In a surprise move last night, the Town Planning Board voted, 3-2, to include a 5,000-square-foot house-size restriction in one of two “high-occupancy limit” zoning text amendments that it directed Town staff to prepare for its consideration.
Both ZTAs requested by the Board were based on new language emailed to Board members yesterday by Planning Director Wes Haskett, after he received the language in a 10 a.m. email from Town Attorney Ben Gallop. The ZTA language was then posted on the Town website, according to Mr. Haskett, who responded to an email from The Beacon this morning.
Each ZTA requested by the Planning Board would control population density in Southern Shores’ RS-1 and R-1 residential districts by limiting overnight occupancy in “vacation cottages” to 14 people or fewer. A “vacation cottage” would represent a new “permitted use” in these districts.
The Board also rejected, by a 2-3 vote, a motion by member Andy Ward to propose a ZTA that would have controlled high-occupancy dwellings and population density by limiting septic-use capacity to “no more than 14 overnight occupants.”
Mr. Ward, who advocated strongly for a septic-use limit three years ago when the Town Council enacted the 6,000-square-foot house-size limit instead, appeared to be shocked by the new ZTA language, which was attributed to Professor David M. Owens of the University of North Carolina School of Government. Professor Owens is Mr. Ward’s first cousin.
Planning Board Vice-Chairperson Elizabeth Morey, who has been conducting the Board’s meetings since Chairperson Glenn Wyder’s sudden death Nov. 25, is expected to report the Board’s progress to the Town Council tonight during its regular monthly meeting. The Council meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.
According to the Town Council’s agenda, it will appoint someone to fill Mr. Wyder’s unexpired three-year term, which started July 1, 2018. This full member will be on the Planning Board when the two ZTAs authorized last night are taken up by the Board for possible recommendation to the Town Council.
Three Southern Shores homeowners have applied for the Board vacancy. They are Ed Lawler, a semi-retired engineering consultant with experience in house design and construction who has lived in Chicahauk for 28 years; Anthony DiBernardo, a retired parole hearing examiner who has been active in environmental preservation in Southern Shores since he moved here in 2005 and served three years as chairman of the SSCA’s Architectural Review Board; and Patrick Regan, a retired food-industry manager who is involved with the Beach Food Pantry and Caring Hands, a faith-based outreach program affiliated with the Duck United Methodist Church. (See below for more about their qualifications.)
Supporting materials for the meeting, including the Planning Board applications are available here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2019-01-08.pdf.
You may access the Town Council’s agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2019-01-08.pdf.
SURPRISE TALK ABOUT HOUSE SIZE, NEW ZTA LANGUAGE
Last night’s special meeting of the Planning Board picked up where the Jan. 2 special meeting, which recessed because of a power outage in the Pitts Center, left off.
There was considerable public comment, presented formally from the lectern and informally from the audience, during the two-hour session. Ms. Morey allowed a free-flowing, but controlled interactive and inclusive meeting. Anyone who wished to speak was given an opportunity to do so.
In addition to Ms. Morey and Mr. Ward, Planning Board members David Neal and Joe McGraw, both of whom are builders, participated. Board alternate Michael Basilone, a Kitty Hawk firefighter who lives in Southern Shores, assumed the vacant seat, as he had on Jan. 2.
Mr. Neal sought to frame the Planning Board’s deliberations by summarizing the options for controlling high-occupancy houses as just two: 1) to limit by septic-use capacity; or 2) to limit by “use.”
“We are trying to put a cap on the number of people who can be in a vacation rental,” he said, after noting that the Town is prohibited by state law from limiting occupancy by the number of bedrooms and has already set a maximum house size.
Ms. Morey corrected Mr. Neal by saying that the Board was not capping the number of people in a vacation rental, but rather “the number of occupants in a single-family dwelling.”
When the reserved Mr. McGraw, who has a decades-long history with Southern Shores, spoke up about reducing maximum house size in town to 5,000 square feet, an idea that The Beacon knows has support among town citizens, including me, I was frankly stunned. I thought that a change in the maximum house size, which was suggested at the Town Council’s Nov. 7 special meeting, lacked support on the Planning Board.
“I feel like the 6,000 square-foot limit opened up the door for 98 Ocean Blvd.,” Mr. McGraw said, referring to the 12-bedroom, 17-parking-space mega-house being built by SAGA now on the oceanfront.
Mr. Basilone agreed, expressing support for the high-occupancy/use limit, but saying, “I also like what Joe said about changing the square footage of houses.”
Ms. Morey joined them, saying, “I like the idea of 5,000 square feet, too.”
“Adamantly opposed” to reducing the maximum house size, Mr. Ward argued in favor of restricting occupancy in single-family homes by limiting septic-use capacity to 14 people. His motion to direct Town staff to prepare a zoning text amendment that would limit septic-use capacity for single-family dwellings to 14 persons failed, 2-3, however, after discussion about the risk of liability involved in this option and the ways that property owners could get around it. Only Ms. Morey joined Mr. Ward in approving the motion.
NEW LANGUAGE FROM PROFESSOR OWENS, WRITTEN IN NOVEMBER
Mr. Neal threw his support behind the new draft ZTA language that, Mr. Haskett told The Beacon today, Mr. Gallop emailed to the Planning Director yesterday morning around 10, and Mr. Haskett immediately forwarded to Board members.
This ZTA language is described in a link on the Town website as “11/19/18: Owens High-Occupancy Limit Language.” See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/special-planning-board-meeting-recessed-january-7-2019/11-19-18-owens-high-occupancy-limit-language/.
Professor David Owens, of the UNC School of Government, is a highly regarded N.C. land-use expert and author of the textbook, “Land Use Law in North Carolina,” with whom Mr. Gallop has conferred. Professor Owens, who lives part-time in Southern Shores, prepared the septic-use ZTA language that Mr. Ward proposed.
The Beacon did not see this new link before yesterday’s meeting. According to Mr. Haskett, the date assigned to it, 11/19/18, “is the date of the correspondence between David Owens and the Town Attorney that included the language.” Why Mr. Gallop, who has described himself as a student of Professor Owens, waited until yesterday to share this nearly two-month-old correspondence with the Planning Board was not made clear last night.
Mr. Gallop stated at the meeting that the language had been drafted by Professor Owens, but he did not provide the specific context. The Town Council held a special meeting on high-occupancy houses on Nov. 7, before this language was allegedly drafted, and the Planning Board did not meet in November.
This new Owens language, which a majority of the Planning Board supported, would amend the Town Code by adding a definition for “vacation cottage”: a one- or two-family residential structure that is offered for rent or use for a period of less than a month. It further would specify that a vacation cottage is a permitted use in the primary residential districts, provided the maximum overnight occupancy does not exceed 14 people.
The language also includes a paragraph that is being called an “optional standard,” which Mr. Gallop characterized as a separate proposal from the rest of the language to provide a “conditional use option.” As currently written, this standard would allow a vacation cottage to exceed the 14-person maximum overnight occupancy capacity if it were built on a lot of at least 80,000 square feet. A majority of the Board supported increasing that square footage and gave Town staff the discretion to decide an appropriate number.
A motion made by Mr. Neal to draft a ZTA in line with the 11/19/18 Owens correspondence was approved by Mr. McGraw and Mr. Neal—and, belatedly, by Ms. Morey, in order to give them a majority.
Ms. Morey then made a motion to draft a ZTA in line with the Owens correspondence that also included a house-size restriction of a maximum of 5,000 square feet. Mr. McGraw and Mr. Basilone joined Ms. Morey in approving the motion. Both Mr. Ward and Mr. Neal expressed strong opposition to the house-size reduction.
The new Owens language clearly caught the professor’s cousin, as well as the public, by surprise.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Mr. Ward said. “I’ve talked to David numerous times, as recently as Saturday afternoon,” and he didn’t mention it.
Mr. Ward seemed both frustrated and dismayed by this turn of events. Frankly, The Beacon believes he deserved more respectful consideration from the Town Attorney and Town Planning Director than he received—as did the other four Board members. But Mr. Ward, in particular, invested a lot of time and energy in exploring and advocating on behalf of the septic-use option, which the late Mr. Wyder also supported.
Both Mr. Gallop and Mr. Haskett should have made an effort to contact Mr. Ward by telephone to advise him of the new ZTA language, which Professor Owens purportedly drafted. Mr. Ward should have been given time to consult with his cousin, who has been an influential, if absent party to the discussions about high-occupancy houses in town for at least the past three months. Instead, he was blindsided.
The Beacon is concerned that the thoughtful months-long deliberations about the very important issues of growth, development, and population density in Southern Shores seem to have been resolved, at least for now, by eleventh-hour maneuvering and Ah-ha! moments.
PLANNING BOARD APPLICANTS
The Beacon interviewed Planning Board applicants, Mr. Lawler and Mr. DiBernardo. Mr. Regan did not return a telephone message left by The Beacon yesterday.
Mr. Lawler said he is a proponent for “slow growth,” and he has always “paid attention” to the environment and water quality. He lived in Corolla from 1977-87 in a house he built himself and moved to Southern Shores, which he called “a place for family,” after the northern beaches began to “deteriorate quickly.” He has extensive experience with water- and wastewater-treatment projects. He is also on the Chicahauk Property Owners Assn., serving as its treasurer.
Mr. DiBernardo served on the Southern Shores Vegetation Board/Committee that developed a vegetation-preservation ordinance for the town. This work came out of an N.C. State University study, but, unfortunately, did not get the support of then-Mayor Don Smith. Mr. DiBernardo has been vice-chairperson of the Southern Shores Historical Landmark Commission since its inception and was recently reappointed to another term.
Mr. Regan’s application indicates he spent more than 30 years in the food industry, and he holds a bachelor’s degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Both Mr. Lawler and Mr. DiBernardo also have bachelor’s degrees. Mr. Lawler has a master’s degree in marine science.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/8/19