The Dare County resident whose death from COVID-19 complications was reported yesterday was a man in his late 70s who tested positive for the virus on July 17 and was immediately hospitalized outside of the area, according to information provided today and previously by the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services.
In her COVID-19 case update today, Dr. Sheila Davies, DCDHHS director, gives the man’s approximate age, the date of his diagnosis, and the fact of his hospitalization, but nothing else about his circumstances. She does not even confirm that the man died yesterday, only that the DCDHHS was “notified” yesterday of his death.
(See The Beacon, 7/30/20, for more details.)
On July 17, the day that the late resident’s positive test result was recorded on the DCDHHS dashboard, Dr. Davies reported in a case update that 22 Dare County residents had been diagnosed with COVID-19 since her last update on July 14.
Of those 22 residents, she said, 18 were symptomatic. Of those 18, nine were known to have acquired the virus by direct contact with an infected individual, and the other nine, who had no connection to each other, acquired the virus by “unclear” means.
Among the nine who were known to have come in contact with an infected person, seven acquired the virus from a family member or a close friend.
This is as close as we can get to understanding how a member of our community lost his life, unless his family chooses to share details in order to inform others.
TODAY’S CASE UPDATE
Since Dr. Davies’s Tuesday update, 12 new COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed locally, 10 residents and two nonresidents.
The two nonresidents are both women between the ages of 25 and 29 whose cases were added today to the dashboard. One is in isolation in Dare County, and the other has transferred to isolation in her home county.
Nine of the new COVID-19 resident cases were reported yesterday on the dashboard: Eight of them appear from the update to have been diagnosed at the testing event held Tuesday in Manteo.
The nine residents are four men and five women who range in age from the “17 and under” age category to the “50 to 64” age category, as follows:
One is age 17 and under;
Two are between the ages of 18 and 24;
Three are between the ages of 25 and 49;
Three are between the ages of 50 and 64.
The tenth Dare County resident diagnosed with COVID-19 is a woman age 65 or older whose case was reported on Wednesday. She was hospitalized, but is now in home isolation, as are the nine people whose diagnoses were reported yesterday.
There currently are no Dare County residents hospitalized for COVID-19, according to the DCDHHS dashboard.
Today’s update reports a total of 347 COVID-19-positive cases in Dare County, 197 of them local residents and 150 nonresidents. About half are male and half are female—173 men to 172 women—and the age breakdown is as follows:
51 are age 17 and under;
82 are between the ages of 18 and 24;
123 are between the ages of 25 and 49;
56 are between the ages of 50 and 64;
35 are age 65 or older.
Dare County currently has 39 active cases; 156 people have recovered.
Among the 194 COVID-19 antibody tests conducted through Tuesday’s clinic, only eight were positive.
An ominous bulletin issued this morning by Dare County Emergency Management advises visitors who are scheduled to arrive in the Outer Banks this weekend to “closely watch updated information from the National Weather Service Center and consider delaying arrival until after the storm has passed.”
DCEM is also advising residents and visitors who are already here to begin implementing their hurricane preparedness plans.
Local officials will confer tomorrow morning to “determine whether protective measures are necessary to ensure public safety,” according to the advisory.
Currently, Isaias, which is being described on The Weather Channel as a “borderline”-Category One hurricane, is approaching the northwestern Bahamas. It is expected to head toward the eastern coast of Florida.
A likely scenario presented by the National Weather Service calls for the storm to stay off-shore as it continues in a northeasterly direction away from Florida.
A mandatory evacuation of all visitors and property owners is already in effect for Ocracoke Island.
Hyde County commissioners ordered all visitors to evacuate Ocracoke Island, effective at noon today. Non-resident and resident Ocracoke property owners have been ordered to evacuate the island, effective tomorrow at 6 a.m.
The left turn on to South Dogwood Trail from U.S. Hwy. 158-east will be blocked this weekend from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., as Southern Shores winds up its summertime experiment in diverting northbound vacationer traffic from the main cut-through route.
This is assuming that Isaisis, a tropical storm in the Atlantic that has been upgraded to a Category One hurricane, does not effect a change in plans. (See story below.)
The Beacon again will be encouraging homeowners on residential roads to post comments on our blog and Facebook page about traffic conditions, especially on Saturday, when the vehicle volume is the heaviest.
Based on feedback during the previous three no-left-turn weekends, we conclude that the left-turn prohibition has not adversely affected Chicahauk. Motorists do not use Juniper Trail as an alternate to South Dogwood Trail.
We also conclude that, although the turn prohibition lessens the volume of traffic on South Dogwood Trail, East Dogwood Trail, Hickory Trail, and Hillcrest Drive, it does not eliminate backups on Sea Oats Trail and other residential roads that intersect with Duck Road (N.C. Hwy. 12).
We will be interested to learn what the vehicle counts show about motorists’ use of all monitored residential roads when the U.S. 158-South Dogwood Trail turn is blocked.
MUCH UNCERTAINTY STILL EXISTS ABOUT ISAISIS
The East Coast path of Isaisis and its wind and rain effects for North Carolina remain uncertain today, according to the Wilmington office of the National Weather Service.
Yesterday Isaisis brought tropical-storm-force winds and heavy rain to Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Moving northwesterly at 17 mph, a strengthened Isaisis is expected to hit the Bahamas this morning with hurricane-force conditions and continue on to the east coast of Florida.
If Isaisis takes the track that is currently being forecasted, the Outer Banks would not experience any storm conditions—wind, rain, surge—until Monday.
We will report on any emergency actions that Dare County decides to takes. We personally are inclined to check in with the storm again on Sunday.
TOWN COUNCIL MEETING ON TUES, AUG. 4, 5:30 p.m.
The Town Council meets for its regular monthly meeting next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.
A second Dare County resident has died as a result of COVID-19, after being hospitalized in critical condition, according to a status change posted today at 10:45 a.m. on the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services’ website.
The DCDHHS has provided no further details about the person, but it is possible to obtain some identifying information by examining the department’s online record of “July 2020 Numbers.”
In July, the DCDHHS reported the following hospitalizations of Dare County residents for COVID-19:
On July 8, a male between the ages of 25 and 49;
On July 15, a female age 65 or older;
On July 17, a male age 65 or older;
On July 21, the DCDHHS reported that one of these individuals had been moved to home isolation.
On July 26, a female between the ages of 50 and 64;
Just yesterday, the DCDHHS reported that a Dare County woman age 65 or older had been hospitalized. The dashboard currently shows three active hospitalizations.
The first local fatality related to COVID-19 was of a man in his 90s who was a resident at Peak Resources, the skilled nursing facility in Nags Head. This gentleman was described by DCDHHS as having underlying medical conditions that predisposed him to a poor outcome with a COVID-19 infection.
Statewide, 1,903 people have died as a result of COVID-19, according to today’s N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ dashboard.
Yesterday the NCDHHS reported a single-day record-high 1,291 hospitalizations and 1,763 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases. Today’s single-day cases jumped to 2,355, for a positivity rate of 8 percent, while hospitalizations declined to 1,239.
The Beacon extends our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the Dare County resident who has died. Although we do not feel your personal grief, we readily empathize with you and share in your sadness.
We also extend our best wishes for an uneventful recovery to the three people who are currently hospitalized.
(UPDATE LATER IN THE DAY: Two hospitalized patients were upgraded to home isolation on the DCDHHS dashboard at 5:35 p.m. That is good news. We hope the third patients will be going home soon.)
The sore subject of the revision of the Southern Shores Town Code of Ordinances by CodeWright Planners, LLC, of Durham—a budgeted $100,000 project that began in the summer of 2015—came up at the July 21 workshop meeting of the Town Council, courtesy of the always-prepared and well-informed Councilman Matt Neal.
Thank you, Mr. Neal. It’s about time.
Misrepresented to the public by former Town Manager Peter Rascoe at the Town’s fiscal year 2015-16 budget hearings, and subsequently, as an “update” and an organizational cleanup, not the wholesale rewrite it is, CodeWright owner Chad Meadows’s draft of the proposed new Town Code has been in Town Attorney Ben Gallop’s hands since Jan. 31, 2019.
That’s 18 months, more than a year longer than we have been living with the coronavirus pandemic.
It is also 17 months longer than Mr. Meadows envisioned Mr. Gallop spending on his review of the entire bloated 381-page draft, not just the zoning code section to which the Town Attorney alluded last week.
Even more significantly, it has been more than 4 ½ years since more than 900 Southern Shores property owners and/or residents completed—in good faith—a citizens’ survey for the “update.” Survey topics included limiting maximum house size and maximum lot clearance for construction, controlling stormwater runoff, and regulating noise and outdoor lighting.
The survey was rightly criticized for bias in the framing of questions, upon which we will elaborate below. But, regardless, people trusted that their responses were being taken seriously by Mr. Meadows and the Town, and that results would flow. Such accountability and professionalism have proved too much to ask for.
(The Beacon critiqued Mr. Meadows’s draft Town Code on 2/1/19, giving it low marks.)
In response to Mr. Neal’s question at last week’s meeting about the status of the CodeWright project, Mr. Gallop said that he had the draft and could review the zoning provisions and make his recommendations, if he had “two non-stop days of work” to devote to it. He suggested that he might be able to finish the job by next Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, but we are not holding our breath.
In fact, The Beacon does not believe Mr. Gallop should bother. The Town should not spend another penny on this failed project, which produced, according to Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey, who had the misfortune to be on the Planning Board when it spent more than a year critiquing the draft, “an unacceptable work product.”
THE TOWN COUNCIL’S ROLE IN THE FIASCO
The Town Council “dumped the Code rewrite on us,” Ms. Morey told The Beacon in a telephone interview June 29, 2018, “and it doubled or tripled our workload.”
The Planning Board’s review, she continued, “was made more difficult by how the consultant presented the Code. . . . It was extremely difficult to determine what was old and what was new.”
Mr. Gallop referred to this same difficulty in explaining to the Town Council last week his labor-intensive task in reviewing the draft. Just the computer process involved, as he described it, is labyrinthine.
For The Beacon, Ms. Morey’s silence during the Town Council’s discussion about the CodeWright draft—which was driven by Mr. Neal—was conspicuous, and unfortunate. She knows what a mess the draft is and could have supported what Mr. Gallop said. She also could have suggested cutting off all of the heads of this hydra and killing it.
The obvious difficulty that both Ms. Morey and Mr. Gallop identified should have been corrected by the consultant after he submitted his draft assessment in December 2018, but no one in the Town government held Mr. Meadows or the Town staff who communicated with him on the project, accountable.
We would be surprised if any of the Town Council members, other than Ms. Morey and Mr. Neal, have looked at the draft—even though they, not Mr. Meadows, who is a professional planner, not an attorney, make policy and law in Southern Shores.
The Town Code of Ordinances is a compilation and codification of the town’s ordinances, which are enforceable regulations and policies.
When Councilman Jim Conners complained at the July 21 meeting about the “five or six years” that the “albatross” of the CodeWright draft has been “around the neck” of the Town Council, we wondered where he has been the past 18 months.
In office since December 2017, we do not recall Mr. Conners ever inquiring in a public meeting about the status of the project or seeking to follow it up, nor do we recall any other Town Council members doing so.
The Beacon has twice publicly brought up the CodeWright draft, most recently in February at the hearing for the new town manager search. We asked the Town Council to hire a town manager who would follow up on both the Codewright project and the land-use plan revision, which we will address in a future blog posting.
“I’m not blaming you,” Mr. Conners said to Mr. Gallop. “It’s the whole town. This thing has just languished forever.”
But who is “the whole town,” if not the Town Council? Who holds the Town Manager and the Interim Town Manager accountable, if not the Town Council? The Town Attorney reports to the Town Council.
Town Councilman Leo Holland was one of the Town “stakeholders” interviewed by Mr. Meadows for the project early on—along with three Council incumbents who were defeated for reelection two months after they were interviewed. (Property owners cried foul about this, but to no avail.)
Mr. Meadows also interviewed select building and real-estate professionals who would benefit from changes in the Southern Shores zoning code. The Town Manager and the Town Council made no attempt to identify stakeholders with a diversity of opinion. (More foul-crying.)
Councilman Holland previously served on the Town Council from December 2013 to December 2017 before being re-elected for a new four-year term last November.
His contribution last week was to laugh about Mr. Gallop finishing his responsibility and putting “the monkey somewhere else.” Mr. Holland had more to say about the “monkey” on Mr. Gallop’s back than he did about the Code project.
Unlike Councilman Holland, we don’t find any of this funny.
DELIBERATE MISINFORMATION AND PUBLIC PROTEST
You may well ask how the CodeWright project arrived at this point. If you did not live in Southern Shores five years ago and/or if you did not participate in the citizens’ survey, which was administered on the Internet from Dec. 18, 2015 through Jan. 31, 2016, you may not be familiar with Chad Meadows and CodeWright.
We will bring you up to speed because you are governed locally by the Town Code of Ordinances: It directly affects how you live and how Southern Shores’ future will evolve. You should know something about the Town Code draft that Mr. Meadows authored and sometimes referred to in public as a “development code.”
There is little doubt that the current bloated draft that Mr. Gallop (understandably) has avoided for 18 months goes far beyond the Code cleanup that Town Manager Rascoe described in FY 2015-16 budget hearings: Mr. Meadows did not just “edit for consistency, clarity, and conformity with state and federal law,” as Mr. Rascoe told the public he would. (I attended every hearing.) He rewrote the Code and essentially created a new planning document for Southern Shores.
In June 2015, the Town Council approved an appropriation of $100,000 for what was called the “Town Code Update Project.” Serving then were Mayor Tom Bennett, Mr. Holland, and the three incumbents who were defeated that fall. (It is unclear from line-item fiscal-year budgets on the Town website how much of this $100,000 has been spent.)
Then-Planning Director Wes Haskett, who is now Deputy Town Manager and served as an acting/interim town manager for 10 months—from August 2019 until late June—identified Mr. Meadows as the professional consultant to hire for the job because he had worked with other Dare County towns.
Our recollection is that Mr. Meadows signed a contract with the Town in July or August 2015, but we are unable to confirm that recollection or pinpoint the date because we could not find the contract on the Town website or locate it among our files.
Besides interviewing all members of the 2011-15 Town Council, three of whom were out of office by the end of 2015, Mr. Meadows and his team early on sought “input” from other people he identified as “stakeholders,” including members of the Planning Board, Town Manager Rascoe, and other Town staff.
The so-called “project team” also relied on building-industry professionals as stakeholders, some of whom were not residents of Southern Shores and all of whom stood to gain financially from Town Code revisions, in determining town objectives and goals. Even the team’s technical advisory group had members who stood to gain financially from substantive changes to the Town Code.
Among them were architect Christopher Nason, who was elected to the Town Council in November 2015 and was on record for disparaging the then-current Town Code as both obsolete and disadvantageous to his clients; Gray Berryman, a real-estate agent and former Planning Board member who would later profit personally from confusion in the Town Code’s regulation of nonconforming lots; and Joseph Anlauf, a Kitty Hawk engineer who has enjoyed favor with the Town for years.
Many members of the public saw a development agenda being implemented, not a document being updated, corrected, and rendered more readable.
In its Dec. 22, 2015 holiday newsletter, the Town again insisted that the Codewright project team would be merely “correcting conflicting and ambiguous language in the Code, addressing recent changes in state and federal laws, and reorganiz[ing] some sections to make the Code more user-friendly and easier to understand.”
We were falsely assured that a rewrite was not the Town’s intention or CodeWright’s goal, but once we saw the survey questions, we no longer had any doubts. Mr. Rascoe deliberately misled the public.
In a Jan. 4, 2016 letter to Mayor Bennett and the Town Council, 44 informed resident homeowners asked that our elected officials immediately suspend the consultant’s authority. (I was one of the signees.)
The letter strongly objected to the “organization, conduct, and activities to date of the Town Code Update Project,” and said that the “project’s now-apparent power and purpose far exceed that which Town Manager Peter Rascoe, the mayor, and the previous sitting town council described in response to repeated resident inquiries about the project before, during, and after the 2015-16 budget hearings.”
The truth was that, from the outset, Mr. Meadows and his team had been substantively assessing the Town Code for the purpose of drafting new policies and laws to propose to the Town for codification, the most important and controversial of which concerned zoning restrictions on new construction.
BIASED CITIZENS’ SURVEY, RESULTS RELEASED FEB. 18, 2016
According to the summary, Codewright received 932 responses, including six in hard-copy form, but it excluded 137 of them from tabulation because the respondents did not provide their street addresses. That’s an exclusion rate of 15 percent.
For most of the survey’s 23 questions, the 795 respondents answered whether they strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree, or don’t care about basic statements that covered such issues as:
*Regulating “excess light” and “light pollution” from exterior residential fixtures;
*Regulating noise from private homes or vacation rentals;
*Regulating new home size [This was before the Town Council enacted in January 2016, by a 3-2 vote, the 6,000-square-foot maximum house size, in response to SAGA’s plan to build a 16-bedroom wedding-destination venue on the Southern Shores oceanfront; Town Councilmen Fred Newberry, Gary McDonald, and Leo Holland were in the majority; Mayor Bennett and Councilman Nason opposed the size limitation.];
*Reducing the maximum number of occupants in proposed new homes [This matter was dealt with last year in response to SAGA’s two “mini-hotels” at 98 and 134 Ocean Blvd.; after considerable effort by the Town Planning Board, which received much assistance from Mr. Neal, the Town Council enacted an ordinance that limits overnight occupancy in vacation homes to 14 persons.];
*Regulating stormwater runoff between properties and into the road [The Town Council has yet to address this important concern, despite advocacy by the Southern Shores Civic Assn. and serious concerns expressed publicly by homeowners, and its own acknowledgment of the problems.];
*Regulating tree removal as part of house construction;
*Regulating deer “overpopulation”;
*Regulating design standards for commercial development;
*Increasing the allowable residential building height [This matter has been taken up by the Planning Board and settled for the time being by the Town Council.];
*Increasing the maximum allowable lot coverage for single-family homes [This matter also has been settled. Former Town Councilman Nason pushed hard to increase the allowable lot coverage by changing the means of calculating it, but he was defeated. Lot coverage is limited to 30 percent.]
The most obviously biased questions were those that juxtaposed two unrelated issues that were not mutually exclusive and asked the respondent which was the “most important for the Town Code to address?” This exercise in illogical thinking included:
*“Design controls to make sure new businesses ‘fit in’ aesthetically with the rest of Town” versus “Encouraging new businesses to open in the Town.”
*“Making it easier for cars to move around town” versus “Making it safer and easier to bike and walk about town.” (Take note, those of you who live on the cut-through route.)
*“Preserving trees” versus “Keeping our streets safe to drive, bike, and walk on.” (Can’t we easily do both?)
*“Streets with controlled or limited access with added enforcement paid for by increased taxes or fees” [The bias in that statement is as subtle as a kick in the face.] versus “Streets with full access (current conditions).” (Another alert for cut-through route homeowners.)
Needless to say, public opinion ran high on many of these issues and still does. But, as we noted, a number have been resolved since the survey.
In October 2016, Mr. Meadows prepared a “Code Assessment” that purportedly summarized the “input” he received from the old Town Council; the Planning Board; the Town Manager and other Town staff; the technical advisory group; and the citizens’ survey.
The Planning Board began its review of Mr. Meadows’s Code draft, which was organized into several “modules,” in April 2017. It did not surface again for public consideration until December 2018. (See Ms. Morey’s comments, above.)
The Town Planning Board, under former Chairman Sam Williams, spent many tedious months painstakingly scrutinizing the CodeWright draft, before the public had a chance to examine a revised version and Mr. Gallop received it.
The draft that Mr. Meadows presented at the January 2019 public forum, and which Mr. Gallop has, did not look the same as the version that the Planning Board toiled over, but it still suffered in content and presentation.
At the Jan. 31, 2019 public forum, Mr. Meadows advised the audience that the Town Attorney would review the draft in February and the Planning Board would consider it in March and April, with an eye toward recommending those chapters that Mr. Meadows said the Board is required by North Carolina law to recommend. They include chapters 22 (zoning); 26 (subdivisions); 28 (flood damage prevention); and parts of chapters two (administration) and four (definitions).
Only after the Planning Board makes its final recommendations would the draft Code—presumed to be an “adoptable” document—reach the Town Council, where, we feel certain that Councilman Neal (and perhaps Mayor Pro Tem Morey) would give it the attention a local lawmaker should give it.
No elected Town official should approve something as vital and important to a town and its future as a code of ordinances without reading it thoroughly first.
Mr. Meadows considers his draft basically complete, according to Mr. Neal, but he is operating in a different reality than the one that the Town Attorney, Town Manager, and Town Council should operate in. He stands by his work; the Town does not have to.
Those property owners who still remained engaged by the Town Code project—more than three years after they participated in the citizens’ survey—keyed in during the January 2019 forum on sections of the proposed new ordinances pertaining to exterior lighting, street parking, and noise.
Read aloud at the meeting, these sections left little doubt that they needed substantial change. They were confusing, not illuminating. They made the language of the current Code seem precise. Indeed, Mr. Meadows himself referred to the language of the proposed new noise ordinance as “loosey-goosey.”
The Beacon objected to CodeWright’s revised page layout, the new graphics and illustrations, and, most of all, to the excess verbiage that obscures the core substantive content. We described the draft as bloated. We did not find it user-friendly, just overblown and annoying.
We are not fans of the font size, the “navigational aids,” the heading text, etc., that Mr. Meadows refers to as “technical changes” and justifies as “modern.” We think they, as well as illustrations and graphics (for example, flow charts, summary tables), just get in the way of important business. They make the Town Code of Ordinances appear busy, distracting, and even frivolous.
We prefer precise and unambiguous words and straightforward language to all of the excess in the CodeWright draft.
We also believe Mr. Meadows should be required to prepare a summary of all of the substantive changes that he integrated into the current Town Code—which already has changed in a number of significant sections, such as those on nonconforming lots, since December 2018.
What key regulations, or sections thereof did Mr. Meadows delete, revise, or add? These should be readily identifiable.
As the draft is now, you have to go painstakingly through it, finding the new number for the chapter you’re interested in and then perusing a lot of verbiage, much of it unnecessary, to find what you’re looking for.
While doing such perusing, we had the same thought that Ms. Morey expressed in June 2018, but no one in a responsible Town position has insisted upon: “The consultant needs to do a better job.”
If this monstrosity goes forward, we encourage all property owners at least to peruse chapter 22, which is the new zoning chapter.
Mr. Gallop suggested last week that the best way to deal with updating or rewriting sections of the Town Code may be by making “smaller incremental changes,” as is done when the Planning Board considers and the Town Council rejects or approves proposed zoning text amendments, or when the Town Council takes up other proposed Code amendments over which it has sole authority.
We agree with the Town Attorney. This wholesale revision is a nightmare.
Mr. Gallop also suggested adopting parts of Mr. Meadows’s work product, but not all of it. This could be accomplished with the advice and counsel of Town Manager Cliff Ogburn, Mr. Haskett, and Mr. Gallop, who together could identify those parts that are problem-free and ready for adoption.
If the Town Council rejects Mr. Gallop’s suggestions and does not kill the hydra, we trust that its members will invest the necessary time to ensure that they know and approve all significant changes within the proposed draft and communicate them to Southern Shores property owners. They were not elected to be mere rubber-stampers.
Of the 17 non-resident cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Dare County since last Friday, nine clearly acquired the virus by direct contact with an infected person outside of Dare County, while the other eight became infected by an “unclear” mode of transmission, according to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services’ case update yesterday.
What do these numbers mean in terms of the threat of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus to Outer Bankers? We do not really know.
Of the 13 resident cases of COVID-19 diagnosed since DCDHHS’s Friday update, five acquired it by direct contact with an infected Dare County resident, and eight became infected by an “unclear” mode of transmission.
How thoroughly does the DCDHHS probe the recent actions of people who test positive with COVID-19? How does it decide that the mode of transmission could not have been by direct contact and is, therefore, “unclear”? We do not know.
Although DCDHHS Director Dr. Sheila Davies’s update yesterday says, as her many other updates have, that the inability to identify a direct source of virus transmission “indicates” a case acquired the virus by community spread, it does not confirm community spread.
Are there any common elements to these “unclear” cases other than a failure to identify known direct contacts? If so, the DCDHHS is not telling the public.
If the DCDHHS is relying solely on a patient’s self-reporting of possible direct contacts—reporting that depends upon the person’s memory, perceptiveness, and even truthfulness—then its conclusions about community spread are inherently biased and faulty. That is the nature of self-reporting.
It is also of little use to Dare County residents to be told that infected nonresidents likely acquired the virus by community spread, if the community in which the spread occurred is not identified. The DCDHHS never specifies in its updates if the presumed community spread that infected a nonresident is spread to which he/she was exposed outside or inside Dare County.
It may not always be possible to determine this, but in some cases, it should be. For example, a nonresident diagnosed with COVID-19 a day or two after arriving in Dare County certainly was infected outside of the area.
The incubation period for COVID-19–the time period between exposure to the virus and the appearance of symptoms–varies from person to person, but it is no less than two days. The average incubation time, according to medical experts, is five days.
Over the past week, according to Dr. Davies, about half of the 54 COVID-19 cases reported locally “acquired the virus by direct contact with known positive cases.” In the other half, she observes, “the individuals were not able to identify how they acquired the virus.” They, too, may have acquired the virus by direct contact of which they were unaware or which they were unwilling to disclose.
Fifty-three percent of the nonresidents who tested positive for COVID-19 in Dare County since Friday are known to have acquired the virus by direct contact before they arrived, and the other 47 percent may have done the same because the means of transmission is “unclear.” The DCDHHS’s public- information update says no more than that.
Likewise, 38 percent of the Dare County residents who tested positive for COVID-19 since Friday acquired the virus by a direct contact locally, and the other 62 percent may have done the same, without knowing it.
The Beacon believes it is long past time for the DCDHHS to do more to determine where and how COVID-19 is being transmitted—or, at least, to explain to the public the extent of its efforts—and then to communicate its findings.
We believe the DCDHHS’s lack of specificity in reporting details about diagnosed cases contributes to the public’s noncompliance with basic infection-control measures such as wearing a face covering, washing hands frequently, and social distancing.
For too many people, the public-health threat of COVID-19 is not real because it has not been brought home by public-health officials, on both the local and state level. To do so would not violate the privacy of people who have been diagnosed–they are mere case numbers–and do much to inform people about the safety of their community.
The number of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Dare County is now 335. Four new cases—three residents and one nonresident—were added to the DCDHHS dashboard after Dr. Davies’s update. All are in home isolation in their respective home counties.
According to Dr. Davies, among the now-59 active cases in Dare County, three people remain hospitalized in critical condition.
ON THE STATE LEVEL, ALCOHOL SALES CURFEW: Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order yesterday to stop all on-site alcoholic beverage sales statewide in restaurants, breweries, wineries, and distilleries at 11 p.m., starting at 11 p.m. Friday.
Bars statewide are currently closed, so they are not included in Executive Order 153.
The ban applies to alcoholic beverages sold at restaurants and the other target businesses from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. The Executive Order will expire at 11 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 31, if it is not repealed, replaced, or rescinded earlier.
Executive Order 153 does not apply to grocery stores, convenience stores, or other entities that are permitted to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. It is focused on discouraging social gatherings among people, especially young people, who do not take adequate precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The number of hospitalizations reported yesterday on the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services dashboard, was 1,244, a new single-day record high, but the State still has hospital capacity, Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NCDHHS, announced.
Dr. Cohen also said that “glimmers of potential progress” have emerged in the other COVID-19 metrics that the State is following. In particular, the trajectory of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases, although still high, is leveling. Also, the trajectory in the positivity rate of tests is declining, although it is still above 5 percent. The last time the positivity rate was above 10 percent was July 19.
Dare County reported a second single-day record 16 COVID-19 cases today, 10 of them nonresidents, according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services dashboard. The previous 16-case day was July 1.
There have been two days on which the DCDHHS reported 15 cases, both in July.
The total number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Dare County is now 331, 184 residents and 147 nonresidents.
The latest 16 cases cover all age groups: one is age 17 or younger; four are between ages 18 and 24; five are between ages 25 and 49; three are between 50 and 64; and three are 65 or older.
According to the DCDHHS’s “July 2020 Numbers” for today, there is one Dare County resident in each age category, and all are female.
On Sunday, the DCDHHS reported two new COVID-19 cases, after a 12-case-report day on Saturday. One of the two Sunday cases is a female resident between the ages of 50 and 64 who is hospitalized.
Dr. Sheila Davies, director of the DCDHHS, has previously reported that most of the people diagnosed with COVID-19 locally have experienced only mild symptoms. It is rare that an infected person has been hospitalized, making Sunday’s case noteworthy.
Four of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Saturday’s report were age 17 or under. The majority of them—seven—were between the ages of 25 and 49. This is the age group that is driving the continued spread of the coronavirus in our country and preventing progress in our economic, educational, and social reopening.
The residents who tested positive today for COVID-19 are in home isolation, while all of the nonresidents transferred to their home counties for isolation.
The Beacon used to report individually on the transmission details of all COVID-19 cases, including how a person acquired the infection—whether by direct contact or by presumed community spread—and where a person acquired it. We decided recently to curtail such elaboration and give more general reports.
Over the weekend, however, a reader contacted us to inquire about how many of the nonresidents who tested positive for COVID-19 in Dare County acquired the virus outside of the area, then got diagnosed here. We will make a point of reporting on this occurrence in the future.
Dr. Davies always indicates in her Tuesday and Friday case updates whether people acquired the virus locally or outside of the area, but she does not name locations.
Since Dr. Davies’s Friday update, 30 new COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in Dare County.
Suppose 10 or a dozen oceanfront property owners do not want to give the Town of Southern Shores voluntary easements to facilitate its 2022 beach nourishment project, Town Councilman Matt Neal posited to Town Attorney Ben Gallop at the Council workshop meeting last Tuesday . . . what would happen?
As you will recall, the Town Council considered at its Tuesday meeting proposed Town Resolution 2020-07-03, which asks the N.C. General Assembly to add Southern Shores to a list of municipalities that may exercise quick-take condemnation over private property for certain public purposes, including “engaging in beach erosion control and flood and hurricane protection works.”
The General Assembly will have to adopt new language in two sections of the state eminent domain chapter in order to enable Southern Shores to use quick take—which is a form of accelerated eminent domain—for beach nourishment purposes, most significantly, N.C. General Statutes sec. 40A-3(b1). (See The Beacon, 7/20/20 for background.)
Ultimately, as we reported earlier, the Town Council unanimously approved the resolution. Mayor Tom Bennett said that he had spoken with N.C. House Delegate Bobby Hanig and someone in N.C. Senator Bob Steinburg’s office about moving the resolution forward to a General Assembly vote. He also said that he had received a “very clear message” that it would not be brought up until January.
Both Senator Steinburg and Representative Hanig are running for reelection in November. In fact, Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey’s husband, Tommy Fulcher, is opposing Mr. Hanig; Tess Judge is running against Mr.Steinburg. Come January, Southern Shores’ state legislative representatives may be Mr. Fulcher and Mrs. Judge.
During a wide-ranging discussion that occurred before Mr. Neal’s question about the noncompliant property owners in which the Councilman, Mr. Gallop, and I—as a public citizen, speaking via Zoom—addressed the implications of amending the relevant statutes, Mr. Gallop focused on acquiring easements.
But, we hasten to point out, there is nothing in N.C.G.S. sec.40A-3(b1) that limits a town’s condemnation/forced acquisition of private property for beach nourishment to just easements. The word easement does not appear anywhere in the statute. Certain Town Council members, however, appear to believe otherwise.
Town Manager Cliff Ogburn explained in background materials that the easements the Town would seek to acquire would cover the length of the Southern Shores coastline and be in the beach area that is between the mean high-water mark and the dunes.
“There’s a chance,” Mr. Gallop observed during the meeting, “that you don’t need easements to do beach nourishment” because this area is “subject to public trust and usage rights.” There is no definitive N.C. higher court ruling to this effect, however.
CONDEMNATION OF OCEANFRONT PROPERTY EASEMENTS
Returning to Mr. Neal’s question . . .
“Walk me through the process,” the Councilman asked Mr. Gallop, so he would know, Mr. Neal said, how the “authority we’re seeking” with the proposed quick-take Resolution 2020-07-03 would function in a “real-world” sense.
You gotta love Councilman Neal. Without him on the Council, the Southern Shores public would have no elected representative capable of—and committed to—reading and analyzing complicated North Carolina statutes and asking smart legal questions. If we did not know he was a builder, we would think he is a lawyer—he’s that good. Mr. Gallop does not need to belabor basics with him.
Here is how the Town Attorney answered Mr. Neal’s hypothetical:
“Ummmm, well, I think at some point there will be . . . [he restated Mr. Neal’s hypothetical] at some point, that will come back to the board and the question will be: What do you want to do? You’ll have to either balance . . . [trailed off]
“[Town Council members would ask themselves:] Do we want to modify the project? Do we want to file condemnations? Do we want to do the project anyway and deal with what could come of that? Or do we want to file a different kind of suit to confirm our right to do this [use the private oceanfront property] without condemnations?
“If the ultimate choice is to file condemnations [and here he stopped speaking, picked up some paperwork and said, “I was not completely prepared”] . . . you got to adopt a resolution authorizing the taking of the easements via condemnation. You got to mail notice . . .” and he proceeded to explain the basic legal procedure: giving the private landowner notice of the condemnation, filing a complaint in court with a “deposit for the estimated compensation” for the property taking, and going “to court.”
What Mr. Neal said in response to Mr. Gallop could not be understood because not only was the sound defective in the Zoom videoconference, in which we participated, and in the You Tube videotape, Mr. Neal was speaking through a face covering!
A good five to 10 minutes of discussion in the meeting toward the end are inaudible. Nonetheless, Mr. Gallop can clearly be heard saying the following about an easement obtained by condemnation, rather than granted voluntarily by a landowner:
“It probably would be even more limited than what you would ask for voluntarily.”
Easements obtained by quick-take eminent domain are “very, very narrowed easements,” Mr. Gallop said, and “voluntary easements are more broad.”
It seems both reasonable and natural to ask then: Why would an oceanfront property owner who is opposed to beach nourishment and/or to giving the Town an easement so construction equipment and supplies can cross his/her property do so voluntarily if a court will order a narrower easement and award “just compensation”?
Is the Town paying oceanfront property owners for voluntary easements or just depending on them to be cooperative while it also taxes them through the nose in their “municipal service district,” simply because their properties are closer to the beaches that everyone in town uses and depends upon for a flow of tax revenues?
So far, this Town Council has only said that it will “pursue” beach nourishment. It has not indicated by a public vote which nourishment option recommended by its coastal engineering consultant it will “pursue,” nor has it committed to the type of financing it will use. The memorandum of understanding that the Town is to have with Dare County about the county’s financial contribution has not been finalized–not as far as has been reported publicly.
All of the financing data that the Town and its loan consultants have presented in meeting packets have been described as “for discussion purposes,” nothing more.
Why should an oceanfront property owner—which I am, with co-owner siblings, and no one on the Town Council is—cooperate with a town that keeps the public so much in the dark?
QUICK-TAKE AUTHORITY IS NOT LIMITED TO EASEMENTS
Councilman Neal was the only one of the five Town Council members who showed any knowledge or understanding of the N.C. statutory framework for quick-take eminent domain that the resolution would change. His questions were extensive, and they were ours, as well. He was extremely and impressively well-prepared.
Mr. Neal was satisfied with Mr. Gallop’s often-confusing explanations. Questions remain for us.
During discussion of the resolution, Mayor Bennett, Mayor Pro Tem Morey, and Councilman Leo Holland said nothing substantive. They made no contributions.
Town Councilman Jim Conners expressed a wrongheaded interpretation, after he first took a veiled shot at The Beacon, saying accusingly, “The public is being grossly misled as to what this is all about.”
But it is Mr. Conners who is grossly misinformed.
The intent of Resolution 2020-07-03 may be to give the Town a means by which it can forcibly obtain an easement from oceanfront property owners “who won’t voluntarily give an easement,” as Mr. Conners stated, but that is not what its exclusive effect is.
The statute clearly says that a town may use the quick-take condemnation process to acquire “any property”—not just an easement—for the purpose of “building or improving beach erosion control or flood and hurricane protection works.” The words “building,” “improving,” and “protection works” are not defined.
We wonder if Councilman Conners heard Mr. Gallop’s response to his question about whether a taking by quick-take condemnation would give the town “Fee-simple title” to someone’s private property. In the asking of it, Mr. Conners showed his unfamiliarity with the common real estate term, fee-simple title.
Mr. Gallop succinctly responded: “It’s going to give you [the Town] the authority to condemn a fee-simple title, but that doesn’t mean you have to exercise that authority.”
If implemented, the quick-take resolution would give the town much more legal authority than just the right to acquire an easement. It would give it the right to take title and possession to private property, permanently, forever. That the Town professes it will not exercise that authority is beside the point—at least it is for people who know how to think and can envision scenarios when the Town may seek more.
Fortunately, Town Councilman Matt Neal is such a person.
If the other four Council members even remotely followed all that Mr. Gallop said, they have to appreciate that North Carolina’s quick-take eminent domain statutory setup is—to quote the Town Attorney—“really painfully complicated,” “a puzzle,” and “an awful way for the General Assembly to do it.”
Mr. Gallop even admitted that defining exactly what land rights are granted in an easement is difficult, and that lawyers disagree.
The Town Council eventually voted to authorize Mr. Ogburn, Mr. Gallop, and Town staff to proceed with drafting an easement template, in preparation for trying to procure the necessary easements for the 2022 project voluntarily from oceanfront property owners.
A draft of such an easement may be ready as soon as the Aug. 4 Town Council meeting, said Mr. Ogburn, who also intends to prepare a list of frequently asked questions to have available for property owners.
By his remarks Tuesday, the new Town Manager showed he is concerned about informing the public and protecting homeowners’ interests.
WHO PULLED THE RUG OUT?
We were much chagrined to hear Councilman Holland say after the Council had approved the quick-take resolution that he was “gun-shy” and was eager to see the statutory change made by the General Assembly because of what happened when quick take came before the Town Council in February 2014.
As we explained on 7/20/20, Southern Shores property owners successfully lobbied their state legislators to nullify a unanimous decision by the Town Council in favor of a quick-take resolution that ignored overwhelming public opinion.
Despite hearing nothing but opposition from angry and distressed homeowners, the Town Council—that then included Mr. Holland and Mayor Bennett—approved a resolution that allowed for the possibility that the Town would be able to quick-take fee-simple title to private property in order to “establish access for the public to public trust beaches and appurtenant parking areas,” as well as to engage in “beach erosion control and flood and hurricane protection works.
Significantly, the so-called “beach access” purpose was eliminated from Resolution 2020-07-03.
Last Tuesday, Mr. Holland said about the 2014 experience: “The rug got pulled out from under us, and that’s what I don’t want to see happening again.”
We would like Mr. Holland to tell us exactly WHO “pulled the rug” out from under the Town Council: the constituents whom Council members like himself are elected to represent and whom he ignored in 2014 or the state legislators whom his constituents also elected to represent them and to whom they appealed in an exercise of their rights of representation in our three-level government?
The state legislators listened to the public; the Town Council, at the lowest level, did not.
THE CODEWRIGHT TOWN CODE FIASCO
Councilman Neal was knowledgeable and outstanding throughout Tuesday’s workshop meeting.
After seeking to clarify confusion created by poorly written Town Code language that is not improved by Zoning Text Amendment 20-01—which amends the Code to permit expedited zoning actions and temporary emergency accommodations—Mr. Neal turned to a long-ignored project, saying “I’m going to throw a bomb at Ben real quick.”
In the course of preparing for the hearing on ZTA 20-01, which the Council approved unanimously after Mr. Neal discussed it with Mr. Gallop, Mr. Neal had read some of the zoning ordinance changes proposed by Chad Meadows, owner of CodeWright Planners, LLC, of Durham, for the Town Code update/revision.
“Where are we at with CodeWright?” Mr. Neal asked of a disastrous project that dates to September 2015.
The Beacon can tell Mr. Neal exactly where “we” are: Since Jan. 31, 2019, CodeWright’s big, bloated, user-unfriendly 381-page “draft” of a new Town Code has been in Mr. Gallop’s lap, or his court, if you prefer.
At a public forum on Jan. 31, 2019—one of a number that he held in an exhaustive process—Mr. Meadows advised that Town Attorney Ben Gallop would review the draft in February (2019) and that the Town Planning Board would consider it in March and April, with an eye toward recommending those chapters that Mr. Meadows said the Board is required by North Carolina law to recommend. (See The Beacon, 2/1/19.)
That is where “we” still are 18 months later. Neither the Town Council nor the Town Manager followed up with Mr. Gallop and held him accountable—or, alternatively, gave him some assistance. If Mr. Gallop is too busy to do the job, why not outsource it to another attorney or permit a paralegal to do the work with oversight from Mr. Gallop?
The Beacon has spoken about the neglect of the CodeWright draft twice in public comments—once last year, during Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett’s turn as interim town manager and again on Feb. 18, 2020.
In comments during a public hearing on Feb. 18 about the qualifications of the new town manager, we said we would like a manager who follows up on Town business, including the CodeWright project and the land-use plan revision.
”I have not put it as the priority that it’s needed to be,” Mr. Gallop said of his review of the CodeWright’s draft Town Code. Considering what a mess the draft is, we understand why he has avoided this work.
Mr. Gallop said it would take him “two non-stop days of work” to review the zoning chapter, but our understanding has always been that the Town Attorney would review the entire revision, all 381 bloated pages.
Being a nice guy, Councilman Neal told Mr. Gallop, “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot,” and “You can have until December, for all I care.”
But, truthfully, Mr.Gallop should be put on the spot. The Town Council represents a local government, a public entity, and needs to ask tough questions when public monies and public accountability are involved. Mr. Meadows has been extremely well-compensated, and many property owners and residents invested a substantial amount of time in participating in the Code revision draft-preparation process.
There was a public survey about various Town Code issues, with a ranking of priorities, for goodness sake!
Mr. Neal only asked the question that every other member of the Town Council should have asked and had satisfactorily answered some time during the past 18 months.
We believe it is time for the Town to cut its losses. We will pick up with this subject later in the week.
Thank you to everyone who reported on the traffic conditions yesterday during Day One of our third no-left-turn weekend experiment of the summer. We would appreciate hearing from those of you who live on Sea Oats Trail and on other residential streets that backed up yesterday as to when the traffic finally cleared.
Sunday summer cut-through traffic is usually lighter than Saturday summer cut-through traffic. We are hopeful that today no Southern Shores resident will have to contend with a backup on any of the residential streets.
The no-left-turn prohibition is in effect today from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
As always, we welcome your comments.
COVID-19 UPDATE: Dare County reported 12 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, bringing the total to 313, of whom 181 are Dare County residents, and 132 are nonresidents.
The age breakdown of the 313 cases is as follows, according to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services dashboard:
*49 are age 17 and under (about 16 percent)
*75 are ages 18 to 24 (about 24 percent)
*111 are ages 25 to 49 (about 35 percent)
*47 are ages 50 to 64 (about 15 percent)
*31 are age 65 or older (about 10 percent)
Most people who test positive for COVID-19 tend to have minor symptoms, according to Dr. Sheila Davies, director of the DCDHHS. Regardless of their symptoms or lack thereof, people who test positive must isolate in their homes for as long as the DCDHHS–or their home county health department, if they are nonresidents transferred out of the area–tells them to remain in isolation.
Only two people with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized, and each is in critical condition, according to Dr. Davies. There have been fewer than five hospitalizations of locally diagnosed people since the pandemic began.
The issue remains stopping the spread of the virus, which people can do by wearing masks, observing social distancing, washing their hands often, avoiding large gatherings, and being cognizant of situations when spread may occur, such as inside a poorly ventilated restaurant.
Direct contact with infected persons remains the primary means of virus transmission, according to Dr. Davies.
Some homeowners on the east side of South Dogwood Trail have discovered that the new two-way, multi-use sidewalk poses a hazard that they may not have considered: that of a collision with a bicyclist or even a skateboarder or a jogger when they emerge in motor vehicles from their driveways.
This past week warning signs were erected in the right-of-way next to the new five-foot-wide concrete South Dogwood Trail sidewalk, cautioning bicyclists and other people who may be moving quickly on it—skateboarders, scooter riders, roller bladers, even joggers—to “Slow Down” because of a “Hidden Driveway.”
Motorists exiting driveways also must take greater care to account for, and anticipate, people on the sidewalk, traveling in both a southerly and northerly direction. Although driveways are not actually hidden, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other sidewalk users may overlook them and appear suddenly in motorists’ paths, giving drivers little time to react.
Ten warning signs like the one pictured above have been posted along the east side of South Dogwood Trail, five of them in each direction of the north-south residential road.
Although homeowners may not have considered this hazard—certainly none voiced a concern in public hearings about the design of the pathway—the potential for collisions at driveways was foreseeable.
“Multi-use pathways located adjacent to a highway may result in bicycle/motor vehicle conflicts at driveways and with turning traffic at intersections with roadways,” warns the the N.C. Dept. of Transportation in a public-information advisory about bicycle accommodations.
Of course, the major problem with the new sidewalk—or walking path/walking trail, as Town officials often reference it—is that, although it is being used as a two-way, multi-use pathway, it is half the width of a standard two-way, multi-use pathway.
According to the NCDOT, a minimum paved width for a two-way, multi-use pathway is 10 feet. The NCDOT advises that more space should be provided if the pathway will be used often by pedestrians, as the South Dogwood Trail path is.
Multi-use pathways, according to the NCDOT’s definition, are “physically separated from motor vehicle traffic,” which the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk is not in many areas. (See the photo above.) Even in areas where there is separation, the separation is inadequate to ensure safety of sidewalk users.
“Studies have shown,” the NCDOT states, that multi-use pathways that run parallel to roadways “are approximately twice as dangerous for bicyclists as riding in traffic with motor vehicles.”
We have not observed serious cyclists using the new South Dogwood Trail path, but we have seen many casual bicyclists using it, including families out together.
According to the NCDOT, “To be safe and enjoyable, multi-use pathways must be designed according to well-established design standards. These design standards include adequate width for two-directional use by both cyclists and pedestrians, provision of good sight distance, avoidance of steep grades and tight curves that force bicyclists to make awkward movements, and minimal cross-flow by motor vehicles [such as those exiting from driveways].”
The NCDOT recommends that a two-way, multi-use pathway be a 10-foot-wide asphalt path with two-foot crushed stone shoulders on either side.
In the interest of safety—their own, pedestrians’, and that of motorists emerging from driveways—The Beacon does not believe that swiftly moving bicyclists should use the new South Dogwood Trail sidewalk, and children riding their bicycles on it should be cautioned by their parents of the safety hazards.
The NCDOT is more blunt, stating in its advisory: “Sidewalks should never be designated as multi-use pathways.”
No matter what the Town calls the concrete path on South Dogwood Trail, it is still a sidewalk.
THE NO LEFT TURN WEEKEND STARTS AT 11 a.m. TODAY
This morning we have experienced on Hickory Trail a noisy, constant flow of departing traffic, since about 7:30 a.m., most of it traveling at an excessive speed. We look forward to relief.
Motorists will be prohibited from turning left on to South Dogwood Trail from U.S. Hwy. 158-east from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and tomorrow.
Please feel free to comment below on the traffic conditions today in your stretch of Southern Shores. Thank you. Enjoy your day.