2/28/19: BIG-MONEY ‘PLANNING’ SESSION: TOWN COUNCIL HEARS OPTIONS FOR BEACH NOURISHMENT ($9-13.5 million); RENOVATION OR REPLACEMENT OF TOWN HALL, PITTS CENTER, AND OTHER FACILITIES

 

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This photo depicts beach replenishment in 2016 at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Although the Town Council has not approved initiating beach nourishment in Southern Shores, outside of Pelican Watch, and property owners were strongly divided two years ago at the Town’s public forum on the subject, the Town Council entertained options and financial planning for beach nourishment at its Tuesday morning special planning session as if it had decided to move ahead.

Publicized as a planning session, the Town Council’s meeting Tuesday played out, more so, as a series of presentations for how the Town can spend millions of dollars on special projects, without any real discussion of priorities and/or needs among the four elected officials who attended.

Town Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Christopher Nason was on the road with his daughter’s high school basketball team for a first-round state championship game.

Most noteworthy among the presenters, a consultant from a Wilmington, N.C.-based coastal engineering firm reported the results of its “vulnerability” assessment of Southern Shores’ 3.7-mile shoreline and outlined three proposed beach-nourishment plans that it would recommend, if the Town were to invest in such a project. (For details, see next section, below.)

Homeowner Paul Borzellino seemed to speak for all Southern Shores property owners present when he told the Town Council in public comments: “My mind is just blown away by the costs.”

Mr. Borzellino, who lives on Seventh Avenue, which is north of the targeted oceanfront-nourishment area, later described the “numbers” as “daunting.”  The Beacon agrees.

The cost estimates for three beach-nourishment plan “options” submitted to the Town by Aptim Coastal Planning & Engineering of North Carolina, Inc. (APTIM) range from $9 million to $13.5 million, including a 10-percent contingency cost.

Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, the Town Council also heard multi-million-dollar cost analyses from representatives of a Rocky Mount, N.C.-based architectural firm for options to renovate and add on to; demolish and replace; and/or otherwise improve upon the Town’s five facilities.

The five facilities include the Town Hall, which, at 31 years, is the oldest of the buildings; the Pitts Center, built in 1996; the police station (1998); the police training and storage building (2013), and the public works facility on Pintail Court (2001).

Cost estimates submitted in a written report by partners Tim Oakley and Ann Collier of Oakley Collier Architects, who conducted a visual inspection of the facilities last September, range from $2.6 million to over $6 million and cover several different design concepts. Ms. Collier and architectural intern Sam Eichhorn presented the firm’s assessment and design analysis to the Town Council.

Overall, Ms. Collier said, the facilities are “in fairly decent shape.”

APTIM Project Manager Ken Willson, who worked with Southern Shores on the 2017 Pelican Watch nourishment project and has arrangements with the other Dare County-Outer Banks towns, broke down the beach-fill cost-estimate options for the Town Council.

He also informed the elected officials, “The dune system in Southern Shores is in pretty good shape.” It is “fairly intact,” he said, providing protection against storms and erosion.

If Southern Shores were to make a commitment now to beach nourishment, which Mr. Willson projected to occur in summer 2022—when the Towns of Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills are doing their five-year beach-nourishment maintenance—it would be starting much earlier in the process than beach towns usually do, he said.

Also Tuesday, the father-son financial-adviser team of Doug and Andrew Carter, of DEC Associates in Charlotte, explained to the Town Council the various complicated methods available for beach-nourishment funding.

Popular among them are special obligation bonds, which permit a town to set up “municipal service districts” and to levy different tax rates within the MSDs, Andrew Carter explained, so that, for example, people who own oceanfront property would pay more than other property owners do for the sand fill/replenishment.

Once a beach town embarks upon a nourishment plan, said Mr. Carter, whose firm specializes in N.C. shoreline protection financial planning, it commits to “long-term planning” for future periodic maintenance and beach operating costs.

He echoed Mr. Willson’s earlier assertion that beach nourishment is “an exercise in adaptive management. . . . It is never seen as a one-time event.”

The Carters said their fees would be $35-$40,000 for developing a financial plan and setting up a “beach fund” for the earmarked funds; and $30,000 for working on finding the financing, which is typically for five years.

We have “significant financial challenges ahead of us,” Councilman Fred Newberry said, in a wrap-up comment period of the meeting that was allocated 30 minutes on the agenda, but lasted only about five minutes.

While Mayor Tom Bennett and one or two of the three other Town Council members present seemed prepared to choose one of APTIM’s plan options, members also expressed an interest in receiving input from the community. They did not confer at all about the architects’ facilities assessment.

Other than to suggest that a Town Council-Town staff committee convene to discuss the priority of expenditures and financial planning, the Council took no action.

THE HOW-TO OF APTIM’S BEACH NOURISHMENT PLAN OPTIONS

APTIM’S cost estimates for its three proposed beach-nourishment plans were based on its vulnerability assessment, which used something called a “Storm-Induced Beach Change Model” (SBEACH).

While one Town Council member referred to APTIM’s assessment methodology as science, it is not. It is engineering based on technology.

(Admittedly, I have not read APTIM’s 150-page report, which is on the Town website as at https://www.dropbox.com/s/md1vpdogfkk7ipw/December%202018%20Town%20of%20Southern%20Shores%20Vulnerability%20Assessment%20%26%20Beach%20Management%20Plan.pdf?dl=0. But the point of an executive summary is to spare the reader such pain.)

According to the executive summary of the report that Mr. Willson submitted to the Town in December 2018, APTIM “used the storm characteristics of Hurricane Isabel such as wave heights, wave period, water level, and duration to drive the [SBEACH] model.” The vulnerability assessment, therefore, focused on “potential damage associated with” an Isabel-like hurricane.

How did the coastal planning and engineering firm manage to do that? It simulated the storm, according to the December report, using three different sea-level scenarios: “(1) as [sea level] occurred in 2003; 2) the storm with water levels based on 15 years of sea-level risk (2018 equivalent); and 3) the storm with 30 years of sea-level risk from present day (2048 equivalent).” Sea-level rise rates were derived from a 2015 report by the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission.

The results that APTIM obtained with its model, the summary says, “informed the development [of the beach-nourishment plan options] with regards to what sections of the Town may be vulnerable to impacts from the design storm, and what amount of additional [sand] volume would be required to reduce that vulnerability.” APTIM also conducted a physical assessment of the Southern Shores beach in February 2018.

The Southern Shores shoreline, the summary states, is highly variable, in terms of the height and width of the primary dune, the distance that residential structures are set back from the vegetation line, and the rates of sand-volume change. Before analyzing storm scenarios with its SBEACH model, as The Beacon understands APTIM’s summary, the firm determined the “linear extent”—the length—of the proposed shoreline project.

Bottom line: APTIM recommends for future beach nourishment a “main placement area” on the Southern Shores oceanfront that extends from near Third Avenue south to about 450 feet south of where Chicahauk Trail intersects with Ocean Boulevard.

APTIM further designates as a “transition area” a section of the beach that extends from the southern border of the main placement area to the town boundary with Kitty Hawk. An area that APTIM refers to as the “taper” extends about 500 feet north of Third Avenue.

The Beacon defies anyone, including coastal engineers—and second opinions would be welcome—to understand how APTIM used its SBEACH model and its design storm scenarios to arrive at the target volume densities in cubic yards per linear foot (cy/lf) of sand that must be maintained along the Southern Shores oceanfront in order to sustain it. If anyone can make sense of pages ii-iv in APTIM’s executive summary, please send The Beacon an email. As I said before, it’s not science.

The following are APTIM’s recommended options for “managing” the Southern Shores beach:

OPTION ONE, which is projected to cost a total of $11,593,000, with contingency included, targets a volume-density goal of 846 cy/lf. The “average” density measured along the “main placement area” in a December 2017 survey conducted by APTIM was reportedly 801 cy/lf. Therefore, Option One posits a recommended “fill density” of 45 cy/lf. At this density, the main placement area would require 450,000 cubic yards of sand.

Option One also includes fill for the taper and transition areas. The average volume density measured along the transition area in December 2017 was 818 cy/lf. Altogether,  the total volume of sand projected for this option is 665,650 cubic yards.

OPTION TWO, which is projected to cost a total of $9,010,400, also targets a volume density of 845 cy/lf, but recommends adding only 30 cy/lf to the main placement and transition areas. The total sand volume for Option Two is 492,300 cubic yards.

OPTION THREE, which is projected to cost a total of $13,557,000, targets a volume density of 858 cy/lf. This option’s total design volume for the taper, main placement, and transitions areas of the shoreline would be 803,050 cubic yards.

Councilman Jim Conners sought to make these volumes more relatable by recalculating the cubic-yard figures as dump-truckloads. The average dump truck holds about 10 to 12 cubic yards of dirt or sand, he and Mr. Willson agreed. They then calculated that two dump-truckloads of sand would be required for each linear foot of beach.

The “biggest cost” in any beach-fill project, Mr. Willson said, is sand, especially if its source is distant.

The APTIM Project Manager advised the Town Council to initiate design and permitting for whichever plan option it chooses, in February 2020. This would enable projected construction to occur in summer 2022, when the Towns of Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills are doing their five-year maintenance. A collaborative effort would save on expense, he said.

The Beacon wonders why, if the dune system in Southern Shores is providing sufficient protection, the Town should undertake beach nourishment in summer 2022, rather than in 2027, when those same towns will be doing another five-year maintenance, or even later. As all speakers agreed, once a town embarks on beach nourishment, it has made a long-term commitment from which there is no return.

If APTIM’s reason for starting “more early in the process” of beach nourishment, as Mr. Willson said, has more to do with the timing of other towns’ maintenance than with the beach conditions in Southern Shores, then The Beacon does not see a compelling need to move ahead.

Prompted by Town Manager Peter Rascoe, however, the Town Council authorized the expenditure of an estimated $13-$15,000 for APTIM to conduct a beach-profile survey this June, in preparation for the 2022 construction.

THE HOW-TO OF THE TOWN BUILDINGS ASSESSMENT

According to their written report, Mr. Oakley and Ms. Collier toured the Town’s buildings on Sept. 26, 2018 with “County officials/staff,” including “representatives from each department who were familiar with the building systems and maintenance that has occurred throughout the years.”

That the principals of Oakley Collier Architects, P.A., did not include the names of the people with whom they toured or describe the methodology of their assessment are major omissions in their report. The Beacon would like to know how they compiled their data, if they only visited the sites once. How hands-on were they?

While the Oakley Collier report-analysis appears to be fairly comprehensive, its conclusions cannot be objectively assessed in the absence of the methodology.

The architectural team says it assessed the five facilities for their functionality, accessibility, efficiency of use, potential for expansion, and egress and life safety, among other factors, and also analyzed their sites for access and circulation, parking, and signage.

The Beacon did not attend Ms. Collier’s and Ms. Eichhorn’s presentation, but viewed the Town’s videotape of it. Ms. Collier made clear that she had worked with Town Manager Peter Rascoe and other Town staff for months. Mr. Rascoe reminded the Council that it had approved a budget item in the 2018-19 fiscal year for the facilities assessment.

A year ago, the Town Manager said, the Town staff identified three major deficiencies in the buildings in which they work, particularly Town Hall. They were work flow, confidentiality, and space. The Beacon agrees that the layout of the Town Hall is not conducive to “flow” and that privacy in the building is in short supply. There’s never enough space.

According to the consultants, each of the five facilities has a life expectancy of 50 years. In the three options that they propose, two of which involve some demolition, they also seek to maximize parking as much as possible. The options are as follows:

OPTION ONE: a total cost of $2,141,297, covering:

–Renovations and additions to the Town Hall and the police station;

–Correction of “Code” deficiencies in the Pitts Center and the police training building;

–General site work.

Option One represents an upgrade of the current buildings.

OPTION TWO: a total cost of $5,109.059, covering:

–Demolition of the Town Hall and the Pitts Center and construction of their replacements ($2.6 million);

–Renovation of and an addition to the police station;

–Correction of Code deficiencies at the police training building;

–General site work.

In this option, the assembly space that the Pitts Center now provides would be accessible from within the Town Hall.

OPTION THREE: a total cost of $5,917,190, covering:

–Demolition of the Town Hall, the Pitts Center, and the police station and construction of one building that would house everything ($4,850,000);

–Correction of Code deficiencies in the police training building, which would be connected to the larger complex;

–General site work.

To each of these options would be added the construction and sitework costs for renovating and adding on to the public works facility, for a total of $476,895.

Councilman Newberry asked the speakers if they uncovered any concerns that require “immediate attention,” such as safety hazards, and Ms. Collier said there were not. She did cite security, however, as a matter that should be considered now.

You may see the design schematics for the three options and read the analytical details in the full report, which is available online in a dropbox PDF at:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/h5x9ajce19wdi1w/18033%20-%20Southern%20Shores%20FCA%20-%2002.19.2019.pdf?dl=0.

AND FINALLY, SOME GOOD NUMBER NEWS: SSVFD Fire Chief Edward Limbacher reported Tuesday that the original interest rate for the financing of the new $5.4 million fire station has been lowered from 3.71 percent to 3.15 percent. The annual cost to the Town over the 25-year term of the loan, therefore, has been lowered from $333,551.96 to $314,020, for a saving of $19,531.96 per year. (See The Beacon, 11/23/18 for background on the fire station financing.)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/28/19; slightly revised 3/1/19

2/23/19: STOPPING MINI-HOTELS, TAKE 2: PROPOSED ZONING AMENDMENTS LIMIT NUMBER OF OVERNIGHT OCCUPANTS AND SEPTIC CAPACITY IN ‘VACATION COTTAGES’ TO 14 PERSONS

Stevegudas

After I posted yesterday’s blog about the two proposed zoning text amendments (ZTAs) designed to prevent high-occupancy large houses in Southern Shores, a reader wrote to say that my explanation was too legalistic.

I tried to be otherwise, but, unlike journalists who have no legal training, I am wary of paraphrasing the precise language of laws. I also wrote my blog quickly in order to post it last night. If what I wrote was confusing, I apologize.

I now take another crack at explaining what the ZTAs seek to do.

Both ZTA 19-01 and ZTA 19-01CUP amend the Town Code zoning chapter to prohibit vacation cottages from having more than 14 overnight occupants and from having a septic capacity that serves more than 14 overnight occupants.

ZTA 19-01CUP goes a step further, allowing high-density vacation cottages to exist in low-density residential districts, provided they are constructed on lots that are at least 175,000 square feet in size. High-density vacation cottages are those that, by definition, accommodate more than 14 overnight occupants and have a maximum septic capacity that serves more than 14 overnight occupants.

I adamantly oppose high-density vacation cottages, under any conditions, and trust the Planning Board will make quick work of disposing of ZTA 19-01CUP, voting not to recommend it to the Town Council. (Only the Town Council can amend the Town Code. The Planning Board makes recommendations.)

I think it’s unfortunate that the Town Attorney drafted the proposed language about high-density vacation cottages. While the Planning Board discussed such an exception, it did not expressly approve it. But its instructions to the Town Attorney were often open-ended.

Moving on . . .

ZONING LAW ANALYSIS

Bear in mind that we are dealing with zoning law here. Zoning law regulates the use and development of land. These ZTAs attack the mini-hotel problem by expanding upon the permitted uses of land within the residential districts. I’ll explain.

The current Town Code permits the land within the RS-1 single-family residential district, which I said yesterday encompasses most of the town, where we all live, to be used only for the development of detached single-family dwellings. (sec. 36-202(b)(1)) It does not specifically mention vacation rentals among the so-called “permitted uses” of the land.

The Planning Board could have decided to restrict occupancy and septic capacity of all single-family dwellings in the RS-1 and R-1 low-density residential districts, but it did not want to infringe upon homeowners who do not rent their houses. I would have taken this approach.

Instead, the Board authorized a ZTA that creates a new permitted use, that of a “vacation cottage.” The ZTA defines a vacation cottage—an amendment to the definition section of the zoning chapter (sec. 36-57)—as “the use of a property and associated single-family dwelling . . . for any part of a calendar year for the purpose of transient occupancy.”

Transient occupancy is defined in the ZTAs, also by amendment of sec. 36-57, as overnight occupancy of a residential structure for a period of less than 30 days by a person or persons who have a place of residence elsewhere to which they intend to return. The definition refers to “rent or use” of a residential structure “by the day, week, or other period of less than thirty (30) days.”

Most such transient occupants presumably would be vacationers.

The ZTAs further allow vacation cottages to be a “permitted use” of land within the residential districts only if they are not “advertised to accommodate, designed for, constructed for or actually occupied by more than 14 overnight occupants.”

This restriction on advertisement addresses the question of enforcement.

How do you know if an existing, rather than a to-be-constructed, vacation cottage is being occupied by more than 14 people? The police cannot go door-to-door, asking the occupants of vacation cottages how many people will be spending the night.

(The definition of vacation cottage also refers to its advertisement.)

Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett said at Planning Board meetings about these ZTAs that the Planning staff would peruse advertisements on rental companies’ websites, Airbnb, vrbo.com (vacation rentals by owners), and the online sites of other rental agents to ensure compliance with the new ordinance. Complaints from neighbors would also drive enforcement.

MY OWN ANALYSIS

During the Planning Board’s deliberations over “options” for preventing high-occupancy dwellings in Southern Shores, I tried to be open-minded. I supported the septic-capacity limitation—for all dwellings in the residential districts—and I otherwise asked the Planning Board to keep things simple.

I thought the Board’s move toward restricting maximum house size to 5,000 square feet was a simple solution that the Town Council should have been offered for consideration. But the Board overruled itself on this solution, so it does not appear in either ZTA.

By keeping things simple, I meant exercising restraint in amending the Town Code so as to make only those minimal changes that are necessary to achieve the objective. Complex or complicated language in an ordinance inevitably gives rise to differing interpretations.

Also, expansion of language spawns further expansion of language. Part of the reason for this is the camel’s-nose-under-the-tent theory. Once you break ground by amending a section of the Town Code that has never been amended, in order to add a new “permitted use” of the land in residential districts, for example, it is easier to amend it again and add another use.

You also may need to amend your amendment to clarify, refine, tweak, and otherwise fix what you’ve done.

I am not a proponent of the vacation cottage “permitted-use” option for controlling high-occupancy/density development. I do not favor distinguishing between single-family dwellings and vacation cottages. But I am a pragmatist. There appears to be majority support on the Planning Board for this option, and if there is on the Town Council, as well, then this option will become law.

If I were on the Board, I would recommend a ZTA with the septic-capacity limit only.

As I wrote in a response to the reader who called me out on my legalistic explanation, every word of an ordinance, statute, regulation, or any type of law is carefully chosen and precise. Every drafter of a law strives to write “clear and unambiguous language.”

When I analyze a proposed ordinance, I ask:

  1. Is the proposed language going to achieve the objective that the lawmakers seek to achieve?
  2. Does the proposed language give rise to any unintended adverse consequences?

Like most former and active lawyers, I can spin out unintended adverse consequences. I can identify loopholes. Indeed, I did so in the comment I posted last night, when I mentioned that the ZTAs allow for the possibility that a vacation cottage can accommodate more than 14 people as long as it is rented for longer than 30 days.

I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, lived in Baltimore for more than a dozen years, and still travel to the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area regularly. I am well aware of the popularity of group rentals of beach houses in Ocean City, Md., and the Delaware beaches for the summer. The rental period is for 90 days. A handful of people’s names appear on the rental contract, but upward of 20 or more people actually use the house over the summer.

Or consider this scenario: A property owner builds a 10-bedroom dream “single-family dwelling” with the intention of using it personally as a second home and never renting it. The installed septic system will accommodate 20 people. Down the road, however, the property owner decides to rent the house or to sell it to someone who intends to rent it.

Does the house become an albatross that can’t be used? Would a future Town Board of Adjustment grant a variance so that it can be used as a “vacation cottage,” provided no more than 14 people occupy it overnight?

So that the house does not become an albatross, would the property owner desirous of renting it keep it “off the grid,” advertising it only through a means that the Town would not monitor, such as an unknown out-of-state agent?

Is the Town going to monitor Craig’s List, Facebook, Twitter, and other current and future means by which people connect online?

I am sure, with time, I could spin out other unintended adverse consequences, but I am not sure how helpful such an intellectual exercise is. The clock is ticking. That is why I turn to you, and ask you to read these ZTAs and tell me what you think.

Here they are separately:

ZTA 19-01, without the high-density vacation cottage:

https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/ZTA-19-01-PBVacationCottagesHDSepticCapacityLimit.pdf

ZTA 19-01CUP, with the high-density vacation cottage:

https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/ZTA-19-01CUP-PBVacationCottagesHDCUPSepticCapacityLimit.pdf

I hope my explanation in this blog of the two ZTAs is clear, plain, and unambiguous. I look forward to your comments and insights.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/23/19

2/22/19: STOPPING MINI-HOTELS: TWO PROPOSED ‘LARGE HOUSE’ ZONING TEXT AMENDMENTS ARE NOW ON TOWN WEBSITE, To Be Considered by Planning Board March 18

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The two proposed “large-house” zoning text amendments, whose content the Town Planning Board authorized in January, but could not consider at its Feb. 19 meeting—see yesterday’s blog—are now available on the Town website at:

https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/?s=ZTA+19-01

ZTAs 19-01 and 19-01CUP are identical, except 19-01CUP allows for a conditional use permitted in the town’s low-density residential districts of a high-density vacation cottage. (More about that, below.)

The Beacon encourages you to read each of these ZTAs and to post your comments and opinions here or on The Beacon’s Facebook page.

The Planning Board seeks to control residential development in these proposed ZTAs through two means: 1) the use of the dwelling; and 2) maximum septic capacity.

The question is whether these means will, in fact, preserve low-density development in Southern Shores by preventing the construction of high-occupancy residences (mini-hotels), and, thus, protect the Town’s environment, character, and appeal and homeownersand vacationersquality of life.

You should have a voice in the decision-making. To do so, you have to read the fine print of these ZTAs.

It’s not that bad. Honestly.

Although each ZTA application has either six or seven pages, you only have to read and digest two pages: The language of each proposed amendment to the Town’s zoning chapter begins on page 4 of the ZTA application. In the case of ZTA 19-01, it continues to page 5; ZTA 19-01CUP carries a sentence over to page 6, but, it, too, is essentially two pages.

The first page of each ZTA is the cover to the application form, and the next two pages constitute a preamble setting forth the purpose and authority for the amendment. If the Town Council were to enact either of these ZTAs, its preamble would not become part of the Town Code of Ordinances, only the new underlined language in the ZTA would.

The Town zoning ordinance currently permits only one use in the RS-1 single-family residential district, which encompasses most of the town, including all of the areas that vacationers frequent, and the R-1 low-density residential district, and that is a single-family dwelling. Each of these ZTAs creates a new use known as vacation cottage, which it defines and limits by occupancy and septic capacity.

Vacation cottages, by definition, house transient occupants and may have no more than 14 overnight occupants. Their maximum septic capacity is also limited to 14 overnight occupants.

Transient occupancy is defined in the ZTAs as an overnight occupancy for less than 30 days by person or persons who have a place of residence elsewhere to which they intend to return. Both ZTAs specify that vacation cottages may be rented or used by the day, week, or other period of less than thirty (30) days.

DOES ZTA 19-01CUP ABROGATE ZTA 19-01?

The Planning Board discussed, but never expressly approved, the language included in ZTA 19-01CUP about a high-density vacation cottage, which it defines as a residential structure that is:

“(i) advertised to accommodate, designed or constructed with a maximum overnight occupant capacity of more than 14 persons, or (ii) having a maximum septic capacity sufficient to serve more than fourteen (14) overnight occupants.

While it would appear that this language overrules ZTA 19-01, by permitting exactly what Southern Shores property owners would like to prohibit, ZTA 19-01CUP also requires high-density vacation cottages to be built on lots that are a minimum of 175,000 square feet.

The Beacon does not like either the concept or the allowance of high-density vacation cottages in low-density residential districts. ZTA 19-01CUP represents a Pandora’s box that should remain closed.

The intent behind the establishment of the RS-1 residential district is clearly stated in Town Code sec. 36-202(a), which appears in each ZTA: It is to provide for the low-density development of single-family detached dwellings in an environment which preserves sand dunes, coastal forests, wetlands, and other unique natural features of the coastal area.

No development described as “high-density,” regardless of the minimum lot size, should be permitted in this district.

Please let The Beacon know what you think.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/22/19

2/21/19: THE PLANNING BOARD GOES SHORT (A WASTED HALF-HOUR); THE CIIP COMMITTEE GOES LONG (MORE THAN TWO HOURS): Deliberation of Large-House ZTAs Delayed; Widening of S. Dogwood Trail Abandoned, for Now

Daffodil

Zoning text amendments (ZTAs) designed to limit occupancy in large houses in Southern Shores, which a majority of the Town Planning Board approved Jan. 7, and slightly amended Jan. 22, were not discussed by the Board at its meeting Tuesday because of the invocation of a 30-day rule whose applicability The Beacon questions and the Town Planning Director believes needs to be changed.

The result was a wasted session of the Planning Board that lasted only 30 minutes.

Last Friday, Feb. 15, Planning Board members received two draft “large-house” ZTAs that they had authorized the Town Attorney to prepare in January. At their meeting Tuesday, they seemed confused as to why they could not discuss them.

In fact, Chairperson Elizabeth Morey stumbled over stating the reason for the 30-day delay in the Board’s deliberations—until its March 18 meeting—deferring to Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett to explain it. Town Attorney Ben Gallop did not attend the meeting.

The 30-day delay in the Board’s consideration of these critically important ZTAs came about, The Beacon confirmed with Mr. Haskett yesterday, because of Town Code sec. 36-416(b), which states that “No proposal shall be considered by the planning board within 30 days from the filing of the proposal with the town.”

The Beacon believes the clear intent of this language is that no proposal filed with the Town by a party other than the Town shall be considered before 30 days have elapsed, but Mr. Haskett and Mr. Gallop disagree. Hence, the delay.

At the Jan. 22 meeting of the Planning Board, Mr. Gallop apologized to the Board for not then having ready for its consideration the two ZTAs the Board had requested on Jan. 7 that he draft.

The Beacon asked Mr. Haskett about this apparent inconsistency. It seems that if Mr. Gallop had just converted into ZTAs the instructions that the Board gave him Jan. 7—which included specific language defining a “vacation cottage” and limiting maximum overnight occupancy in a vacation cottage to 14 persons—there would have been no need to invoke the 30-day rule.

This is the language the Planning Board approved six weeks ago: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/11-19-18-Owens-High-Occupancy-Limit-Language.pdf.

On Jan. 22, the Board amended its ZTAs to add a septic-capacity limit and to retract a maximum house size reduction to 5,000 square feet.

According to Mr. Haskett, Mr. Gallop thereafter changed the text of the ZTAs, which will be on the Town website soon—significantly enough to characterize them as a “proposal” under section 36-416(b). Just what is a “proposal”?

The paragraph immediately before this section, 36-416(a),  speaks of “every proposed amendment, supplement, change, modification, or repeal” to the zoning chapter being referred to the planning board for its recommendation. This Town Code section does not impose a 30-day wait. Why isn’t this the section that applies to the large-house ZTAs?

None of this sits well with The Beacon, and it shouldn’t sit well with the Planning Board, which should have been out in front on these ZTAs, so that members were not caught by surprise. By the time these ZTAs, which limit the occupancy in residential structures by use (as a vacation cottage rental) and by septic capacity, reach the Town Council for a first reading, six months will have elapsed since news of SAGA’s oceanfront “mini-hotels” became public.

Mr. Haskett suggested that the Town Council consider amending sec. 36-416(b) to clarify that the 30-day rule does not apply to proposals that the Town itself originates. That would seem to be a given to The Beacon: The Town does not file proposals with itself.

NONCONFORMING LOTS ASSESSMENT BECOMES ‘HERCULEAN’ TASK

Another surprise at Tuesday’s meeting was Mr. Haskett’s framing of an inventory task assigned to the Planning Board by the Town Council such that it has become, in the apt words of Planning Board member Andy Ward, “herculean.”

The Beacon believes that the responsibility for the growth in scale of the Planning Board’s task lies with Town Council members who make imprecise, run-on motions, instead of concise and focused motions.

The Town Council decided at its Feb. 5 meeting to return ZTA 18-09PB, which seeks to except certain properties from the new nonconforming lots law, to the Planning Board, pending identification of the nonconforming lots in Southern Shores. Mr. Ward, who already has identified a number of such lots, told the Town Council that he, Ms. Morey, Mr. Haskett, and Mr. Gallop could undertake such a process.

“The four of us will hash this out,” Mr. Ward told the Council.

Unfortunately, the Town Council motion seeking “a comprehensive identification and equitable assessment of the (vacant) nonconforming lots in town,” as The Beacon reported Feb. 6, using its own words, was “rather convoluted.” The Beacon added the word vacant in parentheses because that appeared to be the Council’s intent, but I’m not going to check the videotape to see if the word was omitted in the convoluted motion.

Suffice it to say that the wording of the motion that the Council unanimously passed has spawned a herculean mission that a group involving Mr. Haskett, Town Permit Officer Dabni Shelton, and members of Dare County offices, such as the Register of Deeds, will undertake, Mr. Haskett reported Tuesday.

Mr. Haskett outlined to the Planning Board a step-by-step process designed to identify the nonconforming lots and evaluate deserving exceptions. He said he thought the lot inventory could be ready by March 18.

Inventorying all lots, both those developed and those vacant, was not what the Town Council intended, and Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald, who attended the Planning Board meeting, said so in a post-meeting discussion.

“We meant vacant,” Mr. McDonald adamantly said.

Perhaps the Town Council can pass a clear and direct motion at its March 5 meeting to limit the scope of the nonconforming lots project before too much time is invested in it.

WIDENING OF SOUTH DOGWOOD TRAIL ABANDONED; FOCUS ON NORTHERN SEGMENT OF SIDEWALK AND ITS FUNDING

The Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning (CIIP) Committee, which is chaired by Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Jim Conners, held a special meeting Feb. 12 to “clarify discussions,” according to Town Manager Peter Rascoe, that it held Jan. 30 regarding the possible widening of South Dogwood Trail.

The Beacon reported on Feb. 13 about some of these proceedings, amid the editor’s personal observations about South Dogwood Trail and the maritime forest. (For more background, see The Beacon’s reports on 2/1/19, 2/6/19, and 2/8/19.)

At the Jan. 30 CIIP Committee meeting, Co-Chairperson Conners made a motion, according to the committee minutes, to “transmit” to the Town Council “an affirmation” of the Town Engineer’s design for widening South Dogwood Trail to 24 feet. There is no question that road expansion was discussed and cost estimates were submitted.

The Beacon reported 2/1/19 on this motion, which ended up being tabled at the suggestion of Committee member Al Ewerling, who said he wanted to walk the street before making any decision and pointed out that three members of the seven-member committee were absent. Mr. Ewerling lives on South Dogwood Trail.

All seven members of the CIIP Committee attended the Feb. 12 meeting. Among them, Carlos Gomez, a civil and structural engineer, was most vocal about bringing the community into infrastructure decision-making and preserving the maritime forest.

As The Beacon has reported, homeowner opposition to the committee’s proposed widening of the picturesque and heavily treed South Dogwood Trail was swift and strong. A key voice raised was that of Michael Fletcher, chairperson of the Dogwood Trails Task Force, which concluded that for reasons related to public safety (narrow streets are safer) and natural aesthetics (the peaceful tree canopy), the road should not be widened.

In public comments, Mr. Fletcher has characterized South Dogwood Trail as “a treasure” for property owners.

In the face of such opposition, Town Manager Peter Rascoe, who takes the minutes at CIIP Committee meetings, has sought to do what The Beacon has termed damage control. (See The Beacon’s report 2/8/19.) At the Feb. 12 meeting, which was heavily attended by property owners, all of whom had ample time to comment, he continued to do the same.

(Mr. Rascoe has yet to post his minutes for the Feb. 12 meeting on the Town website. He had the minutes for the Jan. 30 meeting posted by Feb. 1. . . . [Update: Oh, wait! They’re now up! Funny how they were posted just after The Beacon published this blog.])

Despite Mr. Conners’s motion referring to 24 feet, Mr. Rascoe and Town Engineers Andy Deel and Joe Anlauf, of Deel Engineering PLLC, emphasized the idea of making South Dogwood Trail a “uniform piece of 20-foot-wide asphalt, edge-to-edge,” as Mr. Anlauf said. They also sought to distinguish road “impacts,” such as a road bed adjacent to asphalt pavement, from road “width.”

South Dogwood Trail, they said, varies in asphalt width from 17 feet to 22 feet, meaning that some of it would be widened and some of it narrowed if a uniform 20-foot width were achieved. Upon questioning, however, Mr. Anlauf could not be specific as to how much of it is 17 feet, 22 feet, or somewhere in between.

Mr. Anlauf also acknowledged that he had “supported 12-foot traffic lanes”—a 24-foot-wide road—during the Jan. 30 discussion.

Eventually, the Mayor intervened to suggest a “compartmentalized” view of capital projects on South Dogwood Trail. Observing that any “improvement” now of the road was disfavored by the public, especially widening, he suggested that the committee focus on what could be done, and that is construction of the northern segment of the proposed sidewalk along the east side of the road.

By consensus action, suggested by Mayor Bennett, the CIIP Committee, therefore, decided to recommend to the Town Council that it “remove” the northern segment of the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk project from the capital improvement budget and find funding for it elsewhere in the general budget.

The northern segment, which Mr. Rascoe reported at the Feb. 5 Council meeting has been “fully engineered,” runs south from the North-South-East Dogwood Trails intersection to Fairway Drive. The southern segment, which runs from Fairway Drive south to the cemetery, is much more problematic, because of the number of trees and the terrain, and has not been engineered.

Because three CIIP Committee members (Kranda, McConaughy, and Riggin) expressed concern about possible waste if the Town builds the sidewalk and then later has to tear it up to improve the road, the consensus action also included a recommendation to the Town Council that it ask Mr. Anlauf to “engineer” this segment of South Dogwood Trail, too.

According to figures provided by Mr. Anlauf on Jan. 30 and again on Feb. 12, cost estimates for constructing the northern 3,246-linear-foot segment of sidewalk range from $277,318 to $332,782. A minimum of 12 trees would have to be destroyed, he said, although he made it clear in discussion that more trees may have to come out once construction is under way.

Mr. Anlauf also estimated the cost of rebuilding this segment of South Dogwood Trail so that it conforms to the Town’s adopted street standards as ranging from $975,447 to $1,121,763. A minimum of 64 trees would have to be destroyed to do this, he said.

The Beacon highly recommends that the Town Council reconsider the Town street standards soon with an eye toward making exceptions for South Dogwood Trail and other narrow roads in Southern Shores. They are critical to the town’s bucolic identity and character and should be protected.

DOGWOOD TRAIL RETURNS TO NO. 13 ON PRIORITY PROJECT LIST

The Town Council has a priority list of “targets” for capital improvements in each fiscal year.

Each July, the Council enacts an ordinance that typically adopts by reference a priority list of fiscal year infrastructure projects that the CIIP Committee ranks in April in groups from A to C, with C being the lowest priority.

South Dogwood Trail was ranked no. 13 on the FY 2018-19 priority list—the first project in Group C. Monies for improvements in FY 2018-19 have already been allocated.

After the Nov. 15 meeting of the CIIP Committee, Mr. Rascoe and Mr. Anlauf, at the apparent direction of the Mayor, drafted a new prioritization of projects for FY 2019-20.

In this list, an item called “Master Plan Creation for South Dogwood Trail and Walking Trail improvements from the SS Cemetery to the Dogwood Trails Intersection 1.4 Miles (+-)” had climbed to no. 5 in Group A. Next in order at the top of Group B were:

  1. South Dogwood Trail—Street and Walking Trail Construction from Dogwood Trails Intersection to Fairway Drive (“Segment North”)—3,540 LF
  2. South Dogwood Trail—Street and Walking Trail Construction from Fairway Drive to Southern Shores Cemetery (“Segment South”)—3,800 LF

According to Mr. Ewerling, after the CIIP Committee reached consensus on recommending the “removal” of the northern segment of the sidewalk, it returned “South Dogwood Trail, its entire length,” to the 13th position.

The top three recommended projects for FY 19-20 now are:

  1. Hillcrest Drive: from the Hickory Trail intersection to the SSCA tennis courts
  2. Sea Oats Trail: 11th Avenue north to Sea Oats Court
  3. East Dogwood Trail: from N.C. 12 east to Ocean Blvd.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: TOWN COUNCIL PLANNING SESSION TO BE HELD TUESDAY, 2/26, AT 9 A.M. IN THE PITTS CENTER

 Both the agenda for the Town Council’s special planning session and the accompanying meeting packet, which runs 111 pages, are now online. The agenda envisions a meeting lasting about four hours. You may view it here:

https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2019-02-26.pdf.

The Beacon will endeavor to give you a preview of this special meeting on Monday.

 Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/21/19

2/13/19: OF PEDESTRIAN CROSSWALKS, SOUTH DOGWOOD TRAIL, THE MARITIME FOREST, SPEED LIMITS, AND SAFE DRIVING; Planning Board Meets Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 5:30 p.m.

crosswalk
This crosswalk serves pedestrians at the intersection of Wax Myrtle Trail with East Dogwood Trail, which now has a sidewalk on its south side from N.C. Hwy 12 to the Dogwoods intersection.

Yvonne Sternberg of Hickory Trail made an observation about pedestrian crosswalks during public comments at the Town Council’s Feb. 5 meeting that struck The Beacon as worthy of followup. At last, here is the followup.

After thanking the Council for the “nice” new sidewalk on East Dogwood Trail, Ms. Sternberg observed that pedestrian crosswalks now exist on East Dogwood at its intersections with Wax Myrtle and Sea Oats trails and Hillcrest Drive, where the road is divided, but not at its intersections with Woodland Drive and Hickory Trail. (See above photo.)

“I was just wondering,” Ms. Sternberg said, “why these two streets were not connected to the sidewalks as the others have been.”

Ms. Sternberg did not receive a response from any Town Council members, who generally do not interact with the public during the comment period. But no one returned to her inquiry later in the meeting, either, when response would have been appropriate.

The Beacon believes Ms. Sternberg raises an excellent point insofar as the Hickory Trail-East Dogwood Trail intersection is concerned, less so with the Woodland Drive-East Dogwood Trail intersection, which is controlled by a single stop sign on Woodland.

Further, The Beacon believes the same point, which has to do with public safety, could be made about the intersection of East Dogwood Trail with North and South Dogwood trails (hereinafter referred to as the “Dogwoods intersection”).

(Full disclosure: I live on Hickory Trail near the street’s intersection with East Dogwood Trail and often talk with Ms. Sternberg when we are both walking our dogs.)

Like the Dogwoods intersection, the intersection of Hickory Trail with East Dogwood Trail is controlled by a three-way stop. During summer weekends, these intersections teem with vehicles cutting through Southern Shores en route to the northern beaches.

Drivers turning left (going north) onto Hickory from East Dogwood Trail often run the stop sign there, as do drivers turning right (going east) from South Dogwood Trail to East Dogwood Trail. In fact, it’s the rare driver who comes to a full stop at either location.

The Beacon has not read any residential-street data that assess the comparative safety of pedestrian-crosswalk-controlled intersections versus intersections without crosswalks, but it stands to reason that crosswalks and signs indicating them would alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians and slow them down. They also would enhance the safety of walkers and joggers seeking to cross the streets.

So why aren’t there crosswalks at the two major cut-through intersections with East Dogwood Trail? It surely can’t be because the cost of “installing” them is prohibitive. If the answer is “it’s an oversight,” then the Town needs to correct it. If there’s another answer, then residents deserve to hear it.

YESTERDAY’S CIIP COMMITTEE MEETING: PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT SOUTH DOGWOOD TRAIL AND DRIVING ON OUR ROADS

I attended two hours of yesterday afternoon’s Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning (CIIP) Committee meeting, which focused on the future “improvement” of South Dogwood Trail. Because of a family commitment, I had to leave before its conclusion. The Beacon’s correspondent, who has engineering experience, will be filing a report on the meeting soon, and I will augment it. Today, I’d just like to make a few personal observations.

I have a strong emotional attachment to South Dogwood Trail. I fell in love with South Dogwood Trail and the grand and glorious maritime forest of Southern Shores when I was an adolescent in 1968-69 and saw both for the first time. As corny or as sappy as it may sound, I told my family later when I was in high school, “I’m going to live in the Southern Shores woods when I grow up.”

I didn’t say I would live in the Outer Banks or in Southern Shores. I specifically wanted to live in the woods, whose beauty and allure captivated me 50 years ago. That was my goal, and I made my future in Southern Shores happen.

You would not believe how lush, full, and beguiling the “uninterrupted” moss-laden forest once was. It truly spoke to me, and it still does, in spite of the unabated clear-cutting of lots that the Town has allowed to occur and what I would characterize as the suburban sensibilities of some homeowners, many of whom have primary homes elsewhere.

The canopy was especially fabulous. Today when I use that word, many residents don’t even know what I’m talking about.

The tree cover of the roads—which has been destroyed in too many areas of South Dogwood Trail—is the canopy

You don’t see ugly utility poles in the maritime forest. The utilities were installed underground to preserve the trees and protect the canopy they create over the quaint residential roads. The developers showed vision.

To hear Town Engineer Joe Anlauf of Deel Engineering PLLC speak at yesterday’s CIIP Committee meeting of the Southern Shores woods as if they existed in any ole “subdivision” and of historic South Dogwood Trail as just another “collector street” is to hear the voice of someone who is unappreciative of, and estranged from, Southern Shores.

Every time he talks about the number of trees that he envisions destroying, I see many more becoming casualties, and Mr. Anlauf doesn’t deny that his numbers are minimum numbers.

Yes, I know he’s an engineer. Yes, I know he has a bottom-line interest. No, it’s not his job to preserve what’s left of the Southern Shores maritime forest. But he’s been driving the discussion about South Dogwood Trail—with the Town Manager’s and the CIIP Committee’s complicity—and that has to stop.

Carlos Gomez, who was appointed to the committee by Councilman Gary McDonald, is also an engineer, and he had no difficulty yesterday in advocating for preservation of the maritime forest and protecting what he called the “human resources.”

“The maritime forest is a treasure,” he said. It is our treasure. The human element should not be a mere afterthought in infrastructure planning for Southern Shores.

“We’re missing the community,” Mr. Gomez said, urging that landscape architecture be part of the planning for South Dogwood Trail and other residential streets and that guidelines for preservation be developed.

I thank Mr. Gomez, who is a civil and structural engineer, as well as a land surveyor, for his many contributions yesterday, and I join him in urging the Town Council to think first of preservation before it decides upon “improvements.” If elected officials are not stewards for nature, there soon will be no nature to protect.

*****

Having evoked my past, I now state unequivocally that I do not live in the past. I live in the now, and I feel a responsibility for the future. The future to which I refer is the future of this place we call home, not only for the benefit of my family, who will be here long after I’m gone, but for the benefit of the thousands of people I will never meet.

As for the now, I am going to do something that I have never done before in print—because I’ve always thought it was pompous to do so—and that is criticize other people’s driving. I promise you I won’t name names.

I am astonished by how selfishly some people drive on Southern Shores’ residential streets, especially on South Dogwood Trail.

The section of South Dogwood Trail that Mr. Anlauf and the CIIP Committee talked about yesterday consists of 1.4 miles.

One-point-four miles. One-point-four measly miles.

To drive it slowly, carefully, and alertly, stopping at all of the stop signs, and giving walkers, joggers, and bicyclists, a wide berth, takes how many minutes out of someone’s day? Ten minutes, maximum?

Last week I discussed with two acquaintances, whom I do not know well, the possibility of South Dogwood Trail being widened. One of them, a thoughtful lawyer, immediately suggested lowering the speed limit to 20 miles per hour, which was a suggestion that I made yesterday to the CIIP Committee.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that a lower speed limit, if observed and enforced, would enhance public safety.

The other acquaintance groaned. He dislikes the current 25-mile-per-hour limit and complained that the Southern Shores police have stopped him for speeding.

Just how fast does he need to drive to get to the Duck Woods Country Club? And why does he think his convenience should be part of any discussion about “improving” South Dogwood Trail?

Good drivers—here you may think me “pompous”—don’t speed or run stop signs, and they don’t crowd walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and anyone else on the side of the road. They slow down. They stop, if they have to. They wait for an oncoming car to pass before they go around pedestrians, giving them a full 10-foot cushion.

How hard are any of the above to do?

It has been my experience as a dog walker that most local drivers are courteous. I always wave and say thank you to the drivers who give me ample space, and I try to keep my dog off of the road and in the grass.

But I have seen two pickup truck drivers, or two SUV drivers, traveling in opposing directions, pass each other when a dog walker is on the side of the road near one, and I have blanched. If that dog were to become spooked for some reason and dart out into the road, the driver who hits him would feel heartsick.

Why push it? Don’t crowd pedestrians and their dogs. Just wait.

Often when I drive South Dogwood Trail and other residential streets in Southern Shores, I think back to my driver’s education days in high school, when I sat at a simulator and had to be on guard for the dog who jumped out in front of me or the rolling ball that surely preceded the playing child. It only takes a split-second for a hazard to appear.

I think about the principles of safe driving that I learned as a teenager:

“Get the big picture.”

“Leave yourself an out.”

The one that I see violated every day in Southern Shores instructed drivers to know what’s ahead of them, and not just five feet ahead of their vehicles, but as far ahead as they can see. A lot of safe driving has to do with anticipation. It’s not just put your foot to the gas and go. You never assume that your path will be free of obstacles.

For example, if you’re going to run the stop sign at East Dogwood Trail and turn left (south) on to South Dogwood Trail—as I observed a woman in an SUV do earlier this week—you have to anticipate that you could run smack into an oncoming vehicle in your lane that is going around two dog walkers on the side of the road.

You’re driving in a residential neighborhood, not on a highway.

By running the stop sign, you have not given the driver of the oncoming vehicle the time she expected to have to clear the dog walkers. Fortunately, she knows to anticipate that you will run the stop sign and be talking on your cell phone, as this woman was, so she stops (I stopped) to wait for you to pass.

The good driver anticipates that hazard. But she still can’t help but wish that you would think first about the hazard that you present down the road when you run the stop sign.

SUMMER IS COMING: It’s not too early to start lobbying the Town Council to take action to prevent the cut-through traffic from ruining our weekends. Mayor Tom Bennett and the rest of the Town Council represent the people of Southern Shores, not Currituck County or the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce. Our elected officials and Town staff can do far more than they have done in recent years to protect our safety, quiet enjoyment, and quality of life.

PLANNING BOARD MEETS ON FEB. 19, 5:30 P.M.

I conclude with notice that the Town Planning Board will meet Tues., Feb. 19, at 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center.

The Beacon thought the Board would be reviewing and approving the high-occupancy/large single-family dwelling zoning text amendments that it has directed Town staff to prepare, but the meeting notice posted Monday on the Town website does not say that. The notice says only that the “Board will continue discussion of ZTA-18-09,” which is the nonconforming lots ZTA, and “may also continue discussion of high occupancy/large single-family dwellings.”

See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/planning-board-meet-february-19-2019-530-p-m/.

If the notice changes before the meeting, The Beacon will report the changes.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/13/19

2/11/19: COYOTES IN OUR MIDST: HOMEOWNERS EXPRESS FEAR OVER OWN AND PETS’ SAFETY; TOWN RESPONSE STRESSES LEARNING TO COHABITATE AND BEING AWARE; Extra: U.S. Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr. dies

coyotesbypeggy
This grainy image is a cell-phone photograph of a coyote on the grounds of the Duck Woods Country Club that a visitor to Southern Shores recently took at night. For a sharper image of a coyote, see the photograph at the end of this blog post.

Six homeowners spoke to the Town Council last week about coyotes in Southern Shores, expressing fear and discomfort about these predatory canines living in our town.

“I’m fearful, not for myself, but for my pets,” Susan Stroud, who lives on Wax Myrtle Trail, told the Town Council during its public-comment period at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Something has to be done so I can feel comfortable,” said Steve Weeks of Chicahauk, who also spoke of his wife being fearful for her safety.

According to Town Manager Peter Rascoe, Town Hall has received reports of coyote sightings for at least the past three years. He has a “full library of photos,” Mr. Rascoe said, but he has never received a complaint about aggressive coyote behavior or an attack.

If a resident witnesses aggressive, threatening behavior by a coyote, or “foaming at the mouth”—a symptom suggesting rabies, which is rare in coyotes, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission—Mr. Rascoe advised him or her to call 911 and report the animal to the police.

When Europeans first arrived in North America, coyotes were largely confined to the open plains and arid areas of the western part of the continent. These animals, variously known as prairie wolves, barking dogs, and American jackals, have evolved substantially over the centuries, adapting and migrating; they now live throughout the United States, except for Hawaii, and have 19 subspecies.

The first coyote sighting in North Carolina was in 1938, according to the state wildlife commission. By 2005, coyotes inhabited all 100 N.C. counties. Dare County has the distinction of being the last N.C. county to confirm a coyote sighting.

The Town’s response to homeowners’ concerns last week was clear: Residents need to learn how to cohabitate with coyotes, just as they do with other wildlife, in Southern Shores. Coyotes are “here to stay,” Mr. Rascoe said.

“Human interaction cannot be avoided,” Mayor Tom Bennett agreed.

HUNTING OF COYOTES NOT ALLOWED IN DARE COUNTY

The hunting of coyotes is not permitted in Dare County or in nearby Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrell, and Washington counties. This five-county area is the only remaining U.S. habitat and recovery area for the endangered red wolf, which once lived as far north as Pennsylvania, as far south as Florida, and as far west as Texas.

Coyotes are their own species, but they look enough like wolves that hunters may mistake wolves for coyotes and kill precious red wolves. According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, healthy red wolves pose no safety risk to humans, pets, or livestock.

Although they may have similar coloring, wolves are larger than coyotes, which generally top out at 40-45 pounds, and have broader snouts and short, rounded ears. Coyotes have narrow, pointed faces with small nose pads and taller, pointed ears.

Although hunting coyotes is not allowed in Dare County, state-licensed trappers can kill them here by trapping them during the fur-bearing season that runs from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28, Mr. Rascoe said. According to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, a trapper must obtain a “depredation permit” in order to kill a coyote in this county.

The Town of Nags Head hired trapper Leary Sink during the 2017-18 season to trap coyotes within its limits after receiving numerous resident reports of coyote sightings and complaints of small pets being killed. Mr. Sink reportedly trapped 17 coyotes.

After coyotes are ensnared in leg-hold traps—which can trap other wild and domestic animals, too—they are required to be killed at their trapping sites, Mr. Rascoe said. Usually an animal control officer shoots them.

Unfortunately, wildlife biologists agree that seasonal trappings and other permissible hunting methods will not rid an area of coyotes.

Coyotes, like dogs and wolves, are pack animals. When pack animals are killed, biologists say, the social structure of their packs breaks down. A breakdown leads to females becoming more likely to breed and pups being more likely to survive. Because packs generally protect their territories, a breakdown also results in new animals coming in to replace those that were killed.

TOWN RESOURCES ABOUT COYOTES POSTED ONLINE

The Town of Southern Shores has posted quite a few resources about coyotes on its website, including most recently a copy of a brochure titled “Living With Coyotes,” which a Denver-based wildlife program, Friends of Animals, published. (friendsofanimals.org)

Among the Town’s helpful educational resources is a videotape of the Coyote Conflict Management workshop with N.C. coastal biologist J. Chris Turner that the Town held Dec. 6, 2017. See: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/?s=coyotes.

Here are just two of the other links:

Coyote species profile: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Conserving/documents/Profiles/Coyote_Update033017.pdf.

Coexisting with coyotes:

https://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Learning/documents/Profiles/Coexist-Coyotes-v2.pdf.

Mr. Turner, who is employed by the state wildlife commission, also spoke recently to the Kill Devil Hills Town Council. The Beacon refers you to a videotape of his talk and other resources about hunting and coexisting with coyotes on the Outer Banks that KDH has posted online at: https://www.kdhnc.com/651/Coyotes-on-the-Outer-Banks.

Town Councilman Gary McDonald suggested last week that Southern Shores residents may benefit from an encore presentation by Mr. Turner. Mr. Rascoe advised that, if that were done, it would be best done after “the heat of the summer.”

All public officials seemed to concur that the key to successful human cohabitation with coyotes is human awareness: of one’s natural environment and of one’s behaviors and habits that put oneself and one’s pets in harm’s way.

Coyotes do not seek confrontation with human beings. But if you are putting food out for deer, raccoons, or other wildlife—or feeding your pets outside of your home—you are inviting them into your territory. They’re hungry, and they will go where they find food.

Similarly, if you are letting your dog out at night, off of a leash and without your supervision, you are putting your much-loved companion at risk. A big dog may fight off a coyote attack. A Chihuahua or Pomeranian doesn’t stand a chance. Responsible cat owners know that if you want to be sure you don’t lose your cat to a coyote, you have to keep him or her indoors and close the cat door permanently.

The Beacon believes Town Councilman Jim Conners, who seemed to speak for a majority of the Council when he said he does not favor trapping, had the best last word on Southern Shores’ coyote population.

“We came to Southern Shores for the nature,” Mr. Conners said. Now, we have to “learn as humans to adapt to the nature.”

And so do our visitors, who need to made aware, as well.

EXTRA: U.S. CONGRESSMAN WALTER B. JONES JR. DIES

Walter B. Jones, Jr., who has represented the U.S. Congressional district that includes Dare County since 1995, died yesterday on his 76th birthday. According to an obituary in The Washington Post, Mr. Jones died in hospice care after a fall in which he broke his hip.

Mr. Jones, a Republican, ran unopposed and won reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives last November. He was sworn in as a member of the 116th U.S. Congress in January from his home in Farmville.

By unanimous consent, the U.S. House granted Mr. Jones a leave of absence in December for the remainder of the previous session for an “unspecified illness,” The Post also reported.

Mr. Jones’s father, Walter B. Jones, Sr., a Democrat, served the first U.S. district in North Carolina, holding office from 1966-92. Mr. Jones Sr. also died in office. Democrat Eva McPherson Clayton, an African American who had served on the Warren County Board of Commissioners, defeated Mr. Jones Jr. in a special election run-off to fill Mr. Jones Sr.’s unexpired term.

Thereafter, Mr. Jones Jr. switched parties, becoming a Republican, and ran in North Carolina’s third congressional district, instead of its first. He became a fixture in that congressional office.

Mr. Jones gained national attention in early 2003 when he suggested renaming French fries “freedom fries,” after France opposed proposed U.S. military action in Iraq. With the deaths of thousands of U.S. service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Jones later came to regret his hawkish position on the Iraq invasion, changing his stance on the war, The Post said.

A special election will be held in Mr. Jones’s congressional district to elect his successor. Until this occurs, the third district will have no voting representation in Congress.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/11/19

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2/8/19: TOWN DAMAGE CONTROL: THE WIDENING OF SOUTH DOGWOOD TRAIL, AS ‘DISCUSSED’ BY CIIP COMMITTEE (THE BEACON WEIGHS IN); REPAIR TO NEW SECTION OF JUNIPER TRAIL

dogwoodtrail
This is a view of South Dogwood Trail, looking north. Just imagine what the east side of the road would look like if the Town installed a 5-foot-wide concrete sidewalk and a 3- or 4-foot-wide green space separating it from the road.

Southern Shores Town Manager Peter Rascoe devoted much of his report to the Town Council Tuesday night (Feb. 5) to explaining the “procedure” by which a road or other infrastructure project recommended by the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning (CIIP) Committee becomes a project adopted and funded by the Town Council for the fiscal year.

The Beacon strongly doubts that anyone ever thought the CIIP Committee could usurp the Town Council’s authority and call the shots on road construction. Historically, however, the Town Council has rubberstamped the CIIP Committee’s recommended priority listing of capital projects, which, Mr. Rascoe noted, is made “around April or May.” This CIIP Committee started talking about FY 2019-20 projects last November!

The Beacon would characterize Mr. Rascoe’s belabored explanation about how the CIIP Committee functions as damage control: After word got out among residents that committee members had discussed at their Jan. 30 meeting widening South Dogwood Trail–and even had gone so far as to make a motion to recommend to the Town Council a design for a 24-foot width–the community response was swift and angry.

Were it not to CIIP Committee member Al Ewerling, who convinced the other three committee members present to table the motion, it probably would have passed, 3-1, according to Mr. Ewerling.

But first, a digression.

The CIIP Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2 p.m., in the Pitts Center, expressly to brief committee members on the “costs and lateral impacts of a potential walking trail along a portion of the east side of South Dogwood Trail,” not to discuss road widening, per se. See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/notice-committee-meeting/.

Notice how the Town doesn’t even think it’s the public’s right to know before the meeting which portion will be discussed.

The work on the so-called “northern” end of the proposed sidewalk, running south from the North-South-East Dogwoods intersection to Fairway Drive, Mr. Rascoe said Tuesday, is “about all completed.” That portion has a “fully engineered preliminary design,” which is available on the Town website. The problematic “southern” end, from Fairway Drive to the cemetery, which has irregular terrain and numerous trees, has not been engineered.

Now, back to the damage control.

THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

There is no doubt that the CIIP Committee discussed widening South Dogwood Trail at its Jan. 3o meeting and that committee Co-Chairperson Jim Conners  made a motion to “transmit to the Council . . . an affirmation of a design for a 24-foot street width,” according to Mr. Rascoe’s minutes of the meeting. Mr. Ewerling confirmed this discussion and Mr. Conners’s motion. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/CIIP-Jan-30-2019-Meeting-Minutes.pdf.) 

The minutes also clearly state that Mayor Bennett asked the Town engineers to brief the committee on a design and the estimated costs for a South Dogwood Trail “walking trail”; and on a “potential” design and estimated costs for “capital improvements” to South Dogwood Trail with concurrent walking-trail construction.

There is no factual dispute that Town Engineer Joe Anlauf, of Deel Engineering PLLC, informed the committee about “construction of a 5-ft. walking path along with a proposed 24-ft-wide asphalt rebuilt street,” as Mr. Rascoe wrote in the minutes.

South Dogwood Trail is between 17 and 18 feet in width.

Mr. Anlauf didn’t prepare preliminary design plans and cost estimates for widening South Dogwood Trail simply because he felt like it. CIIP Committee Co-Chairperson, Mayor Tom Bennett, asked for them, according to Mr. Ewerling.

Despite the committee-council role distinctions that Mr. Rascoe sought to make Tuesday, the fact that the two co-chairpersons of the CIIP Committee, Mayor Bennett and Councilman Conners, also represent two-thirds of the voting Town Council strongly suggests that its recommendations will be adopted. The Beacon believes that their presence is potentially coercive, inasmuch as the other members may feel pressure, because of their elected offices, to agree with them.

Although the CIIP committee has seven members, only four attended the January meeting. Besides Mayor Bennett, Mr. Conners, and Mr. Ewerling, who lives on South Dogwood Trail, Jim Kranda, who was appointed by former Councilman Leo Holland, was present. Mr. Kranda seconded Mr. Conners’s motion about “transmitting” the road-widening design plan to the Town Council.

The Beacon sees no reason to continue an appointee by Mr. Holland on the committee. Once Mr. Holland left the Council, Mr. Kranda should have been replaced. The Beacon also strongly urges the Town Council to remove one of the co-chairpersons. Their control of the committee appears highly improper. Certainly, it is undemocratic.

PUBLIC DISSENT AT FEB. 5 TOWN COUNCIL MEETING

The South and East Dogwoods Task Force recommended in its Jan. 17, 2017 final report that the Town “continue its policy of not widening roads unless emergency vehicles cannot gain access to their desired location.” (p. 4) That is a fact. It is also a fact that Mr. Conners served on that task force.

In public comments Tuesday night, Michael Fletcher, who chaired the Dogwoods Task Force, said: “I deeply oppose any . . . expansion” of South Dogwood Trail.

The task force, he said, concluded that widening the road was “impractical and unwise to do so due to the narrowness of the right-of-way and the impacts on adjacent properties.”

Mr. Fletcher also cited the severe “impact” on the trees and other vegetation on the road that “residents rightfully treasure,” referring poetically to the “peaceful overhang and tree canopy.” He also said that the task force reviewed “numerous studies” about the impact of road widening on safety, and they all “uniformly” concluded that expansion “decrease[s] safety by increasing speed and potential traffic volume.”

“Under no condition,” Mr. Fletcher stressed, should the Town Council “consider broadening South Dogwood Trail.”

Echoing Mr. Fletcher, homeowner Tommy Karole, who lives near the Dogwood Trails intersection and has presented studies about road-widening in previous comments to the Town Council, pointedly asked: “Who even brought up, and for what reason would you bring up, widening Dogwood Trail? Where does that come from?”

The answer is: Mayor Bennett. The idea comes from the Mayor. The Mayor, Mr. Ewerling confirmed, brought it up at the CIIP Committee’s Nov. 15, 2018 meeting.

IT’S ALL IN THE COMMITTEE MINUTES, JAN. 30 AND NOV. 15

The Beacon reported on the committee’s road-widening “discussion,” as Mr. Rascoe referred to it, in a 2/1/19 blog headlined: “Town Committee Tries to Fast-Track Widening of South Dogwood Trail by up to 7 Feet in Sections.”

We did not fabricate this story. We wrote it based upon Mr. Rascoe’s minutes of the meeting and upon information provided by Mr. Ewerling, whom The Beacon contacted.

The Mayor was noticeably silent Tuesday night at the Council meeting when the public objected to this discussion. He said nothing to Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Karole, or Joe Van Gieson, a third homeowner who spoke in opposition to widening Dogwood Trail, nor did he comment on Mr. Rascoe’s damage control. His co-chairperson, Councilman Conners, also didn’t comment.

Why do our elected officials not feel that they are obligated to respond? They’re not members of a corporate board. They’re public servants.

Regardless of the preliminary status of Mr. Anlauf’s road-widening plans and cost estimates and who actually “owns” them, they were presented at a public meeting of a governmental committee and should be included with the minutes as part of the meeting record. The public has a right to know what is in these plans, even if, as Mr. Rascoe sought to clarify at the Council meeting, the committee is not “considering anything at this point until it gets more information and more members of the committee” are informed. That’s not the issue.

It is also undisputed that at the Nov. 15, 2018 CIIP Committee meeting, according to the minutes, “Co-Chairman Bennett requested the Town Engineer and Town Manager go over the Priority List of needed capital street improvements already adopted for FY 18-19 as a preamble to planning for recommendations to be made for FY 19-20.”

(Nov. 15, 2018 committee minutes: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/CIIP-Cmttee-Meeting-Minutes-Nov-15-2018.pdf.)

A preamble? In November? So, just five months into the 2018-19 fiscal year, the Mayor is asking Town staff to review the priority list for the next fiscal year. Is this part of the committee’s “procedure”? Mr. Rascoe certainly didn’t mention it.

“Much discussion ensued” after the Mayor brought up the FY 2019-20 priority list, according to the Nov. 15, 2018 minutes, regarding “whether the trail improvement [on South Dogwood Trail] should occur simultaneous [sic] with a corresponding street improvement.”

At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Mr. Rascoe stressed that after the CIIP Committee makes its recommendations for priority projects in April or May, its ranking list is placed on the Town website, transmitted to the Town Council, and “noticed” in the newsletter. The implication was that the public has ample time to comment on it before the Town Council makes its final decision in July.

Mr. Rascoe also said that the priority list is “based on the condition of streets”—in April or July, yes, but not in November.

A ‘MEETING’ HELD AFTER THE COMMITTEE MEETING?

It is also a fact that the Nov. 15, 2018 minutes state that “Based on committee discussion, a new prioritization was developed post-meeting, and is attached to these meeting minutes as an information item . . ..”  [The italics are the Beacon’s.]

The minutes do not explain unambiguously when and how the “new prioritization” occurred “post-meeting.” This strikes The Beacon as highly irregular. Who drafted the new prioritization? Under what circumstances?

The attachment shows that South Dogwood Trail has jumped from 13th place, in the lowest Group C, on the FY 2018-19 priority list, to sixth and seventh places, at the top of Group B, in FY 2019-20. Is this truly what a majority of the committee members decided?

Described on the FY 2018-19 priority list as “South Dogwood Trail—entire length 12,408 LF (+/-),” the listing for the road in the recommended “targets” for FY 2019-20 reads, according to the attachment:

“6. South Dogwood Trail—Street and Walking Trail Construction from Dogwoods Trails Intersection to Fairway Drive (“Segment North”)—3,540 LF (+/-)

“7. South Dogwood Trail—Street and Walking Trail Construction from Fairway Drive to Southern Shores Cemetery (“Segment South”—3,800 LF (+/-).”

The underlining was inserted by Town staff, who would not have done such editing without authority from the CIIP Committee.

According to The Beacon’s correspondent, who attended the November meeting, Mr. Conners referred to South Dogwood Trail as a “thoroughfare.” All of The Beacon’s sources report that Mayor Bennett promoted widening of the street, along with the walking paths, and that Mr. Conners supported him.

Although Mr. Rascoe said Tuesday that South Dogwood Trail “has been on the [priority] list for several years,” he neglected to mention that 1) its item on the list has either referred simply to “improvements,” which The Beacon always assumed meant repairs, not widening, or has omitted any reference to the nature of the work contemplated; and 2) its item has always been ranked very low in terms of the Town’s priorities.

In response to a question by Councilman Fred Newberry Tuesday, Mr. Rascoe said that the CIIP Committee “did not consider anything but information that the engineer gave the committee with regards to the street itself. . . .

“There was a discussion,” he repeated. “They did not take any action.”

This is a distinction without a difference.

Further, according to the Jan. 30 meeting minutes, the four attending committee members actually reviewed the revised draft priority list of capital improvements that came out of the Nov. 15 meeting and “may now have consensus on a Group A target priority list for FY 19-20 of” . . . drumroll . . . no. 1, at the top of the list, “South Dogwood Trail Walking Trail and Street Rebuild (Intersection to Sassafras Lane).”

Street rebuild? Funny, Mr. Rascoe didn’t say anything about this at the Town Council meeting, nor did either CIIP Committee chairperson report at a Council meeting since Nov. 15 that a draft capital-improvement-project reprioritization had occurred.

(And yes, it’s up to the Town Council to make the final decision.)

THE BEACON’S BOTTOM LINE: FOUL!

The Beacon cries foul! We demand a public accounting from the committee chairpersons as to why they are considering “information” from the engineer about widening South Dogwood Trail—an action that the people of this town told the Dogwood Trails Task Force they do not want—and why they are promoting such “discussions.”

The Beacon also would like to know why neither of them is reporting the business of the CIIP Committee at Town Council meetings.

In addition to advocating for the replacement of Mr. Kranda and the removal of one of the CIIP Committee co-chairpersons, The Beacon demands that someone other than the Town Manager—a neutral scribe with an interest in clarity—take the minutes. Surely, the Town is not paying Mr. Rascoe to be a secretary. If it is, it should get a refund.

I conclude with a personal observation. When I ran for Southern Shores Town Council in 2015, Mr. Conners asked me at the League of Women Voters’ debate in October, whether I would respect the results of the Dogwood Trails Task Force. I objected then, and I still object, to the biased manner in which the Mayor and Town Council selected the members of the task force. But that’s grist for another blog. The people on the task force had nothing to do with the blacklisting that occurred.

I told Mr. Conners more than three years ago, that, if the task force reached conclusions based on what the people of Southern Shores want—if it canvassed the town—I would respect its recommendations. I am satisfied that it did.

Why, I wonder, isn’t Mr. Conners doing the same?

JUNIPER TRAIL REPAIR WILL CLOSE STREET FOR A WEEK

On Jan. 3, a Spectrum cable installer bored under the new Juniper Trail roadway, near 30 Juniper Trail, and hit a Dare County water main. This error resulted in “a complete washout of a section of the new street,” according to Mr. Rascoe, who has been advised by the Town’s engineers that the 20-by-25-foot section of the road that was affected will “settle” and eventually collapse, without proper repair.

The Town Council unanimously approved repairing the damaged roadway so that it is in the condition that it was in before the flooding. This repair will necessitate a full closure of the road for seven days, according to the contractor hired to do the job. The date for the construction work is dependent on the weather and the contractor’s schedule, Mr. Rascoe said. The Town Manager will give the public as much notice as he can, as will The Beacon.

AND FINALLY, THE TOWN COUNCIL WILL MEET TUES., FEB. 26, AT 9 A.M. IN THE PITTS CENTER FOR A PLANNING SESSION . . .

Beach Nourishment: Among the agenda items that will be discussed is the Beach Vulnerability Assessment and Management Plan, which was completed Jan. 3 and is now on the Town website.

Mr. Rascoe reported that the engineering consultant on the beach vulnerability plan will attend the planning meeting, as well as representatives of Doug Carter [&] Associates, who are financial consultants. You’ll want to hear what all of these consultants have to advise our elected officials about “developing their final plans and methods for beach nourishment,” according to the Town Manager.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/8/19