6/9/19: REGULATING ‘SPECIAL EVENTS’: TOWN COUNCIL NEEDS TO DEFINE PROBLEM BEFORE IT SEEKS TO SOLVE IT; Discussion at Meeting Lacked Focus, Purpose; Traffic Is Up Next

SAGArear
This photograph of the east and south sides of the dwelling at 98 Ocean Blvd. readily illustrates how much exterior space there will be for guests to congregate: on two stories of connecting decks, on balconies, around the pool, under the house at what will be a built-in bar, and multiple tables and chairs, and in the yard.

An ordinance prepared in December 2015 to regulate “special events” in town came back before the Town Council at its meeting last week at the request of Councilman Gary McDonald. This time around, however, the Council’s discussion lacked the focus, direction, and purpose it had the first time.

The Council’s deliberation suffered, The Beacon believes, because the problem or problems that Mr. McDonald was seeking to address were not adequately defined. Until the Council precisely defines the problem, a solution is going to be difficult to find.

In addition, major changes in the Town’s zoning have occurred since late 2015. Town Attorney Ben Gallop drafted the special-event ordinance long before the Town Council’s enactment last month of a permitted-use distinction between residential dwellings that are “detached single-family dwellings” and those that are “vacation cottages.”

The Beacon asks: Why not build on this distinction and treat differently those special events that are held in vacation cottages and those held in single-family homes that are not vacation cottages?

When the Town Council first considered what is known as the “Special Event and Occupancy Limitation” ordinance, SAGA Construction Inc. was threatening to build a 16-bedroom wedding-destination venue on the oceanfront at 64 Ocean Blvd. The Council’s purpose was clear: Stop this from happening.

Six months earlier, the N.C. General Assembly had cleared the way for the first-ever “special-event house” to be built in Southern Shores by taking away the town’s power to limit the number of bedrooms in dwellings. Southern Shores’ seven-bedroom restriction, in effect since October 2001, became invalid.

Representing the overwhelming public opinion, a majority of the Town Council did not want SAGA to build its 16-bedroom venue. To stop it, the Council had to amend the Southern Shores Town Code: It had to make new law.

Town Attorney Gallop prepared four draft ordinances to prevent SAGA’s project, three of them zoning text amendments (ZTAs) and the fourth, the newly resurrected special-event ordinance, which was Mr. Gallop’s primary effort.

The special-event ordinance is a police-power ordinance, relating to public health, safety, and welfare, not to zoning. Because it is not a zoning measure, the Town Planning Board is not required to review it. The Town Council can move forward on its own, without the Board’s consideration, but it also can seek the Board’s review, if it chooses, and it did, unanimously, on Tuesday.

In its first go-round, the special-event ordinance dropped by the wayside Jan. 5, 2016 when the Town Council decided at a regular meeting to consider only the three ZTAs.

At a special meeting held Jan. 22, 2016, the Council passed into law, by a 3-2 vote, a ZTA that limited maximum house size to 6,000 square feet, thereby defeating SAGA’s plans—at least, the plans the Kill Devil Hills-based developer had then. (See The Beacon, 5/29/19 for background.)

Now, as we all know, SAGA has two oversized dwellings, which The Beacon has called “minihotels,” in construction at 98 and 134 Ocean Blvd. Litigation over these structures is ongoing, and SAGA has built them at its own risk. (See nominihotels.com.)

Despite that risk, SAGA’s investor groups have advertised these minihotels on Carolina Designs Realty’s website as being special-event houses that can accommodate up to 100 guests. (Rentals bookings have been taken for September.)

That the current online rental advertisements for “Aquadisiac” (98) and “Transcendence” (134) no longer use the words “special event” or quantify the number of guests that may party in them does not mean that these minihotels will not be used for pre-planned events.

If the purpose in bringing up Mr. Gallop’s 2015 special-event ordinance is to prevent SAGA’s investor groups, when and if they rent these two minihotels, from being used for large special events, with upwards of 50, 75, 100, or more people, then that is where the Council should start with its brainstorming about a regulatory scheme.

Last Tuesday, however, Mr. McDonald described the Town Council of January 2016—which also included Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilmen Christopher Nason, Fred Newberry, and Leo Holland—as being “more attuned to the size of houses than to events.” Mr. McDonald said only that he would like to look at regulating events “for the benefit of our public-safety folks,” chiefly the police and fire departments.

As an observer in December 2015 and January 2016, I would say that the Town Council was very attuned to the prospect of large special events being held on the oceanfront, but it was bowled over by the special-event ordinance that Mr. Gallop drafted. And it will be bowled over again, if it persists in using this 3 ½-year-old ordinance as its blueprint.

The Beacon asks: Why not ask Mr. Gallop to draft a new ordinance designed to address the perceived problem today?

The Town Attorney clearly stated last Tuesday that he would be happy to work on appropriate regulatory language if the Town Council would give him “direction,” starting with: “What is the problem you’re trying to solve?”

The Beacon beseeches the Town Council to be precise, purposeful, and forthcoming. Give Mr. Gallop the direction he requests and don’t waste any more time.

SPECIAL-EVENT REGULATORY LANGUAGE

You will find the text of the old ordinance in the minutes of the Dec. 18, 2015 meeting, on pp. 8-12:

https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2015-12-18.pdf

The old ordinance regulates special events by creating a permitting process and imposing permitting requirements upon those who hold the events. The larger the event, the more permitting requirements are imposed. During last Tuesday’s meeting, the Town Council embraced the permitting concept, but pretty much decimated the ordinance’s provisions.

The old ordinance defines “special events” as “temporary public or private gatherings,” which include, but are not limited to, “pre-planned events, community uses, private parties, and traditional family events.” It imposes permitting requirements on property owners who hold special events that they expect will be attended by more than 25 people.

The Town Council quickly rejected this attendee threshold as being too low. All it took for them to jettison this number was for home builder and homeowner Matt Neal to point out in public comments how quickly a birthday-party guest list for one of his children exceeds 25 attendees.

Pursuant to the old ordinance, permit application and inspection requirements vary and increase according to the number of attendees, with 25 to 75 people being viewed as a “small” special event; 75 to 125 as a “limited” special event, and over 125 attendees as a “large” special event.

Property owners hosting a small special event, for example, must file their permit applications five days before the event, whereas those hosting large special events must file 30 days ahead of the event.

The small-event application requires little more than the date, times, and location of the event and contact information for a person in charge. The host of a large event must permit advance inspections of the property and premises and furnish a detailed site plan, a traffic-management plan, and certifications pertaining to sufficient parking, wastewater facilities, and on-site first-aid supplies.

Last Tuesday, a majority of the Town Council gravitated toward imposing permitting requirements only on those property owners who hold events for 75 people or more.

The old ordinance also provides, significantly, that no more than three special events requiring a permit may occur during a continuous 12-month period on any parcel of property. If more than three occur, then the property’s use is to be considered commercial, rather than residential, and, therefore, in violation of the Town’s zoning code.

“Traditional family events,” which the ordinance defines as gatherings for “traditional events such as holiday parties and meals, birthday parties, funeral services, religious ceremonies and weddings for family members,” are not subject to the three-event limitation.

The Town Council ended up saying that it wanted to exempt all traditional family events from the permitting process.

It also seemed to want to dispense with the three-event limitation altogether. If it does that, what’s left of the old ordinance?

As Mr. Gallop neatly stated: The “essence” of the ordinance is “the bigger the party, the more information you have to provide to the police and fire department so that they can be prepared if there’s an emergency.”

Emergency responders need to know that traffic will not hinder their ingress and egress to the property and that they can readily contact a responsible person on the scene.

The Beacon believes that the real concern here is one that Mr. Gallop pointed out, but no Council member stated. The concern is that the Town regulate special events so as to ensure that they do not become the primary use of a dwelling, in particular, of a large “vacation cottage”—like the two SAGA minihotels.

This is a focused potential problem.

The Town Planning Board will take up the subject at its June 17 meeting. At the same time, pursuant to the Town Council’s directive, Mr. Gallop and Town Planning Director Wes Haskett will consider the ordinance anew and decide whether to bring it back to the Council at its July meeting.

NEXT UP:  THE CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC COMMITTEE

 Before tackling the traffic, which noticeably increased on the cut-through route yesterday, and the citizens’ advisory committee that the Council approved last week, The Beacon asks you this question: What do arriving northbound vacationers actually gain by cutting through on South Dogwood Trail-to-East Dogwood Trail-to-Hickory Trail-to the streets in the dunes?

As long as there’s a bottleneck at Duck caused by its 25-mile-per-hour speed limit and impeding infrastructure, do the vacationers who cut through Southern Shores actually gain any time? If so, how much, do you think? Eventually, they all end up in gridlock.

If all summertime weekend cut-through drivers inevitably succumb to bumper-to-bumper backups, would they really be harmed if they were prevented from taking all or a portion of the cut-through route?

As things stand now, they unwittingly add to their frustrating predicament by boxing intersections on N.C. Hwy 12 when they finally rejoin the thoroughfare.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 6/9/19

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