons. Mr. McDonald was on the right track. So was the late Glenn Wyder, who supported an occupancy limitation based on septic capacity.

PLANNING BOARD: The Town Planning Board will meet Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. On the agenda is discussion of ZTA 18-09, which fine-tunes ZTA 18-07, the nonconformings lots ordinance that the Town Council approved, 4-1, in September. I discussed ZTA 18-09 in my blog, “Saga of an Architect,” 12/7/18. Vice-Chairperson Elizabeth Morey is expected to chair the meeting.

You may read the Dec. 11 Town Council meeting agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2018-12-11.pdf

The Dec. 11 meeting packet with the 2019 Council meeting schedule (Resolution 2018-12-01) and the draft oceanfront overlay ZTA is here:  https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2018-12-11.pdf.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 12/9/18

Footnote one: Councilman Jim Conners’s motion on Nov. 7:

“I move that Council direct Town staff to draft a proposed zoning text amendment to the existing Town Code, for Council’s review at its December meeting, proposing an oceanfront area residential overlay district to encompass all properties east of N.C. Hwy. 12 and those properties abutting the west side of N.C. Hwy. 12, as well as development standards for this overlay district that will include the following:

“1. Setbacks: side setbacks of 20 feet for structures up to 4,000 square feet (“SF”)

           side setbacks of 25 feet for structures over 4,000 SF and not greater than   6,000 SF

           front setback of 25 feet for structures up to 4,000 SF

front setback of 50 feet for structures over 4,000 SF and no greater than 6,000 SF

           rear setback of 25 feet for all structures or as established by CAMA regulations

           impervious paving setback of 10 feet from side property line for structures up to 4000 SF

                    impervious paving setback of 15 feet from side property line for structures

         over 4,000 SF and no greater than 6,000 SF

“2.  Building height:  35 feet for structures up to 4,000 SF

                                  28 feet for structures over 4,000 SF and no greater than 6,000 SF

“3.  Lot coverage: 30 percent for structures up to 4,000 SF

                   25 percent for structures over 4,000 SF and no greater than 6,000 SF

“4.  Refuse/recycling: a number recommended by Town staff of trash receptacles required for all structures up to 4,000 SF; a number recommended by Town staff of trash receptacles required for all structures over 4000 SF and no greater than 6,000 SF.

“5. Landscape buffer: 10 foot-wide single row of plantings (type to be either installed or preserved and selected from a list dictated by the Ordinance) for structures up to 4,000 SF along the sides property lines; 15 foot-wide, double-staggered row of plantings (type to be either installed or preserved and selected from a list dictated by the Ordinance) for structures over 4,000 SF and no greater than 6,000 SF along the side property lines; 10-foot-wide single row of plantings (type to be either installed or preserved and selected from a list dictated by the Ordinance) along the front property line for all structures no greater than 6,000 SF.

“6. Parking: all parking spaces to be 10-feet-by-20-feet; all parking spaces to be adjacent to a two-way, 18-foot-wide (minimum) drive aisle; no stacked parking allowed.”

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