8/7/19: TOWN COUNCIL APPOINTS WES HASKETT INTERIM TOWN MANAGER, SCHEDULES PUBLIC HEARING ON NONCONFORMING LOTS EXCEPTIONS SEPT. 10 AND LONG-RANGE PLANNING SESSION SEPT. 17; Homeowners on Hickory Trail Speak Out About Cut-Through Traffic

Mackey
The Town Council voted unanimously to designate the flat-top Mackey cottage at 218 Ocean Blvd., which was built in 1955 and modified in 1969, a Southern Shores historic landmark. Like the vintage home behind it, the nameplate on the mailbox has passed all tests of time.

In unanimous decisions last night, the Town Council appointed Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett interim town manager effective Sept. 1, when Peter Rascoe retires, and scheduled a public hearing at its Sept. 10 meeting on the latest nonconforming lots amendment—thus reversing itself on a five-month delay that it approved just last month.

The Town Council also unanimously voted to hold a long-range planning and budgeting meeting on Sept. 17, after members discussed and amended a list of concerns that Mayor Tom Bennett had compiled as planning priorities.

Among the concerns added to the planning session, at Councilman Fred Newberry’s request, was the summer cut-through traffic, which a handful of homeowners on Hickory Trail addressed in public comments.

The homeowners supported a petition circulated among Hickory Trail and Red Bay Lane property owners by David Watson, another Hickory Trail homeowner, asking the Town to dead end Hickory at Hillcrest Drive. (See below.)

Mr. Haskett, who received eight weeks of managerial training at the University of North Carolina School of Government during FY 2018-19, will serve as acting town manager after Mr. Rascoe takes leave in August.

The Town Council also unanimously approved an increase in Mr. Haskett’s salary during his interim appointment of $250 per week. By a vote of 4-1, with the Mayor dissenting, the Council directed Mr. Haskett to “bring back in September a list of consulting firms”—i.e., recruiters—for members to consider in their search for a new town manager.

Mr. Haskett currently earns $86,598 in “total” salary, according to Town records. Mr. Rascoe’s total salary is $163,940. Including benefits, their respective compensation is $112,613 and $214,902.

NONCONFORMING LOTS EXCEPTIONS PUT BACK ON SCHEDULE

As The Beacon previously reported, the Town Council unanimously voted at its July 9 meeting to table Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 18-09PB01, which is a proposal recommended by the Planning Board to except certain nonconforming lots from the reach of Town Code sec. 36-132. (See The Beacon, 7/17/19 and 7/18/19 for details.)

Enacted by the Council last September after much discussion and confusion, Code sec. 36-132 is a rewrite of the nonconforming lots ordinance that had been on the books for decades. The new measure, viewed largely as a stopgap, passed 4-1, with Councilman Christopher Nason dissenting.

The Council’s intent was to unequivocally prevent property owners, particularly those on or near the oceanfront, from separately selling and/or developing 50-foot-wide lots that constitute part of a 100-foot-wide parcel. The language of the previous ordinance had been interpreted as failing to achieve this purpose because of inartful wording.

The new ordinance clearly compels the combination of adjacent nonconforming lots—principally, those that are less than 100 feet wide—owned by the same “owner,” a term defined in sec. 36-132 so as not to allow people to circumvent the ordinance by creating a corporation or transferring property to a family member.

The Council knew a year ago that the new ordinance would affect more people than the targeted property owners, so it directed the Planning Board to identify those who would suffer undue harm and, in the interest of fairness, to create exceptions for them in a new zoning text amendment.

ZTA 18-09PB01 represents months of effort by the Planning Board, the Town Attorney, Mr. Haskett, and other Town staff to do just that. The Planning Board’s recommendation was unanimous.

Nonetheless, upon motion at the July 9 meeting by Councilman Nason to amend the agenda and not hold the anticipated public hearing on ZTA 18-09PB01, the full Council agreed, thus disappointing quite a few people in the audience who have a stake in its passage. Mr. Nason’s motion delayed consideration of ZTA 18-09PB01 until December, when a new Council will be seated.

Councilman Jim Conners requested reconsideration by the Council last night of its decision to table ZTA 18-09PB01 and came prepared with a motion, which he read.

He moved, according to text that he provided to Town Clerk Sheila Kane, to “reschedule a public hearing and Council discussion and /or action at the regular meeting of September 10, 2019 to consider the Planning Board recommendation of ZTA 18-09PB01 and that the Town Attorney prepare for Council discussion, a separate ordinance that addresses only the tear down of a structure located on two or more non-conforming parcels of land and then building two or more structures on non-conforming lots.”

After considerable discussion, during which Mr. Nason suggested repealing Code sec. 36-132, an action that would require another zoning text amendment, the Council unanimously approved Mr. Conners’s motion.

According to Mr. Conners, his motion envisions: 1) the passage of ZTA 18-09PB01 “to give immediate relief” to unfairly disadvantaged property owners, several of whom spoke last night; and 2) the “repeal and enactment of an ordinance that addresses the limited situation” of tearing down a structure that is situated on two adjacent nonconforming lots and selling off the two lots for separate development.

Councilman Nason indicated last night that, although he participated in the Council’s discussion and voted on Councilman Conners’s motion, he would not be voting on ZTA 18-09PB01 in September because of a conflict of interest.

In advocating repeal of Code sec. 36-132, which he did not support last year, Mr. Nason said that the Planning Board’s “attempts to solve [the ordinance] are making things worse.”

CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC, STORMWATER ADDED TO LONG-RANGE PLANNING TOPICS

Although last night’s meeting agenda called for the adoption of a “meeting schedule” for future long-range planning meetings, the Town Council, in response to a motion by the Mayor, only approved one meeting: on Sept. 17 at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.

Mayor Bennett said he had “compiled a list” of five planning priorities by selecting from among “concerns submitted by Council members” those on which a “majority” agreed.

Thus, the answer to the question that The Beacon posed on 8/2/19 about who’s doing the planning is: Mayor Bennett.

The Beacon believes that the Mayor would have served his constituents far better had he shared at the meeting all of the concerns that the Town Council submitted to him and then conducted a public discussion about them. The Beacon would have welcomed an open and transparent decision-making process about the Town’s future.

The Beacon has a difficult time believing that a majority of the Town Council members decided independently to make a “town-wide walking path system” a planning priority.

In defending this priority, which Councilman Gary McDonald argued should be under the purview of the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee, Councilman Conners said his intent was to improve upon the use of the Town’s walkways, not to budget “walkway infrastructure.”

As an example of the minor improvements he had in mind, Mr. Conners mentioned better crosswalks and “You are here” signs to assist pedestrians unfamiliar with Southern Shores.

The other four priorities identified by the Mayor as having been endorsed by a majority are:

*Beach nourishment, which Mr. Bennett called “the elephant in the room.”

According to Mr. Rascoe, APTIM’s beach-survey findings from earlier this year are being compiled and will be reported in mid-September. Hence, the Mayor’s scheduling of the long-range planning meeting on Sept. 17—the day after the Planning Board’s September meeting.

*Future capital rehabilitation/replacement of town buildings

*Capital apparatus/equipment needs of the SSVFD

*Town land-use plan update

To this list, Councilman Newberry added cut-through traffic, and Councilman McDonald added stormwater problems, such as those that beset the town three years ago in the wake of Hurricane Matthew when ponds in need of dredging overflowed and flooded roads and homes, causing significant property damage.

The Beacon finds the Town’s failure, thus far, to work with the Southern Shores Civic Assn., which owns the ponds, to manage their sediment and debris accumulation unfortunate. (Full disclosure: I paid thousands of dollars out of pocket to restore the ground floor of a rental cottage that is near the Circle Drive pond, which overflowed. That this could happen again, on the Town’s and the SSCA’s watch, after both have been sufficiently warned, strikes me as negligence.)

Mr. McDonald also advised putting roads and other capital improvements on the planning priority list and to “reanalyze what we’re putting in the capital improvement fund.” The Beacon has supported Mr. McDonald’s persistent effort to appropriate more money from the annual budget for capital improvements.

By previous agreement, the Town Council has determined that five cents out of every 22 cents per $100 of property value collected in Town real-estate taxes will be appropriated for the annual capital improvements budget. In FY 2019-20, that amount is projected to be $662,340.

At the Council’s April 23 budget session, Councilman McDonald proposed increasing the set-aside from property taxes to seven cents, but his motion was defeated 2-3, with Mayor Bennett and Councilmen Conners and Nason voting against it.

Finally, Mr. McDonald brought up the deterioration of the Marketplace and his desire to “make it more presentable.”

Mayor Bennett disputed that the Town has any say over what the private owners of the Marketplace do, but clearly the Town can regulate aesthetics through zoning. The Beacon would have liked to have heard Town Attorney Ben Gallop’s opinion on the concerns Mr. McDonald raised. The Marketplace has definitely lost its luster.

HICKORY TRAIL HOMEOWNER PROPOSES CLOSING ROAD AT HILLCREST DRIVE 

Last month David Watson, a longtime Southern Shores Realty Co. (SSR) employee who lives with his wife on Hickory Trail near Red Bay Lane, circulated a petition among his neighbors that reads:

“In an effort to restore Hickory Trail and Red Bay Lane to their original purpose and design as streets for ingress and egress, we, the owners of said homes and lots along Hickory Trail and Red Bay Lane, ask that the Town of Southern Shores dead end Hickory Trail at the Hickory and Hillcrest intersection, allowing only pedestrian[s], bicycles, etc., to pass on to said intersection, thus reducing unnecessary and unwanted automobile traffic on this side street.”

Last night Mr. Watson, who previously had met with Town officials to discuss his “dead-end” plan, advocated for it during the public-comment period. He explained that, besides being prevented from using Hickory Trail, drivers heading north through Southern Shores on summer weekends would be prevented from turning off of East Dogwood Trail on to Hillcrest Drive, Sea Oats Trail, or Wax Myrtle Trail—unless they had a residency sticker.

Viewing Hickory Trail as the “linchpin” for the cut-through traffic pattern, Mr. Watson said his intent is to steer any traffic that turns on to South Dogwood Trail back on to N.C. Hwy. 12 at its intersection with East Dogwood Trail.

Between July 17 and Aug. 5, Mr. Watson, who is SSR’s broker in charge, collected 34 signatures of property owners, he told The Beacon. Red Bay Lane has nine parcels of land on it, including a lot owned by the SSCA, he said, and the affected section of Hickory Trail has 28 parcels, one of which is owned by the SSCA.

The Beacon believes that any idea that promotes a faster flow of traffic through Southern Shores on Hwy. 12 should be considered by the Town Council. We have previously suggested that police officers be stationed at flashing-light intersections along Hwy. 12 to direct traffic as if it were exiting a sporting event. Such a plan would require cooperation from Duck so that its pedestrian crosswalks do not impede the flow.

Said Hickory Trail homeowner Etta Lanuti, in describing the ordeal she faces coming and going on weekends: “It’s just not fair. It’s not fair.”

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, Aug. 7, 2019

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