1/23/18: A WORK IN PROGRESS: PLANNING BOARD ELECTS MOREY CHAIR, MCGRAW, VICE-CHAIR; ACTION ON EXTENSION OF CELL TOWER POSTPONED; MOTIONS & THOUGHTS

celltower
Another 10 feet?

Planning Board Vice-Chairperson Elizabeth Morey was elected chairperson, and member Joe McGraw was elected vice-chairperson at last night’s Planning Board meeting. Both votes were unanimous.

The positions are for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2019.

Ms. Morey, a self-employed political consultant, has been acting chairperson since Glenn Wyder’s death in November. In an interview last year with The Beacon, Ms. Morey said she served two years as a Planning Board alternate before being appointed a full member of the Board. Her current three-year term expires June 30.

Mr. McGraw, who owns Albemarle Contractors with his wife Lori, was serving as a Planning Board alternate when the Town Council appointed him in September 2017 to complete the unexpired term of regular member Gray Berryman, who resigned. Mr. McGraw’s term also expires June 30.

All Planning Board appointments are made by a majority vote of the Town Council.

In other business last night, Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett reported that American Towers LLC/Verizon Wireless had asked that their application to amend an existing Conditional Use Permit in order to extend the height of the cell tower at 148A Ocean Blvd. be tabled until February or March.

According to a letter from an attorney included with the application, American Tower seeks to extend its “Monopole Facility,” which is located in the SSCA’s Triangle Park at the Ocean Blvd./Duck Road split (see photo above), by 10 feet, bringing it to 150 feet, its “final height.” (See The Beacon, 1/21/19.)

The extension would accommodate Verizon Wireless, which is not now on the tower, and expand AT&T’s cellular capacity, improving “network connectivity in the area.”

The Planning Board accepted a tabling of the application “until further notice.”

A WORK IN PROGRESS

I am going to do something unusual in regard to the remainder of the business taken up, and the public comments heard, last night by the Planning Board, and that is not to report on them, except in a broad fashion.  I also will editorialize.

I found much of the substance discussed by the Board last night to be confusing and the over-all process of the meeting to be disruptive. There were quite a few breaches in the order of the proceedings.

I will tell you what the Planning Board did. But rather than explain the actions it approved in any detail, I am going to wait until I see them in writing.

The Planning Board definitely recommended, with amendment, a version of Zoning Text Amendment 18-09, which seeks to except certain property owners’ circumstances from the nonconforming lots ordinance that the Town Council enacted in September. The Board refers to the property owners whom it is trying to shield from the operation of the new ordinance, which rewrote sec. 36-132 of the Town Code, as “outliers.”

A homeowner with an outlier case that the Planning Board had not previously considered spoke during the public-comment period last night. His case drew a sympathetic response from the Board, but it was unclear to me how the Board plans to address it. (The Beacon recalls that Town Councilman Jim Conners tried to bring up this homeowner’s case in a Planning Board meeting chaired by Mr. Wyder and was prevented from doing so. That was unfortunate.)

A public hearing on ZTA 18-09 is scheduled Feb. 5 before the Town Council. I will report on that version of the proposed Code amendment when I am confident it is in final form. The version of the ZTA that is currently online under the Town website notice of the Feb. 5 Town Council meeting is not the one that the Planning Board discussed last night. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/public-notice-two-public-hearings-february-5-2019.)

The legal language of the ZTA is complicated and confusing.

In my opinion, Planning Board member David Neal hit the nail on the head when he said: “We’re trying to stop the cutting up of 100-foot-wide lots into 50-foot-wide lots on the oceanfront and elsewhere.”

There was definitely a sense of frustration last night that this has not been achieved—but not for a lack of trying. Perhaps Town Attorney Ben Gallop, who is creative, can come up with a fresh approach or a fresh perspective. The Board expressed a need for his guidance.

Board member Andy Ward made two motions that amended motions passed by majority vote on Jan. 7, in regard to controlling high-occupancy (“large”) dwellings and population density in Southern Shores. Through these motions, both of which were approved, the concept of using septic capacity as an occupancy control was resurrected, and the movement to limit maximum house size to 5,000 square feet was defeated.

(Note: I think both the septic-capacity limit and the reduction in the maximum house size are options that the Town Council should consider. I have been a proponent in previous Planning Board meetings of the former.)

The vote on including septic capacity in a ZTA, along with the high-occupancy use concept previously approved by majority vote, was approved unanimously. The vote on maintaining the 6,000-square-foot maximum house limit was 3-2, with new Board member Ed Lawler, who did not attend the Jan. 7 Board meeting, being the swing vote.

Mr. Gallop advised the Planning Board that he would integrate these decisions into the zoning text amendments that he was directed to prepare Jan. 7. I will report on those ZTAs when I see them.

The Board also formally voted 4-0, with Mr. Lawler recusing himself, not to recommend ZTA 18-10, which creates an ocean overlay district and regulations within that district. This is the ZTA that came out of the Town Council’s Nov. 7 special meeting on large houses. A public hearing on ZTA 18-10 is also scheduled before the Town Council on Feb. 5.

INTEGRITY OF THE PROCESS

For the newly constituted Planning Board to be successful, the process by which it operates publicly must be fair, open, respectful, and disciplined. I strongly believe that integrity in the process—which is a democratic process—is far more important than the ends achieved.

There must be meeting rules, and they have to be enforced. Members of the public should not be permitted to interrupt people while they are giving public comments, nor should they be permitted to speak from their seats in the audience.

When speaking from the lectern, all members of the public should begin by giving their names and addresses, as they are asked to do. If there is going to be a three-minute rule in effect for public comments, then it should be applied consistently to everyone who speaks—and speakers should be informed that it is in effect.

New Chairperson Elizabeth Morey may wish to consider a sign-up sheet for public comments. That would end the practice of allowing people to speak emotionally in reaction to what they have just heard someone else say in public comment.

Planning Board members also must be prepared to participate meaningfully in the weighty matters before them and to listen to each other and to the public with the goals of mutual understanding and cooperation.  The Beacon believes the Board is a team, as well as a group of individuals with varying personalities and styles.

There will inevitably be differences of opinion and/or interpretation, but they do not preclude respectful discussion. Rarely is there a right or a wrong in a given situation.

I will conclude with a sentiment expressed by new Vice-Chairperson Joe McGraw, who said: “We’ve been good stewards of Southern Shores. I love Southern Shores.”

The Beacon believes that the concept of stewardship is an excellent one to apply to service on the Planning Board. The Beacon loves Southern Shores, too.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/23/19

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