The Town Council decided last night to hold a public hearing on the need and desire for beach nourishment in Southern Shores at its April 2 regular meeting. By consensus, Council members agreed that the hearing will be the first order of business on their April meeting agenda, ahead of the customary staff reports.
The Town Council is currently scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m., on April 2, in the Pitts Center.
Although not mentioned by any Council members last night, public hearings on the two high-occupancy (large) house zoning text amendments that the Town Planning Board has generated also will likely be scheduled April 2. The Planning Board will be considering these amendments, numbered as ZTA 19-01 and ZTA 19-01CUP, at its March 18 meeting. (See The Beacon, 2/22/19 and 2/23/19, for background.)
The Planning Board will vote on whether or not to recommend the two ZTAs, with or without amendment, to the Town Council, which should schedule public hearings on the measures April 2. People may express their opinions on the two ZTAs during the public-comment period of the Board’s March meeting; the Board does not hold public hearings.
You may access ZTA 19-01 here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/ZTA-19-01-PBVacationCottagesHDSepticCapacityLimit.pdf.
(ALERT: The following report on beach nourishment contains opinion, as well as fact.)
The Town Council is considering beach nourishment so soon after its Feb. 26 special planning session, when a consulting coastal civil engineer presented a “vulnerability” study of Southern Shores’ 3.7-mile shoreline and proposed three beach-nourishment plan options, because of the availability of Dare County funds, not because of need. (See The Beacon’s report on the planning session, 2/28/19.)
Project manager Ken Willson of the Wilmington, N.C.-based Aptim Coastal Planning & Engineering of North Carolina, Inc. (APTIM) reported to the Town Council on Feb. 26 that “The dune system in Southern Shores is in pretty good shape.” It is “fairly intact,” he said, providing protection against storms and erosion.
Although the public has the right to access and use the dry-sand area of the beach, which is the area seaward of the dune line up to the mean high-water mark, oceanfront property owners hold legal title to it. The State of North Carolina does not own coastal land west of the high-water mark. Once the dry-sand area is nourished, however, it becomes publicly owned.
The Beacon strongly urges all Southern Shores property owners—especially oceanfront owners, of which I am one (a co-owner)—to attend the April 2 hearing.
RUSH TO JUDGMENT ON BEACH NOURISHMENT
Despite the good condition of Southern Shores’ dune system, and the fact that once nourishment is done, it must be perpetually maintained, several Town Council members appeared ready last night to approve a beach nourishment plan primarily because funding is now available.
Town Manager Peter Rascoe advised Council members that they must decide in April if they are going to “pull the trigger” and commit to a 2022 nourishment project, in order to obtain monies from the Dare County Beach Nourishment Fund.
The county sets aside a portion of the 6-percent occupancy tax that it collects every year in its Beach Nourishment Fund. Fund monies are then apportioned among coastal towns that are doing nourishment projects.
The Towns of Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills are scheduled to do five-year maintenance of their 2017 nourishment projects in 2022, hence the target date for construction that Southern Shores would observe if the Town Council votes in April to commit to beach nourishment.
The Town’s maintenance of the Pelican Watch sand nourishment, which occurred in 2017, is also scheduled for 2022.
The four Council members who attended the Feb. 26 special planning meeting discussed setting up a joint Town Council-Town staff committee, or other constituted committee, to do financial planning and prioritizing of big-ticket projects in town, including beach nourishment. This idea was not mentioned last night, however, after Mr. Rascoe brought up the county’s need to know “as soon as possible” if Southern Shores is in or out of the fund allocation for 2022.
The Town Manager is clearly driving this project, but he cannot drive it without Mayor Tom Bennett’s approval. (Mr. Rascoe used to tell me that he only does what the Town Council directs him to do.)
Mr. Rascoe’s advocacy is obvious in the public-hearing notice posted on the Town website today. What The Beacon heard last night was authorization by the Council of a “public hearing on beach nourishment.” There was even talk among Council members about a public-information forum, rather than a hearing.
“A month to make this kind of decision is way too short,” said Councilman Fred Newberry.
What the Town advertises today, however, is a hearing to seek “public comment from Town property owners and residents on [Mr. Willson’s] Plan’s recommendation for sand nourishment of [a] portion of the Town’s public trust ocean beach in year 2022.”
According to the Town’s hearing notice, we have a Town coastal Engineer—not just an independent contractor-consultant—who is recommending a sand-nourishment project.
But Mr. Willson’s report, both the one he submitted in writing and the one he gave to the Town Council in person last month, speaks only of presenting three nourishment plan options for the Town Council’s “consideration.” It does not advocate that the Town execute one of the options.
Mayor Bennett spoke last night about having the “opportunity” to do beach nourishment, within the window offered by the county’s timetable, “if we so choose.”
The Beacon finds the Town’s public-hearing notice misleading, skewed in favor of recommending beach nourishment, rather than just considering it.
Mr. Rascoe routinely refers to the dry-sand beach area east of the dune line as the “public-trust” beach, but, contrary to what you might think, this characterization does not give either the public or the Town of Southern Shores any special ownership status.
The public has the right to access and use the dry-sand beach, as noted above, but this has nothing to do with who owns the dry-sand beach or who pays, in increased real-estate taxes, for it to be nourished. (The common-law “public-trust doctrine” is now part of N.C. statutory law. See N.C. General Statutes sec. 77-20.)
Mr. Willson, who worked with Southern Shores on the 2017 Pelican Watch project and has arrangements with all of the other Dare County-Outer Banks towns, broke down in his report the beach-nourishment cost-estimate options as being between $9 million and $13.5 million. According to last night’s discussions, Dare County would pay for 50 percent of this cost, if Southern Shores were to partake of its Beach Nourishment Fund. The Town—we taxpayers—would make up the other 50 percent.
The Beacon will try to obtain reliable hard tax-rate figures for you before the public hearing.
The Beacon strongly encourages you to do your homework on beach nourishment and the need in Southern Shores to take on such an exorbitant project as early as 2022. It is a massive undertaking that will forever change the size of the budget and, therefore, the size of the government in Southern Shores.
Unfortunately, the Beacon does not have the time and resources in the next month to hire its own geologist and/or civil engineer to do an independent evaluation of Southern Shores’ beaches, but it definitely would like a second opinion.
The Beacon agrees with Councilman Newberry, a frequent beachgoer, who observed last night that the dry-sand area “comes, and it goes.” I’ve watched it in Southern Shores over a span of 50 years, and, although the sea level is rising, so far, I would say the beach has done a good job of sustaining itself.
IN OTHER NEWS FROM LAST NIGHT’S MEETING:
Councilman Jim Conners’s motion to adopt the nonconforming lots ZTA recommended by the Planning Board—which he called ZTA 18-09A—was defeated 2-2, after the Town Council voted unanimously to recuse Councilman Christopher Nason from voting. Mayor Bennett supported the motion with Mr. Conners, and Councilmen Newberry and Gary McDonald voted against it.
Although the latest nonconforming lots ZTA recommended by the Planning Board is known as ZTA 18-09PB, The Beacon and other audience members distinctly heard Mr. Conners refer to 18-09A in his motion: “A, as in alpha,” he said.
The Beacon is unaware of a proposed ZTA 18-09A.
In another error, The Beacon learned last night that the “old business” meeting agenda item about Mr. Conners’s proposal should have referred to a public hearing held on Feb. 5, 2019, not Jan. 8, 2019. (See The Beacon’s report, 3/4/19.)
With so much confusion over the multiple versions of ZTA 18-09, The Beacon challenges the Town’s assertion that a proper public hearing was actually held on Feb. 5.
The nonconforming lots proposal offered last night by Mayor Bennett, which also was previewed in the meeting agenda and covered by The Beacon on Monday, was approved unanimously after it was fundamentally changed.
The proposal described in the agenda called for referring to the Planning Board “an ordinance,” to be drafted by staff, that would allow for the sale or development of nonconforming lots that are at least 20,000 square feet in area and greater than or equal to 50 feet in width. The motion that passed, however, only called for the Planning Board to consider such a provision in its discussions, not for the drafting of an ordinance.
Councilman Newberry made a point of clarifying that Mayor Bennett’s motion did not involve the drafting of an ordinance. The Mayor confirmed that it did not.
Mr. Newberry’s own motion to change the makeup of the Town’s Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning (CIIP) Committee so that it consists exclusively of “citizen-representatives,” a move that would have required the resignation of the two Council members who chair the committee, failed 2-3, with Mayor Bennett, Mr. Conners, and Mr. Nason voting against it. The Mayor and Mr. Conners are the committee co-chairs.
The CIIP Committee meets tomorrow at 2 p.m. in the Pitts Center to continue its deliberations about the prioritization of infrastructure projects for fiscal year 2019-20.
LOCK YOUR CARS!!
Police Chief David Kole reported upon a recent rash of property thefts from parked vehicles that were left unlocked. He noted that one such vehicle even had a key in its ignition. The Chief said the thefts occurred primarily in the dunes, on streets such as Hillcrest Drive and Sea Oats Trail.
In response to Councilman McDonald’s inquiry about an update on the graffiti vandalism that occurred at 62 Ocean Blvd. in December, Chief Kole said the investigation is still open, and the department is “still following up on leads.”
SSVFD Fire Chief Edward Limbacher reported that the cause of the fire that destroyed the home at 80 S. Dogwood Trail is “still under investigation.”
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 3/6/19