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

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