The Beacon is highly disappointed that SAGA’s “mini-hotel” at 134 Ocean Blvd., which is the subject of two pending lawsuits, is featured on this year’s Outer Banks Parade of Homes.
We also are chagrined to see that one of the other two Southern Shores houses on the tour is a three-story house built by Duck builder/developer/owner Olin Finch on a 50-foot-wide lot at 155 Ocean Blvd. that was once part of a developed 100-foot-wide parcel.
Surely there are other new or remodeled houses, and builders, in Southern Shores that are more deserving of exposure than these two.
The parade starts Thursday and continues through Sunday. We will not be attending.
SAGA Realty and Construction Inc. built the controversial 12-bedroom, 12-bathroom (and 3 half-baths), hotel-like structure at 134 Ocean Blvd. on the Southern Shores oceanfront at “its own risk,” as the Town warned in writing.
Rather than heed the warning, or try to negotiate with its opponents, the developer chose to ignore the legal challenges lodged against it by two Southern Shores property owners. (One challenge pertains to a permit decision related to SAGA’s other mini-hotel at 98 Ocean Blvd.)
That the Outer Banks Home Builders Assn. and the Outer Banks Assn. of REALTORS®, which sponsor the Parade of Homes, have given SAGA’s mini-hotel such high-profile publicity, despite the litigation and the community’s well-known opposition to their development, decidedly rubs The Beacon the wrong way.
According to Matt Neal, president of the OBHBA and a candidate for Southern Shores Town Council, there is no screening process for parade entrants. Any builder who pays the $600 entrance fee may enter a home, provided it is ready for showing.
(Mr. Neal announced at the Town Council candidates’ forum last night that, if he is elected, he will resign from his OBHBA office. The Beacon will cover the forum later this week.)
SAGA actually has three structures on the 17-house tour, giving it the highest profile of any builder, for which it paid $1800. The only other builder with more than one entry in the parade is Reliant Construction, LLC, with two houses.
Last year’s parade, which The Beacon promoted without reservation, featured 24 homes.
The Finch property, now known as 155A Ocean Blvd., was part of a deal that the builder arranged with real estate agent and former Planning Board member Gray Berryman, who owns an identical house at 155 Ocean Blvd. Mr. Berryman recently listed his westside property for sale at $1.2 million.
Until 2018, a modest bungalow built in the 1950s sat across the two 50-foot-wide lots that made up the 100-foot-wide tract at 155 Ocean Blvd. This structure, as well as an accessory building, were demolished by Mr. Finch and Mr. Berryman after the seller, James A. Miller, sold the two nonconforming lots separately.
Acting as the representative of Mr. Miller, Mr. Berryman succeeded in obtaining from the Town Board of Adjustment 12-foot-wide side-setback variances for both lots—before he and Mr. Finch had even bought them. They were well aware of the Town Code ordinance that prohibits development of nonconforming lots like theirs and exploited an apparent loophole to get around it.
At the Miller/Berryman Board of Adjustment (BOA) variance hearings, Town Attorney Ben Gallop complimented Mr. Berryman for thinking ahead and, in essence, evading the intent, if not the strict letter, of the Town ordinance.
Southern Shores property owners have legally challenged both the zoning permit that the Town issued to SAGA for 134 Ocean Blvd.—claiming that the then-proposed mini-hotel was not a “single-family residential dwelling”—and the State-issued CAMA permit, on the grounds that it was “inconsistent” with the Town’s land-use plan.
Although they lost their claims at the initial administrative level (in the zoning case, that’s the Town Planning Board sitting as the Board of Adjustment), they have appealed the unfavorable rulings in superior court: The zoning-permit appeal is in Dare County; the CAMA permit appeal is in Wake County. The petitioners are confident that sufficient errors were made at the lower levels to overturn the rulings or otherwise give them relief.
Before the March 19, 2018 BOA hearings about 155 Ocean Blvd., Planning Board Chairperson Sam Williams read a prepared written statement: He addressed the accelerating trend by landowner applicants to seek variances for 12-foot-wide side setbacks, a reduction from the 15-foot-wide standard, in order to build on nonconforming 50-foot-wide lots.
In the course of this statement, Mr. Williams said that the BOA had already approved three such variances and that “I don’t favor these variances as a matter of land-use planning and policy.”
Nonetheless, in voting in favor of the 155 Ocean Blvd. variances, Mr. Williams had to approve them as being in compliance with the Town’s Land-Use Plan. Only the Town’s CAMA-approved Land-Use Plan, not Mr. Williams’s own land-use planning, is relevant to a variance decision.
The Beacon not only disputes the BOA’s conclusion on Land-Use Plan compliance, but, as we’ve written on many occasions, we disagree with Mr. Gallop’s interpretation of the nonconforming lots ordinance then in effect. It is that interpretation of Town Code sec. 36-132(a) that convinced the BOA that the Town could not prevent Mr. Miller from selling his developed 100-foot-wide parcels as two 50-foot-wide lots—as long as he left the demolition to the buyers.
If you would like to read the minutes of the confusing variance hearings that occurred on March 19, 2018, you will find them here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/3-19-18-FINAL-PB-Meeting-Minutes.pdf.
Only the late Glenn Wyder, who was then serving as an alternate Planning Board member, voted against the variances. Mr. Williams, regular members Elizabeth Morey and David Neal, and alternate member Carlos Gomez voted in favor of them.
The BOA’s approval of these side-setback variances—which Mr. David Neal, Matt Neal’s father, later said he thought had been a “mistake”— finally compelled the Town to act by rewriting Code sec. 36-132, so that there would be no uncertainty about the ordinance’s meaning. Those of you who have followed the nonconforming-lots issue in town know how that rewrite turned out.
The price of a ticket for the 2019 Parade of Homes is $10. The Beacon asks you to consider making a $10 donation to the legal fund of the property owners who are fighting SAGA’s mini-hotels, instead.
You may donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/no-minihotels-in-southern-shores
Both SAGA’s unwelcome structure, which, practically speaking, has been enlarged beyond the maximum 6,000 square feet by a large unenclosed outdoor partying area on the ground floor that does not count toward house size, and Finch and Co.’s high-density-population structure, constructed on half the required lot size in the ocean district, defy the Town’s Land-Use Plan and its Code of Ordinances.
For the latest on SAGA’s scorched-earth approach to developing, and remaking, the Outer Banks, see https://outerbanksvoice.com/2019/10/04/saga-seeks-changes-for-marshes-light-hotel-project/.
Once again, the developer is pressuring a town to accept its rewriting of local zoning so it can build the hotel it would like to build, not the one that a community decided could be built. Hatteras Island was an earlier target. This time Manteo is in its cross-hairs.
SAGA is seeking to change the height and size restrictions established for a waterfront boutique hotel in Manteo’s Marshes Light community.
The Beacon stands with the people of Manteo who would like to preserve the small-town feel and look of their waterfront and insist that SAGA conform to the rules.
The Manteo Planning and Zoning Board will be taking up SAGA’s proposed zoning text amendment today at its 6 p.m. meeting in Town Hall, 407 Budleigh St., downtown Manteo. Here is the Board’s agenda and accompanying documentation:
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/8/19