7/26/19: 2018 N.C. MUNICIPAL SALARY SURVEY SUGGESTS PETER RASCOE IS HIGHEST PAID TOWN MANAGER IN DARE COUNTY

Data submitted by area towns last year to the N.C. League of Municipalities (NCLM) strongly suggest that Peter Rascoe is the highest paid town manager in Dare County, The Beacon has learned.

Mr. Rascoe, who has been Southern Shores’ top administrator for the past nine years, announced his retirement a week ago. His last day at work will be Aug. 16. (See The Beacon, 7/21/19.)

The towns of Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Manteo submitted salary data to the NCLM for its 2018 annual salary survey; Southern Shores and Nags Head did not.

Duck and Kitty Hawk provided a salary range for the position of town manager, whereas KDH and Manteo gave specific salaries.

As of Aug. 1, 2018, according to survey results posted on the NCLM’s website, the town managers in the four towns were paid as follows:

Duck (pop. 396): between a minimum salary of $90,786 and a maximum of $147, 583, with an average salary of $140,476.

Kitty Hawk (pop. 3,516): between a minimum of $72,605 and a maximum of $129,711, with an average of $106,080.

Kill Devil Hills (pop. 7,195): $139,199.

Manteo (pop. 1,563): $123,362.

As The Beacon previously reported, Mr. Rascoe was hired a few months after Mayor Hal Denny and the then-Town Council emerged from a closed session held during the Feb. 2, 2010 Council meeting and “accepted the resignation” of Town Manager Charles B. Read Jr., who also participated in the closed session. The Council appointed Police Chief David Kole interim town manager at this same meeting.

Mr. Rascoe, a former Chowan County manager, signed a contract with the Town on May 10, 2010, and started work June 9, 2010. His starting annual salary was $109,500, plus $36,187 in benefits, according to personnel records that The Beacon obtained through a public record request earlier this year. His employment contract term was three years, its termination set for July 1, 2013.

Town records show that during the past nine years, Mr. Rascoe’s salary increased about 50 percent. When he announced his Sept. 1 retirement, Mr. Rascoe had four years remaining on a 10-year extension of his initial contract.

As of Aug. 1, 2018, Mr. Rascoe’s salary was $151,356—$28,000 more than the comparable salary reported by Manteo; $12,000 more than the salary reported by KDH; and about $45,000 and $11,000 more, respectively, than the average salaries provided for the same position by Kitty Hawk and Duck.

In population, Southern Shores, which has about 2,900 year-round residents, is most like Kitty Hawk, but there the resemblance ends. At 8.23 square miles—according to the U.S. Census Bureau—Kitty Hawk has more than twice the area of Southern Shores.

At 5.5 square miles, Kill Devil Hills is much closer in size to Southern Shores, but it is much more densely populated, with about 2 ½ times the number of people.

Unlike Kitty Hawk, the other three towns that participated in the NCLM’s 2018 salary survey, and Nags Head, as well, Southern Shores has no mixed residential and commercial districts: Residential development is deliberately segregated from commercial development.

Compared to the other towns’ development, the commercial area in Southern Shores, which exists on its southern edge, is relatively small and self-contained. Problems of commercial traffic, noise, litter, hours of activity, etc., do not impinge upon residents, who might seek relief from Town Hall, and Southern Shores does not have to contend with the enforcement of zoning and other regulations that arise with commercial development.

The N.C. League of Municipalities is a self-described “member-driven” service and advocacy organization that represents the interests of N.C. cities and towns. It works “to promote good government and vibrant cities and towns.” Towns voluntarily provide the salaries of their employees in a spirit of partnership.

The Beacon is in the process of acquiring more specific salary information from all of the Dare County towns. We will report our findings.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, July 26, 2019

7/21/19: TOWN MANAGER RASCOE ANNOUNCES SEPT. 1 RETIREMENT THROUGH COASTLAND TIMES; LAST DAY ON JOB IS AUG. 16; The Beacon Looks at the Manager’s Compensation Over Nine Years

In a highly unusual move, Town Manager Peter Rascoe chose to announce his Sept. 1 retirement through The Coastland Times, which published a front-page story today, rather than first inform the people he has served for the past nine years through the Town’s website.

Mr. Rascoe, 62, gave the Southern Shores Town Council formal notice of his retirement last Friday afternoon, according to an informed source. His last day on the job will be Aug. 16. He has four years remaining on his employment contract.

Knowing about newspaper copy deadlines and judging from the length and detail of Coastland Times reporter Philip S. Ruckle Jr.’s above-the-fold article, The Beacon doubts that Mr. Rascoe’s tip to The Times came after his formal notice. Mr. Rascoe has long favored The Coastland Times as his local-media outlet for news dissemination.

Interestingly, The Times did not feature the story, headlined “Southern Shores Town Manager Announces Retirement,” on its online version or mention it on its Facebook page. The Beacon found it on the newsstand.

Mr. Ruckle also did not provide an explanation in his flattering tribute piece for the timing of Mr. Rascoe’s retirement, whose notice coincided with the termination of the Town Council candidate filing period.

Three of the five positions on the Southern Shores Town Council are subject to election in November. As The Beacon has previously reported, four candidates have filed.

In fact, Mr. Ruckle’s article contained no critical comment about Mr. Rascoe’s tenure as the top Town staff member. It was a career retrospective generously sprinkled with quotes by Mr. Rascoe.

Although he has never publicly discussed his retirement, Mr. Rascoe presumably has been grooming Town Planning Director Wes Haskett as his successor.

Mr. Haskett was promoted to Deputy Town Manager, effective with the start of fiscal year 2018-19, and has undergone formal training during the past year.

Neither state law nor town ordinance requires the Town to publicly advertise the town manager’s position, but municipalities that do not advertise and open positions up to outside candidates run a risk of being accused of discrimination. (See commentary by the UNC-CH School of Government at https://canons.sog.unc.edu/do-we-have-to-advertise-this-position/.)

THE COST TO THE TOWN

Inasmuch as The Coastland Times has thoroughly covered the biography of Mr. Rascoe, a Bertie County native, attorney, and 30-year member of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, The Beacon will address a more controversial point: His compensation.

Mr. Rascoe signed a contract with the Town on May 10, 2010, three months after Mayor Hal Denny and the then-Town Council “accepted the resignation” of Town Manager Charles B. Read Jr. after they returned from a closed session at a Town Council meeting.

Police Chief David Kole was appointed interim town manager, with a salary increase, and served until Mr. Rascoe started June 9, 2010. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2010-02-02.pdf.)

Mr. Read’s forced resignation was never publicly explained by Mayor Denny or any other Town official. Mr. Rascoe came to Southern Shores from Chowan County, where he had been county attorney and then county manager.

Mr. Rascoe’s starting annual salary was $109,500, plus $36,187 in benefits, according to personnel records that The Beacon obtained through a public record request earlier this year. His contract term was for three years, the termination date set for July 1, 2013.

After his hiring, Mr. Rascoe made a rapid financial ascent. The records show that in nine years, his salary increased about 50 percent.

A year  after the new town manager started, the Town Council approved a 10 percent raise, bringing Mr. Rascoe’s salary up to $120,000 (plus $39,902 in benefits), effective July 1, 2011. The Council voted 4-1 in favor of the increase, with Councilman Kevin Stroud dissenting. (Mayor Denny was joined by Councilwoman Jodi Hess and Councilmen Jim Pfizenmayer and George Kowalski. See June 21, 2011 meeting minutes at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2011-06-21.pdf.)

Mr. Rascoe received a roughly 7 percent increase in his annual salary just a year later when the Town Council unanimously voted on Aug. 21, 2012, to raise his compensation to $128,000 (plus $40,419 in benefits), retroactive to July 1, 2012. This time Mayor Denny, Mrs. Hess, and Mr. Kowalski were joined by new Council members, David Sanders and Larry Lawhon, in approving the increase. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2012-08-21.pdf.)

On June 18, 2013 the same five Council members voted unanimously to extend Mr. Rascoe’s contract five years, until June 30, 2018. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2013-06-18.pdf.) His salary was increased to $135,095, which included both a merit-based raise and a cost-of-living adjustment, plus $42,606 in benefits.

All three of these employment actions occurred at the end of a Town Council meeting after the Council had returned from a closed session during which it had discussed a “personnel matter.” After voting either to increase or to extend Mr. Rascoe’s contract, the Council adjourned.

It has been The Beacon’s experience that after the Town Council concludes its regular business and moves to go into closed session, the public disperses. The Beacon would speculate that these motions were made and approved without an audience, save for Town staff.

In a highly controversial move, the Town Council, under new Mayor Tom Bennett, decided just a year later—on July 1, 2014—that five years were insufficient reward for the Town Manager’s service. This Council, which now included Leo Holland, who had run unopposed for Mr. Kowalski’s seat, when the latter ran for mayor, extended Mr. Rascoe’s contract 10 years, retroactive to July 1, 2013.

Mayor Bennett was conspicuously absent from the July 1, 2014 meeting when the Town Council unanimously approved the 10-year contract extension to June 30, 2023. Instead, Mrs. Hess presided as mayor pro tem.

This time, instead of going into closed session and returning to make a motion in open session, before an empty room, the Town Council approved Mr. Rascoe’s 10-year extension as a matter of the consent agenda! (Other items on that agenda included approval of the June 17, 2014 minutes and a resolution about surplus Town property.)

The Beacon well remembers the furor over this unprecedented action that was executed in clandestine fashion. Using the consent agenda to make such a fundamental personnel decision was beyond inappropriate. It was audaciously objectionable.

The next year, Mrs. Hess, Mr. Sanders, and Mr. Lawhon lost their bids for reelection, in large part because of the Town Council’s lack of transparency.

(See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2014-07-01.pdf.)

The records show that Town Manager Rascoe has been compensated as follows:

FY 2014-15: $138,472 plus $48,315 in benefits

FY 2015-16: $141,934 plus $50,506 in benefits

FY 2016-17: $145,482 plus $53,245 in benefits

FY 2017-18: $147,664 plus $54,166 in benefits

FY 2018-19: $151,356 plus $55,587 in benefits

FY 2019-20: $155,139 (estimated), plus roughly $57,000 in benefits [The Beacon’s public record request was submitted in February, before the increased salaries for FY 2019-20 were available. Every employee received a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase.]

The Beacon hopes that, going forward, the Town will be open, transparent, and beyond reproach about its intentions and its actions in regard to filling and funding the town manager’s position.

We also trust that the Town will advertise the position publicly and have the new Town Council that is elected in November, not the current lame-duck Council, make the ultimate hiring decision.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, July 21, 2019

 

 

7/18/19: TOWN COUNCIL ELECTION: NEAL FILES, MCDONALD WITHDRAWS; MORE ON NONCONFORMING LOTS, A SUBJECT ABOUT WHICH NO ONE SEEMS INFORMED

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Builder Chris Smith told the Town Council July 9 that he would like to build a “beautiful” five-bedroom house on the nonconforming 50-foot-wide lot at 62 Ocean Blvd. (pictured above earlier this year). Mr. Smith represented the lot’s total area as being 23,000 square feet, or 50 feet-by-460 feet. In fact, the site plan prepared last year by Styons Surveying Services shows the land west of the first line of stable and natural vegetation (FLSNV) as being 17,063 square feet. This squares with dimensions in the site plan submitted in 2016 by Councilman Nason’s company, Beacon Architecture & Design, for 62 Ocean Blvd., whose total area was calculated as 34,076 square feet, or 100-feet-by-340-feet. According to the N.C. CAMA, oceanfront lot depth is measured to the FLSNV, not to the mean high water mark or any other mark east of the FLSNV.

Matt Neal, a Southern Shores native who owns Neal Contracting with his wife Rachel, filed yesterday as a candidate in November’s Town Council election, a day after sitting Councilman Gary McDonald withdrew his reelection bid. Mr. McDonald declined to comment on his decision.

Mr. Neal’s opponents for the three available positions on the Town Council so far are Councilman Fred Newberry, Planning Board Chairperson Elizabeth Morey, and former Councilman Leo Holland. The filing deadline for all candidates is noon tomorrow.

Councilman Christopher Nason, whose four-year term expires in November along with those of Mr. Newberry’s and Mr. McDonald’s, has announced that he will not seek reelection. Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Jim Conners were elected to four-year terms in 2017.

Mr. Neal currently serves as president of the Outer Banks Home Builders Assn.

NOTE ON COMMENTS and NONCONFORMING LOTS: WHO’S ON FIRST?

After The Beacon published yesterday’s post, we received an uninformed and rude comment from a reader that we elected not to publish.

The Beacon’s policy is not to further misinformation by publishing reader comments that either encourage or state misinformation—especially when they’re personally antagonistic. We consider sarcastic insults personally antagonistic.

The comment concerned the nonconforming lots imbroglio. The reader was under the mistaken impression that The Beacon could go to the Dare County Register of Deeds office in Manteo—which we have done on many occasions to research specific deeds that are not available online—and easily uncover the identification of all nonconforming lots in Southern Shores. Not in his or our wildest dreams.

But the fact is, we don’t have to take on that impossible task because the Southern Shores Planning Department, in cooperation with the Register of Deeds office, has already done it. Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett presented the results of this search, whose preparation consumed more than two months, at the Planning Board’s April 23 meeting.

You may access this data, which Mr. Haskett formatted with assistance from the Dare County Tax Dept. and the Tax Mapping Dept. and which The Beacon will summarize below, here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/southern-shores-planning-board-meet-april-15-2019/.

(The minutes of the Planning Board’s April 23 meeting are also informative regarding its ongoing discussion and decision-making about nonconforming lots. As of this morning, no minutes of any Planning Board meetings that have occurred since last September had been posted on the Town’s website , but Mr. Haskett informed The Beacon that all of the missing minutes would be posted “as soon as possible.”)

As The Beacon reported 2/6/19, the Town Council unanimously approved a motion made by Councilman Gary McDonald at its Feb. 5 meeting to direct the Planning Board and Town staff to comprehensively identify and equitably assess all vacant nonconforming lots in town, not just those on the oceanfront.

Mr. McDonald’s motion was made after Councilman Conners moved to approve Zoning Text Amendment 18-09PB, which was the Planning Board’s first attempt to define and exempt from the new nonconforming lots ordinance (Town Code sec. 36-132) all deserving “outliers.” No one seconded Mr. Conners’s motion.

Mr. McDonald asked the Planning Board to “look” at all of the vacant nonconforming lots in town and “come back with something [a revised ZTA] that works.”

Despite this direction by a unanimous Council, Mr. Conners tried again at the March 5 meeting to obtain approval of ZTA 18-09PB, which was a far less comprehensive version of the “outlier” amendment, ZTA 18-09PB01, that the Town Council unanimously tabled on July 9. (See The Beacon, 7/10/19, 7/17/19.)

As The Beacon previously reported, Mr. Conners’s motion to approve ZTA 18-09PB failed 2-2, with Mayor Bennett voting with Mr. Conners, and Councilmen Newberry and McDonald opposing it.

Mr. Nason did not vote because he had a financial interest in the outcome of the vote and was recused.

An architect, Mr. Nason has designed the house that the property owners of the 50-foot-wide lot at 64 Ocean Blvd. would like to build there. He also prepared the site plan and designed the house that the same owners built in 2016 at the adjacent 62 Ocean Blvd. (The Beacon has had reason to focus on the 50-foot-wide property in previous reports. See photo above.)

Mr. Nason’s business relationship with the property owners of 64 Ocean Blvd., a lot that was split off from a 137 ½-foot-wide vacant parcel previously owned and sold to them by a SAGA-owned limited liability corporation, has been a political wrench in the “works” ever since the Town Council enacted the new ordinance last September.

Members of both the Town Council and the Town Planning Board have identified this nonconforming oceanfront lot as deserving of an exception from the new Code sec. 36-132, which prevents the property owners from building on it. The Beacon does not consider it deserving and has said so.

Mr. Nason cast the only dissenting vote to ZTA 18-07, the amendment that created the new nonconforming lots ordinance, without disclosing either his relationship with these owners or the financial interest he had in the outcome of the vote.

He also participated in a closed session that the Town Council had on the nonconforming lots problem July 10, 2018, which resulted in the Council tabling a second reading of ZTA 18-07, which it ultimately approved, 4-1, on Sept. 5, 2018.

After enacting the new ordinance, the Town Council directed the Planning Board to continue working on it (“tweaking”) to ensure that individual property owners are not unduly harmed. Then-Board chairperson, Glenn Wyder, brought this matter up already at the Planning Board’s Sept. 17, 2018 meeting. See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/9-17-18-FINAL-PB-Meeting-Minutes.pdf.

The Planning Board has been struggling with this Town Council assignment ever since.

846 NONCONFORMING LOTS IN TOWN

In the research with Dare County that the Planning Board undertook at the Council’s direction, the Town staff looked at all nonconforming lots in town, not just vacant lots.

Mr. Haskett reported April 23 that there are 3,037 total lots in Southern Shores, 846 of which—or about 28 percent—are less than 20,000 square feet in size. He also reported that, of the 3,037 lots, 241 of them, or about 8 percent, are 50-foot-wide lots that are part of parcels consisting of two or more lots. According to The Beacon’s analysis, the data show that of these 241 lots, 28 of them are vacant.

The 28 vacant 50-foot-wide lots represent less than 1 percent of the total number of lots in Southern Shores. Not surprisingly, they are in the map of Southern Shores that was first developed: the oceanfront-beach zone from 0 Ocean Blvd. north to East Dogwood Trail and the soundfront on North Dogwood Trail.

Mr. Haskett informed the Town Council about this data compilation at its May 7 meeting. The Council, therefore, had ACTUAL notice of how many nonconforming lots exist in town, and where they are, for at least two months before it voted to table the Planning Board’s latest ZTA attempt, 18-09PB01. It did nothing publicly with this data.

It should come as no surprise to the Town Council that there are property owners who are aggrieved by the new Town Code sec. 36-132 of whom they were unaware in September. It did not come as a surprise to The Beacon, which has not taken a position on the equities of various property scenarios other than those the Planning Board has identified in the zoning text amendments it has recommended.

For the record, The Beacon does not support the practice of identifying exceptions to rules as soon as the rules are enacted. It is far wiser to invest time in ascertaining the fallout from rulemaking before the rule is made.

But no one associated with The Beacon serves as the Town Attorney, the Town Manager, the Town Planning Director, the Mayor, a member of the Planning Board or the Town Council, or anyone else who might have had influence over the drafting of ZTA 18-07.

Indeed, I have a sibling who owns two vacant nonconforming lots on Skyline Road, which, if she sought to develop or sell one of them would have to be combined under the new ordinance.

The irony is that our father bought this property as a single 30,000-square-foot parcel in the 1980s, and about 20 years later, Dare County informed my sibling, who became its owner in 1991, during a reassessment that it would be treated and taxed as two (nonconforming) 15,000-square-foot parcels. (I have not had a chance to research the deed history.)

The Beacon’s position has consistently been to oppose the development of 50-foot-wide lots, regardless of where they are located or how they were created. We believe that such development is detrimental to the town’s character, identity, and quality of life, especially when it occurs on or near the oceanfront.

Besides this opposition, we have sought only to analyze the proposed ordinances that the Town Attorney has drafted and the Planning Board has considered and approved. Had I spoken on the issue as a private individual, not as The Beacon, at the Council’s July 9 meeting, I would have endorsed Town Council candidate Matt Neal’s approach to the issue. And I would have urged the Town Council, whose leadership has been mired in politics, to step up.

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

ZTA 18-07, which replaced Code sec. 36-132, stopped the unfortunate trend by oceanfront and oceanside property owners of demolishing dwellings on 100-foot-wide parcels and selling the vacant land as two 50-foot-wide building lots, thus increasing the density of development.

It provided a stopgap.

The Planning Board, under longtime Chairperson Sam Williams, enabled this 100-to-50-foot trend over a period of several years by granting side-setback variances to owners of the resulting nonconforming lots. In fairness, the Town offered no legal guidance to the Planning Board, sitting as the Board of Adjustment, to deny the requested variances.

Throughout the current Planning Board’s months-long deliberation, Matt Neal has publicly argued at meetings that, because of how the town was platted, there can be no fair “one-size-fits-all” rule on nonconformities. (The 100-foot minimum width for lots in the RS-1 single-family residential district is set forth in Town Code sec. 36-202, which was originally enacted in 1988.)

Southern Shores, Mr. Neal has said, is “a town that’s full of nonconformities.” None of the lots in Seacrest Village,  he has pointed out, is 100 feet wide.

The vacant 90-foot-wide lot that Craig and Mary Ann Hurd bought on Sea Oats Trail in 1998 was platted at that width. This nonconforming lot is adjacent to the house that they bought in 1997.

Mr. Neal has brought maps of the town with him to Planning Board meetings and encouraged members to take a more holistic approach to the nonconformity issue. But up until now, the Board has declined to do so. It seems to have been working under the assumption that because the Town Council directed it to refine the new ordinance by identifying “outliers” and drafting/approving a zoning amendment to protect them, it was limited by that directive.

The Planning Board has authority under the Town Code (sec. 24-27) to do more, if it so chooses.

At its June meeting, Planning Board member David Neal, Matt’s builder-father, expressed an interest in starting over at “square one.” He previously has lamented that the Board has strayed far afield from the initial objective of the new ordinance. Nonetheless, Mr. Neal voted with his colleagues in favor of approving ZTA 19-01PB01.

So, The Beacon asks: Where does the buck stop?

We believe the answer is obvious—which is why we wrote yesterday’s column as we did. A five-month postponement will not change the obvious.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, July 18, 2019

7/17/19: EDITORIAL: ‘POLITICS AS USUAL’ ONLY HURTS THE TOWN; COUNCIL’S FOCUS SHOULD BE ON LISTENING TO DIVERSE OPINIONS AND BUILDING CONSENSUS, WHICH THE PLANNING BOARD INDICATED TUESDAY IT WILL DO ON SPECIAL EVENTS, NONCONFORMING LOTS

SDogwood

As The Beacon previously reported, the Town Council voted 3-2 at its July 9 meeting to proceed with the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk design plans, as preliminarily drafted, and to put the construction contract out for bids. By the same margin, and with the same people casting “aye” and “nay” votes, the Council decided against sending a draft ordinance on special-event regulation to the Planning Board for further review.

Said Councilman Jim Conners, who voted last month with a unanimous Town Council to send a 2015 proposed (and rejected) Town Code amendment on special events to the Planning Board for its review and recommendation: “I think this whole thing needs to die.”

Confronted by heated public opposition—including hyperbolic commentary from non-residents who work in the tourism industry—Mr. Conners backed away from his previous position, as well as from the Town Planning Board, which had discussed special-event regulation at its June meeting, as directed, and prepared suggestions.

The manner in which the vote on the Dogwood Trail sidewalk transpired was an example, The Beacon believes, of how not to run an effective and inclusive municipal government, by which we mean a government that builds trust in ALL of its constituents—not just like-minded people associated with a ruling simple majority—that their opinions matter and will be considered.

We strongly believe that the means to an end are critical to preserving trust, and to ensuring integrity in, the government process. The means should be immune from political influence and personal bias.

Ironically, the Council’s vote on special events led to an illustration Tuesday night (July 15) by the Planning Board of how to run an effective and inclusive municipal government, one that builds trust in ALL of its constituents that their opinions matter.

‘SPECIAL EVENTS’ CONSENSUS-BUILDING

The Planning Board stepped in to do the job that the Town Council should have done: The Board intends to listen to homeowners and other stakeholders in the special-events “arena,” for lack of a better term, to discuss their viewpoints and to build consensus. The backdrop to the discussion will be the town’s well-being, not the special-interest politics that we witnessed July 9.

Councilmen Gary McDonald and Fred Newberry, the two dissenters in the votes highlighted here, wanted further discussion about special events to be held before the Planning Board, but the well-established simple majority of Mr. Conners, Mayor Tom Bennett, and Councilman Christopher Nason rejected their attempt at consensus-building.

Although Planning Board Chairperson Elizabeth Morey alluded in a brief report she gave the Council last week to the suggestions on special events that she, member Andy Ward, and Planning Director Wes Haskett came up with in consultation, she did not read them.

The Beacon would have liked to have seen a stronger presentation by Ms. Morey, who is to be congratulated for holding an open public discussion on the subject at the June Planning Board meeting.

If you have an interest in the possible regulation in Southern Shores of “special events,” such as weddings, corporate retreats, and other gatherings of a large number of people in rental properties, not personal residences, The Beacon advises you to attend the Planning Board’s Aug. 19 meeting.

Mr. Ward, who was elected vice chairperson of the FY 2019-20 Board Tuesday night, requested that special events be put on the Board’s August agenda and urged people to “get the word out and let’s talk about it some more.”

The Planning Board seeks a “Town Hall discussion” on special events, the goal being, Mr. Ward said, to determine a “balance” among interested stakeholders.

“We need to have some type of policy moving forward,” he noted.

Chairperson Morey increasingly has encouraged Town Hall-type discussions at Planning Board meetings that do not limit the speaking time of members from the community.

At the conclusion of such a discussion Tuesday about the town’s fill and building height requirements, Ms. Morey invited two local builders who spoke to submit draft language to amend the Town Code. She opened up the process of analyzing and possibly revising the Code, specifically, sections 36-171 (lot disturbance and stormwater management) and 36-202 (which addresses the RS-1 single-family residential district) to others.

The Board indicated that its consideration of fill and height requirements may take some time; the matter is back on its agenda in August. The Beacon is confident that the Board will entertain all viewpoints and not act simply to appease builders.

NONCONFORMING LOTS

In contrast to the Planning Board’s actions, last week’s Town Council meeting opened with a motion by Councilman Nason to table until December ZTA 18-09PB01, the latest zoning text amendment on nonconforming lots drafted and approved by the Planning Board. The motion, which was unanimously approved for different reasons among the five Council members, killed a public hearing that people had made a point of attending. (I spent a chunk of my day preparing for it.)

This was a missed opportunity for the Council, and for Planning Board members in the audience, to hear what constituents and other interested parties have to say about the Board’s effort, as well as for the public to hear, at some length, what the Council thinks.

The Town Council tasked the Planning Board nearly a year ago with determining which properties in town equitably merit exceptions to the nonconforming lots ordinance that the Council enacted last September to replace the previous inartfully worded nonconforming lots ordinance. (Town Code sec. 36-132)

It has turned out that many more people own nonconforming lots than was previously thought by decision-makers.

The Beacon has written extensively about this issue, which arose because of a trend by property owners on the oceanfront to demolish dwellings on 100-foot-wide parcels and sell the vacant land as two 50-foot-wide building lots, thus increasing the density of development.

A “nonconforming” lot is one that does not meet the dimensional requirements set forth in the Town Code for the residential district in which it is located. Lots in the RS-1 single-family residential district, where the overwhelming majority of us live, are required to be 100 feet in width and 20,000 square feet in area.

Mr. Nason contended that “a good deal more work needs to be done” on ZTA 18-09PB01, but his motion gave no direction or deadline to the Planning Board and “town staff,” which he said have to come up with “a more comprehensive rework.”

Councilman Conners tried at the Council’s March 5 meeting already to approve ZTA 18-09PB, a far less comprehensive version of the same amendment. His attempt failed 2-2, with Mayor Bennett voting with Mr. Conners, and Councilmen Newberry and McDonald opposing it. Mr. Nason did not vote because he had a financial interest in the outcome of the vote and was recused. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2019-03-05.pdf.)

Mr. Nason avoided having to be recused last week by postponing a vote on the latest ZTA until December, when he will be out of office. His term expires this year, and he is not running for reelection.  The Beacon thinks it’s likely that ZTA 18-09PB01 would have failed, 2-2. Mr. Newberry said at the meeting that it’s a “bad proposal” that unfairly discriminates among property owners. Mr. McDonald expressed concern for property owners of nonconforming lots who are not protected by ZTA 18-09PB01.

The politics are thick, and they not only hurt property owners who have been waiting since last September to get their exceptions, but they hurt property owners who have not been considered for exceptions. It also hurts the town. The uncertainty and lack of leadership on the issue have given rise to misinformation and doubt.

Southern Shores builder and homeowner Matt Neal, who is president of the Outer Banks Home Builders Assn., reported at the Planning Board meeting that a class-action lawsuit against the town is being contemplated.

Rather than tabling discussion, The Beacon believes the Town Council should have encouraged it.

Fortunately for the town, the Planning Board is prepared to take another look at nonconforming-lot scenarios from a different angle, starting from scratch, if necessary. Both Mr. Ward and member David Neal commented Tuesday that they are willing to work on the issue in a committee or “think-tank” (Mr. Neal’s term) type group.

The Beacon expects to see nonconforming lots on the Board’s August agenda, as well.

SOUTH DOGWOOD TRAIL SIDEWALK

Returning to the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk, we will quote for you the dialogue that occurred among Council members after the conclusion of the public hearing last week on the “proposed design” for the “walking trail” along South Dogwood Trail. After Town Attorney Ben Gallop closed the hearing, he turned the proceedings over to the Mayor:

MAYOR BENNETT: Thank you, Ben. Council, what’s your pleasure? Any further discussion?

COUNCILMAN CONNERS (reading from a prepared script): I’d like to move that the Council authorize advertising and receive formal bids based on the current design plans before us for the construction of a five-foot-wide concrete walking trail along the east side of South Dogwood Trail from the western end of the current East Dogwood Trail walking trail to the northern end of the current Town sidewalk at the Southern Shores cemetery.

Prior to bid advertising, the Town Manager, in his sole discretion, may authorize the Town Engineer to make final adjustments in the walking trail’s design alignment to balance the primary goal of providing for public safety with the additional goals of tree preservation and incorporating feedback from the South Dogwood Trail property owners.

COUNCILMAN NASON (quickly): I’ll second that.

MAYOR BENNETT: Thank you, Chris. Any further discussion, Council?

The Beacon’s question is: Does it matter?

When the mayor of a town asks the governing body if it would like to discuss an important $1 million project that will affect everyone who lives in that town, after having heard suggestions from members of the public about its design, and the response is the reading of a prepared text by one commissioner and a quick prepared “second” by another, what’s the point? Certainly not discussion. The discussion is moot. The hearing is perfunctory.

The Beacon finds a response like this to a public hearing insulting. It clearly did not matter to Mr. Conners what anyone had to say. In fact, his motion gave Town Manager Peter Rascoe, who is not an elected official, sole discretion, carte blanche, full unchecked authority and total freedom to “balance”—a word that is subject to many applied interpretations—broadly stated so-called “goals” that are little more than aspirations.

The approved motion reflects no commitment by the Town Council to any policy or practice. The Beacon considers it an abdication by the Council of its duty, responsibility, and accountability to the public. We didn’t elect Mr. Rascoe. We didn’t even hire him.

Nowhere in the N.C. statute enumerating the powers and duties of town managers does The Beacon read the words, “sole discretion.” In fact N.C. General Statutes sec. 160A-148, upon which Town Code sec. 2-22 is based, contemplates that a town council will direct and control a town manager. The Council may authorize Mr. Rascoe to perform specific duties, but the motion passed by the simple majority does not spell out any duties.

At the July 9 meeting, Mr. Rascoe said the town staff had met one-on-one with 20 property owners on South Dogwood Trail, but he did not divulge what was discussed in these meetings.

The right of way on South Dogwood Trail belongs to the public, not to the private-property owners who reside on it. Living on Hickory Trail and owning property elsewhere in town, I can be as aggrieved by what the town does on South Dogwood Trail as someone who looks up from her breakfast table and sees a backhoe in her front yard.

The Beacon further would like to remind the simple majority that the intent of the RS-1 single-family residential district in which South Dogwood Trail is located is to:

“provide for the low-density development of single-family detached dwellings in an environment which preserves . . . coastal forests . . . and other unique natural features of the coastal area. The district is intended to promote stable, permanent neighborhoods characterized by low vehicular traffic flows . . . and low impact of development on the natural environment . . . .” (Code sec. 36-202(a))

A sidewalk is development. The Town Code and our land-use plan protect the maritime forest.

Mr. Conners staged a similar public-hearing coup at the Nov. 7, 2018 special meeting on large, high-occupancy houses after that hearing ended. (See The Beacon’s meeting coverage, Nov. 7-8, 2019.)

At this meeting, too, he disregarded all of the suggestions and solutions offered by members of the public who spoke and read a prepared motion to enact his solution to the problem: the creation of an ocean overlay district and zoning regulations within it.

This concept had as much traction as a threadbare tire—Ms. Morey later called a draft ordinance implementing it “regulatory overreaching”—but Mr. Conners got his quick “second” from Mr. Nason, and the third vote came from the Mayor. Just like last week.

Last November the same three elected officials rejected Councilman McDonald’s motion to explore simultaneously an “option” that would have a “more immediate” impact on the high-occupancy, large-house problem than the plan proposed by Mr. Conners.

Mr. McDonald suggested that the Town Planning Board look into amending the Town zoning ordinances to redefine the living space included in calculating house size as “total enclosed area,” a definition used in the N.C. Coastal Area Management Act, rather than “enclosed living space,” and to put restrictions on septic capacity and parking spaces.

Mr. Conners’s ocean overlay idea died before it reached the Planning Board, which unanimously rejected it when it did.

In May, the Town Council unanimously enacted a 14-person septic-capacity restriction on all dwellings and a 14-percent overnight-occupancy restriction on vacation cottages.

Perhaps the Planning Board will look at parking spaces next.

Councilmen Newberry and McDonald expressed support last week for a South Dogwood Trail sidewalk, but they disagreed with aspects of engineer Joe Anlauf’s proposed design and with paying for the sidewalk with $1 million in undesignated funds set aside to be used principally for emergencies.

The simple majority would not discuss any of the design aspects, which included such items as the width of the sidewalk; the type of concrete used; and the color of the concrete. It rejected without comment a suggestion that two Town Council members walk the street with Mr. Anlauf and review his design plans.

There was no real discussion; no attempt to build consensus.

ROAD-IMPROVEMENT PRIORITIES

In yet another disagreement, Councilman Conners resisted a suggestion by Councilman Newberry to reverse the order of the top two projects on a list of priority targets prepared by the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning (CIIP) Committee for FY 2019-20.

The CIIP Committee, which Councilman Conners and Mayor Bennett co-chair, and effectively control, voted to designate the top two projects as follows:

  1. Hillcrest Drive: from the intersection of Hickory Trail to the SSCA tennis courts, a length of 3,700 (+/-) linear feet. During this project, the width at the hilltop once known as Lookout Point would be reduced.
  2. East Dogwood Trail: from N.C. Hwy. 12 east to Ocean Blvd., a length of 670 LF (+/-), including stormwater improvements.

The Town has $662,340 in its FY 2019-20 budget to spend on capital improvements. This amount should cover both projects, so the order is largely academic, except insofar as a starting time on the construction is concerned.

Councilman Newberry made a motion to switch the order, arguing that East Dogwood Trail is in a far worse state of disrepair, and is traveled more often, than Hillcrest Drive.

Mayor Bennett and Mr. Conners voted against the switch, but offered no reason other than that it did not conform with the committee’s recommendations.

Councilman Nason cast the deciding vote in favor of Mr. Newberry’s motion, wisely seeing no justification for opposing his colleague. By a 3-2 vote, East Dogwood Trail earned the top spot on the priority list.

The Beacon may write further in the next week about the Town Council’s July 9 meeting. We thank you for your patience.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 7/17/19

7/16/19: ELECTION UPDATE: FOURTH CANDIDATE JOINS TOWN COUNCIL RACE; PLANNING BOARD RE-ELECTS MOREY AS CHAIR, NAMES WARD VICE-CHAIR

Ivoted

Dear Readers:

I will be posting a blog tomorrow morning that combines an editorial about the Town Council meeting last week and news from last night’s Planning Board meeting. It needs just a little more editing. In the meantime, I thought you might like to receive an update on elections.

Former Town Councilman Leo Holland yesterday tossed his hat into the ring for one of the three Town Council offices up for election in November, after serving just one year as a Planning Board alternate and resigning June 30.

On 7/7/19 we wrote about Mr. Holland’s resignation: “The Beacon wonders if Mr. Holland, who won election to the Town Council when he ran unopposed in 2013, might be contemplating another run for Council.” We now have our answer.

Mr. Holland is the fourth declared candidate for Town Council. The others are current Councilmen Gary McDonald and Fred Newberry and Planning Board Chairperson Elizabeth Morey. The candidacy filing period runs until noon Friday. The Beacon will report upon filings as they occur.

Last night the Planning Board reelected Ms. Morey as its FY 2019-20 chairperson and named member Andy Ward vice-chairperson. Ms. Morey served as interim chairperson in FY 2018-19 until her formal election in January. Former member Joe McGraw previously served as vice-chairperson.

New regular Planning Board member Donald Sowder took his seat last night for the first time, and new Board alternate Tony DiBernardo attended.

Please return tomorrow for a further report.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 7/16/19

 

 

 

7/12/19: PLANNING BOARD MEETS MONDAY TO DISCUSS TOWN’S BUILDING HEIGHT AND FILL RESTRICTIONS, ELECT OFFICERS; 3 CANDIDATES FILE FOR TOWN COUNCIL

Trench
When a builder hauled in more than the amount of fill that the town allows on a building lot, a trench was created at the rear of the property, which is on Woodland Drive, backing up to Hickory Trail. The uneven ground elevation remains even after completion of the new dwelling and installation of a swimming pool.

The Southern Shores Planning Board will meet Monday at 5:30 p.m. to elect new officers for the 2019-20 fiscal year and to discuss the town’s building and fill requirements, which it took up last fall when a builder requested a change in the applicable zoning ordinance that the Board tabled.

The membership of the Planning Board, which also serves as the Board of Adjustment, will look a little different when it kicks off the new fiscal year.

The Town Council filled three Board vacancies at its Tuesday meeting, unanimously reappointing Elizabeth Morey for another three-year regular term and appointing newcomers Donald D. Sowder and Tony DiBernardo to a three-year regular term and a three-year alternate term, respectively.

Ms. Morey has been serving as chairperson of the five-person Planning Board since chairperson Glenn Wyder’s death last November. She initially served in an interim capacity and was elected in January. The Board also has a vice chairperson.

Two public-comment periods will be held during the Board meeting.

Meeting agenda: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/7-15-19-PB-Meeting-Agenda.pdf

Building and fill requirements: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/7-15-19-Building-Height-and-Fill-Requirements.pdf.

TOWN COUNCIL ELECTION: Three four-year Town Council terms of office are expiring this year: those of Councilmen Christopher Nason, Gary McDonald, and Fred Newberry.

According to the N.C. State Board of Elections website, Ms. Morey filed yesterday to run for one of the Town Council offices, and Councilmen McDonald and Newberry filed earlier in the week for reelection. Applicants have until noon July 19 to file their notices of candidacy with the Dare County Board of Elections.

***

PLEASE EXCUSE THE DELAY

Dear Readers: Because of challenging circumstances this week, I have not had an opportunity to prepare a full report of Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. To quote the late John Lennon: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” I hope to be able to publish a meeting post this weekend.

You may view a videotape of the lively, well-attended, and politically charged meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQwlIZWXVD0.

Many in the meeting audience attended out of concern that Southern Shores was considering unnecessary and burdensome special-event legislation. Some public officials have worried about the use of SAGA Construction Inc.’s proposed structures at 98 and 134 Ocean Blvd. as special-event houses that would be frequented by upward of 100 guests at a time.

The Beacon would like to remind everyone that these structures are still the subject of pending litigation. Please see www.minihotels.com for details.

Thank you. Have a safe and enjoyable weekend.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 7/12/19

7/10/19: POLITICS AS USUAL: MURPHY BESTS PERRY IN RUNOFF; TOWN COUNCIL MAJORITY CHARGES THROUGH ITS AGENDA (More to Come)

dogwoodtrail
South Dogwood Trail, looking north

N.C. State Representative Greg Murphy, who is a urologist in Greenville, defeated first-time candidate Joan Perry, a Kinston pediatrician, in yesterday’s runoff election for the Republican nomination in North Carolina’s third U.S. Congressional district.

With all precincts reporting, Dr. Murphy had 59.7 percent of the vote, which represented nearly 7,000 votes more than Dr. Perry.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, 312,562 voters were eligible to vote in yesterday’s second primary, but only 11.5 percent of them did.

Dr. Murphy will face Democrat Allen Thomas, Libertarian Tim Harris, and Constitution Party candidate Greg Holt in a special election Sept. 10. The winner will serve out the two-year term of the late Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr., who was reelected to the third district seat last November and died in February.

CLOSER TO HOME . . . Last night’s Town Council meeting was both politically charged and divisive, and at times seemed more like a campaign rally than an ordered meeting of a government body. The boisterous crowd in attendance, seemingly drawn by the prospect of special-event regulation in town, often applauded public speakers.

For the second time in as many Council meetings, Mayor Tom Bennett did not enforce his well-known—and heretofore rigidly applied—rule requiring people who speak during the two general public-comment periods to sign up before the meeting.

On June 4, the Mayor made an exception for Porter Graham, the new lobbyist for the Outer Banks realtors and home builders association, whose highly inflammatory and factually inaccurate opinion piece in The Outer Banks Voice incited a pushback on “special events” from people in the real estate and/or tourism industries.

The Beacon is a strong proponent of the First Amendment; but we are just as strongly opposed to writing falsehoods and propagating misinformation.

The Beacon will publish a full report of the meeting later in the week. Among the results were:

*A 3-2 decision to take no further action now on the possible regulation of special events in Southern Shores residences, an about-face from the posture the Council unanimously took June 4 when it directed the Town Attorney and the Town Planning Director to prepare a proposed Town Code amendment and the Planning Board to have a “community discussion,” as Councilman Jim Conners phrased it;

*A 3-2 decision to move ahead swiftly with the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk project— with no design modifications—seeking construction bids and giving Town Manager Peter Rascoe “sole discretion” for project management, according to a lengthy prepared motion that Councilman Conners read as soon as the perfunctory public hearing was over (The Beacon will quote this motion in full after the meeting videotape is available);

*A decision to table the Planning Board’s unanimously approved latest effort to address nonconforming lots, known as zoning text amendment 18-09PB01, until December, when Councilman Christopher Nason, who has had reason to recuse himself from voting on nonconforming-lot ZTAs and who made the motion, will no longer be in office; and

*A unanimous vote to approve, without any comment or discussion, Mayor Bennett’s motion to reappoint Elizabeth Morey to a three-year regular term on the Planning Board and to appoint the Mayor’s friend and Southern Shores newcomer Donald D. Sowder to the other vacant three-year regular membership on the Planning Board and highly qualified longtime homeowner Tony DiBernardo to a three-year alternate term on the Board. (Yes, there’s opinion in that statement, and it goes to cronyism. At the very least, the Council should have discussed the relative qualifications of the candidates.)

For background and context for last night’s meeting, please see The Beacon’s preview posted 7/7/19.

AS OF THIS MORNING, only two candidates had filed with the Dare County Board of Elections for the three four-year terms on the Town Council that are expiring this year. Both Councilmen Gary McDonald and Fred Newberry have filed for reelection. As previously reported, Councilman Christopher Nason has announced that he is not seeking another term. Mayor Bennett and Councilman Conners were elected in 2017.

The Board of Elections’ candidate filing period for the three nonpartisan Town Council offices continues until noon on July 19.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 7/10/19