The Town Planning Board will be looking north to Duck to evaluate how it handles wedding-related events when the Board takes up options for regulating special events in Southern Shores at its meeting tomorrow, in what is being called an “open forum,” similar to a Town Hall discussion. (The Beacon promoted this forum on Facebook yesterday.)

The Board will meet at 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center. Also on the agenda is a continued discussion of the Town’s current requirements for building height and fill and their possible amendment. (See below.)

Vice-Chairperson Andy Ward spoke at the Board’s July 15 meeting about determining a “balance” among special-events “stakeholders” and “getting the word out” about tomorrow’s forum so people can “talk about it some more.” The Board emphasized that it would like to hear the viewpoints of all interested people.

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

Among the meeting materials that the Planning Board has posted on the Town website are links to the Town of Duck’s wedding-related event registration policy and a form that registrants must fill out and submit to the town at least 30 days before the event date. See:

Duck policy: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Duck-Wedding-Related-Event-Registration-revised2014-06-161.pdf

Registration form: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Duck-Weddings-Info.pdf

The Duck policy on wedding events defines “a wedding-related gathering” as “50 or more people in a private residence” in town for the purpose of attending a pre- or post-wedding party, a rehearsal dinner, a wedding ceremony, a wedding reception, or a brunch.

Duck’s registration form is designed for a wedding planner or other responsible party to complete. It asks for basic contact and event information, as well as the registrant’s plans for parking and traffic flow and trash collection and removal. It also advises the registrant of Duck’s noise ordinance, asking for details about the type of sound system that will be used during the event and the hours and location of its operation, and the town’s regulations on signage and decorations.

According to the wedding-related event registration policy, the registrant’s form is “circulated to neighborhood associations, the property manager or owner of the proposed venue, and the Town of Duck Police and Fire departments in order to ensure that they are aware of your event plans and also so that they can contact you prior to or during the event, should this be necessary.”

The policy further notifies registrants that the Duck Police Dept. will be “routinely monitoring conditions” during the event, in order to “preempt” noise and parking issues.

Unlike Duck’s governing body, the Southern Shores Town Council elected to approach the matter of regulating special events in town, such as weddings and other large social gatherings, via a new Town Code ordinance, rather than a policy. This approach did not pan out. In fact, it became a public-relations nightmare.

Although the Town Council unanimously voted in June to reconsider the “Special Events and Occupancy Limitation Ordinance” that Town Attorney Ben Gallop drafted in December 2015, and the Council rejected in January 2016, and send it to the Planning Board for evaluation, the Council decided 3-2 in July not to discuss the ordinance further.

In so doing, the majority ignored 19 suggestions that Planning Board Chairperson Elizabeth Morey, Mr. Ward, and Planning Director Wes Haskett, who is now acting town manager, had prepared as proposed modifications of the ordinance. You may view their suggestions here:


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. The Beacon applauds her for opening up the Board’s meetings to the public for responsive, respectful, and inclusive dialogues. So far, the give-and-take process among Board members and meeting attendees has worked well.


In this same spirit of open and collaborative government, Ms. Morey invited two local builders who spoke at the July Planning Board meeting about the Town’s current requirements on fill and building height to submit draft language to amend the Town Code, specifically sections 36-171 (lot disturbance and stormwater management) and 36-202 (which addresses the RS-1 single-family residential district).

The Beacon is pleased to see from the materials posted on the Town website that not only did a follow-up meeting between Planning Board members and local builders occur, but results of that meeting and subsequent related emails have been documented and made available to the public. The Planning Board is exhibiting the kind of transparency that The Beacon has long sought from the Mayor and the Town Council.

On Aug. 7, Mr. Ward, Mr. Haskett, and Planning Board member David Neal reportedly met with Southern Shores builders Mark Martin and Matt Neal—who had spoken at the Board’s July meeting—and Jeff Haskett to discuss potential amendments to the Town’s current building height and fill requirements, which you may access here:


The group suggested the following new language, which would apply in all zoning districts, not just the RS-1 single-family residential district:

“Maximum building height shall be 35 feet, measured from the average of the existing grade at the building corners. If the average of the existing grade at the building corners is less than 8 feet above mean sea level (msl.), the maximum building height may be measured from up to 8 ft. above mean sea level (msl).”

Currently, the ordinance refers to “original” grade, not existing grade, and addresses situations when the average grade of the corners is either higher or lower than 7 feet msl.

The group also agreed that the Town’s current 3:1 slope requirement in side setback areas should be added to rear setback areas, as well.

See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/8-7-19-Height-and-Fill-Recommendations.pdf

This draft language was modified about a week later, according to an email written by Mr. Ward, to incorporate suggestions made by Chairperson Morey and Mr. Matt Neal, both of whom are running for Town Council this fall. With their modifications inserted, the suggested language now reads:

“Maximum building height shall be 35 feet, measured from the average of the existing, undisturbed grade at the building corners. If the average of the existing, undisturbed grade at the building corners is less than 8 feet above mean sea level (msl.), the maximum building height may be measured from up to 8 ft. above mean sea level (msl), provided that the horizontal-to-vertical slope criteria can be attained.”

See: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Height-and-fill.pdf

In an Aug. 15 email to Mr. Haskett, Mr. Ward also asked that the following “potential” fill language, along with a sketch he drew, be circulated to Planning Board members for the meeting:

“No fill material may be re-distributed or placed on a lot in the rear or side setback areas unless the final horizontal-to-vertical slope is equal to or less than 3:1. This shall be calculated from the finished final grade to the rear and side property lines.” [Boldfaced language is new to the ordinance, Code sec. 36-171(1).]

Email: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Height-and-fill-2.pdf

Mr. Ward’s Slope Sketch: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/8-15-19-Ward-Slope-Sketch.pdf

John Finelli, who represents Martin’s Point as an at-large member of the Planning Board, also submitted comments about building height and fill after the July 15 meeting, but before the builders’ meeting. See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Height-and-Fill_Finelli-comments.pdf.

The Beacon commends the Planning Board, especially the Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson, for their followup between meetings on potential special-events regulation and amendments to the Town Code on building height and fill requirements and for disclosure of some of their research and communications on these issues. Now anyone who attends tomorrow’s meeting will have the opportunity to inform him or herself and to come prepared for a meaningful discussion. Bravo!

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/18/19


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