Consultant Chad Meadows of CodeWright Planners will present an overview of his update and revision of the Southern Shores Town Code of Ordinances to the Town Council at its regular meeting this Tuesday, March 2.
There will be two public-comment periods during Tuesday’s meeting.
Mr. Meadows, who is based in Durham, will speak via Zoom for about 40 minutes about his “Adoption Draft” and then take questions and comments, according to a summary in the meeting packet by Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett, who has been working with Mr. Meadows since the Town Code project began in September 2015.
At the conclusion of Mr. Meadows’s presentation, the Town Council will “begin to discuss a review process and timeline for moving the project forward,” Mr. Haskett explains in his summary.
The Town Planning Board has already taken up for review and comment chapter 4 of the Code Adoption Draft, which is the definitions section. The Planning Board is also legally required to review revised Code chapter 22, which is the zoning chapter; chapter 26, about subdivisions; and chapter 28, about flood damage prevention, and to either recommend the chapters’ approval to the Town Council or not.
The Planning Board will meet at 4 p.m. on Monday, March 15, in the Pitts Center, to start its review of the zoning chapter. This meeting also will be available for live-streaming on the Town’s You Tube website. [3/1/21 UPDATE: The Town announced today that the meeting time has been changed from 5 p.m. to 4 p.m.]
The Town Council must decide Tuesday how to review the chapters that the Planning Board is not considering. Only after the Planning Board has made its recommendation and the Town Council has submitted its substantive revisions and comments to Mr. Haskett and they have been addressed can the Adoption Draft go forward for a public hearing, which is required before its approval.
In Mr. Haskett’s suggested timeline, that hearing is scheduled May 4.
Town Manager Cliff Ogburn told The Beacon in an email that Mr. Meadows is expected to focus Tuesday “on the key changes between current and proposed chapters” of the Code, which are subject to the Town Council’s review.
(For background, see The Beacon, 2/15/21 and 2/18/21.)
Mr. Meadows’s presentation is the only business item on the Town Council’s meeting agenda.
As is customary with every first-Tuesday meeting of the Council, Town staff members will give their reports. We would expect Mr. Ogburn to address the Town’s followup to consultant J.M. Teague’s traffic study, which was submitted Feb. 12, in his report.
Another Dare County resident has died of COVID-19, according to today’s Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services’ dashboard, bringing the total number of local fatalities to 14. Seven of those deaths have occurred in this month alone.
(See The Beacon, 2/19/21, for background.)
The only information given by the DCDHHS about the deceased person was that he or she had been hospitalized.
Today’s DCDHHS dashboard also reported eight new COVID-19 cases, the most since Feb. 17, when the single-day total was 13. Since then cases have trended downward, averaging 3.7 per day during the past seven days.
All eight cases are local residents who are now in home isolation. Half of them are between the ages of 25 and 49; two are age 17 or younger; one is age 18 to 24, and one, age 50 to 64.
North Carolina’s modified stay-at-home order, which includes a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, will “be lifted,” and some COVID-19 restrictions on personal activities and businesses—notably, those affecting indoor bars and on-premises alcohol sales—will be “eased,” Friday at 5 p.m., but the state mask mandate and other “health and safety protocols” will remain in effect, Governor Roy Cooper announced at an afternoon briefing today.
In his new Executive Order 195, signed today, the Governor rescinds the modified-stay-at-home order, which is a Phase 3 order that was issued on Dec. 10 and twice extended, and allows indoor bars to reopen at 30 percent capacity, with a cap of 250 people, and on-premises alcohol sales to be extended two hours until 11 p.m.
Executive Order 195, which supersedes Executive Order 181 and its extensions, also increases the size of mass social gatherings from 10 people to 25 people for indoor gatherings and from 25 people to 50 people for outdoor gatherings, and loosens other restrictions currently in effect.
“Encouraged” by COVID-19 “metrics trends [that] have declined and stabilized,” as well as by the number of North Carolinians who have been vaccinated, Governor Cooper cautiously continued today the “dimmer switch” approach he has used in the state’s phased reopening since its early-pandemic shutdown.
More than 2.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and the Governor said today that more than half of all North Carolinians age 65 or older have been vaccinated.
Under EO 195, which expires at 5 p.m. on March 26, indoor businesses that have been operating at 30 percent capacity, such as movie theaters, certain indoor sports arenas, and indoor amusement parks, will continue to operate at this capacity, but there now will be a 250-person cap—rather than a 100-person cap—in effect, just as there will be with indoor bars.
Indoor sports arenas that seat up to 5,000 people will be permitted to operate at 15 percent capacity, subject to health and safety protocols.
Outdoor businesses, such as sports venues and other high-capacity arenas that have been operating at 30 percent capacity, also will continue to do so, but they will not be subject to a cap in the number of people.
New COVID-19 cases statewide have been declining since they hit a peak on Jan. 10, according to Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NCDHHS, who participated in the briefing, and, although “still high,” the numbers are back to those seen in November, before the holiday surge, she said.
Today’s NCDHHS dashboard numbers show 3,346 new COVID-19 cases, a positivity rate of 6.0 percent, 1,530 hospitalizations, and 11,074 deaths. Yesterday, 1,514 new cases and 1,563 hospitalizations were reported, and the positivity rate was 6.2 percent. One hundred nine more people died of the coronavirus during the past 24 hours.
Governor Cooper did not increase the occupancy limits of gyms, restaurants, retail stores, museums, personal care providers, and many other businesses and recreation spaces. They continue to be restricted to 50 percent capacity with specific safety protocols in place, including six-foot distancing among patrons, the installation of signage to ensure distancing, the use of disinfectants, and COVID-19 monitoring of staff.
Today’s actions, the Governor said, are “a show of trust and confidence [in North Carolinians,] but we must remain cautious.”
“We are slowing the spread” of COVID-19, said Dr. Cohen, but the new COVID-19 variants, all of which are in North Carolina, “are a wild card.”
When asked by a reporter to characterize the presence of the variants in the state, Dr. Cohen did not directly respond.
Both state officials stressed the public’s continued observance of the “three W’s” and their own decision-making according to what the science shows.
“We’re making progress,” Governor Cooper said, “. . . but we’re far from the end of this pandemic.”
In other news, Dr. Cohen responded to a reporter’s question about the use of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine in North Carolina by saying she is anticipating receiving from 30,000 to 60,000 doses of the one-dose vaccine as early as next week. She did not say how the vaccine might be distributed statewide.
According to Dr. Cohen, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration should decide this week to give the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Emergency Use Authorization, and a vaccine advisory committee of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet this weekend to discuss it.
Supply in North Carolina of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines continues to be “incredibly limited,” she said, hampered most recently by severe winter weather.
FLAGS AT HALF-STAFF: Governor Cooper ordered all U.S. and North Carolina flags at state facilities to be flown at half-staff this week, until sunset Friday, in honor and remembrance of the more than 500,000 people in this country who have died of COVID-19.
Another Dare County resident has died of COVID-19, according to today’s Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services’ dashboard. Other than reporting the death, the DCDHHS said only that the person had been hospitalized.
Since the DCDHHS began reporting COVID-19 deaths last March, 13 Dare County residents have died because of the coronavirus—eight of them in just the past seven weeks. Even more striking, six local residents have died of COVID-19 in February alone.
The DCDHHS has failed to give any explanation about why the number of COVID-19 fatalities locally have increased so dramatically since the new year began.
Between March 15 and Nov. 14, 2020, the DCDHHS reported just three COVID-19 deaths. Two deaths were reported in November during the start of the autumn case surge.
The Beacon appreciates that lives lost to COVID-19 are more than statistics, although they often may seem that way in news reports . We are saddened to learn of any death caused by this devastating disease.
Statewide, 10,820 individuals have lost their lives because of COVID-19, the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services reported today.
J.M. Teague’s “Town of Southern Shores Congestion and Cut-Through Traffic Analysis” is now available on the Town website by clicking on the News tab on the home page, which is https://www.southernshores-nc.gov.
See The Beacon earlier today for a background article.
The Beacon thanks Town Manager Cliff Ogburn for his courtesy in keeping us informed about the status of the report and for his prompt posting of the report on the website for the public’s review and information.
As we reported earlier, the Town Council will discuss the traffic engineer’s report, as well as recommendations by the citizens’ cut-through traffic committee, at a meeting whose date is yet to be determined. We suggest that you hold your comments for the Council until that meeting. Until the committee files its report, all of the recommended cut-through traffic-mitigation and -prevention options will not be on the table.
The only way to prevent cut-through traffic on Southern Shores’ residential streets during summertime weekends is to erect physical barriers and/or diverters, the Town’s traffic engineering consultant concludes in a report filed Feb. 12.
Chief among the barrier recommendations made by J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning of Waynesville, N.C. is the placement of a gate on South Dogwood Trail that would operate both north- and southbound and be closed on peak-season Saturdays unless the Town decides to enable access by local traffic and emergency vehicles.
At The Beacon’s request, Town Manager Cliff Ogburn sent us Monday a link to Teague’s “Town of Southern Shores Congestion and Cut-Through Traffic Analysis,” which consists of about 18 pages of text and 450 pages of data-filled appendices.
He further informed us that the traffic analysis will be online for the public to access as soon as Teague makes some corrections that the Town Manager has identified. We will let you know when this occurs.
After considerable thought, The Beacon has decided not to report on Teague’s report—not to critique the whole of it—but to let you read it and draw your own conclusions.
We will say, however, that we endorse the use of gates as mitigation devices, but we are mindful that there must be sufficient turn-around space before them and there must be no possibility of an alternate route that allows drivers to work around them.
A gate on South Dogwood Trail, for example, is ineffective if a driver can turn left on Pintail Lane, then turn right on Ginguite Trail, and connect up again with South Dogwood at the cemetery.
Further, the impact that a gate on South Dogwood Trail would have on the volume of traffic that diverts on to Juniper Trail or off of Duck Road on to Porpoise Run, Dolphin Run, East Dogwood Trail, Hickory Trail, and other intersecting residential roads must be considered. Moving the cut-through traffic entrance farther up the road is not a solution.
According to Mr. Ogburn, a date for the J.M. Teague study to be presented to the Town Council has not been set yet, but he is “working on it.” The presentation will not be as soon as the Council’s March 2 meeting, he said.
Mr. Ogburn also said it is his understanding that the Town Council would like to get the recommendations of the citizens’ Exploratory Cut-Through Traffic Committee soon, so that it may discuss all recommendations at the same meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey, who is one of the committee’s Town Council sponsors, expressed this desire at the Council’s Feb. 2 meeting. (See The Beacon, 2/4/21, 2/2/21.)
The Beacon was supportive of the traffic committee’s request, made Dec. 10, to have an information session with J.M Teague engineers before either the committee or the consultant prepared its conclusions. We were discouraged by the Town’s cancellation of the information session apparently because the Town Council thought it might compromise the consultant’s independence.
Having read J.M. Teague’s analysis, we believe that such a session would have helped the consultant to better understand the Town’s residential road network and to better tailor its recommendations to the community’s way of life.
While a fresh pair of eyes and independent thinking are of value in a problem-solving analysis, “outsiderness” can introduce new problems.
We were supportive of the information session, but we are not supportive of any further delay in the traffic committee’s issuance of a report.
Authorized by the Town Council in the summer of 2019, the Exploratory Cut-Through Traffic Committee has been dormant throughout the pandemic, failing to hold any public meetings, remotely or otherwise. It also never posted on the Town website minutes of the meetings that it did hold.
The Beacon appreciates how difficult it has been to conduct business during the pandemic, as well as the personal hardships that some people have experienced, but we also recognize the obligation that a government-sanctioned committee has to fulfill its purpose within a reasonable time. We’re sticklers for good government.
The committee must produce a formal written report of its conclusions now. An extemporaneously delivered speech to the Town Council will not suffice.
With the Council’s first fiscal year 2021-22 budget workshop expected to be held in April, time is of the essence.
FOLLOWUP ON THE PAVEMENT CONDITION SURVEY: The Beacon would like to commend the Town Council, especially Councilman Matt Neal, and Town Manager Cliff Ogburn for moving forward with a new pavement condition survey of the Town’s roads and a capital improvement plan that will allow for an adequate annual budget to perform necessary road repairs and maintenance. (See The Beacon, 2/17/21.)
After the civil engineering firm conducts the road pavement survey, the Town will have a 20-year history of its roads, Mr. Ogburn explained at Tuesday’s Council workshop. The Town will know the condition that roads and segments of roads are in; what has been done to them in the past; what needs to be done to them in the future, and when it needs to be done, Mr. Ogburn said. Street improvements will be based predominantly on need and proper timing, not on anyone’s personal preference.
There will be data informing the Town how roads were built and how they need to maintained or rebuilt. This is progress.
PLANNING BOARD REVIEW OF CODEWRIGHT’S ‘ADOPTION DRAFT’ OF NEW TOWN CODE: The Town Planning Board completed at its Tuesday meeting a review of the definition section, chapter 4, of the November 2020 “Adoption Draft” of the rewritten Town Code of Ordinances submitted by consultant CodeWright Planners.
The Board will take up the revised and all-important zoning chapter, which is chapter 22, on Tuesday, March 15, at 5 p.m. in the Pitts Center.
Thanks to Mr. Ogburn and Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett, the Planning Board’s review sessions are being live-streamed on You Tube.
We are not sure yet how to cover either the Planning Board’s review sessions, which, in addition to chapters 4 and 22, will address chapter 26, subdivisions; and chapter 28, flood damage prevention, or how to critique the Adoption Draft.
At the Board’s Tuesday meeting, Mr. Haskett—who is the chief coordinator and chief copy and substantive editor on this massive project—announced that CodeWright principal Chad Meadows will virtually attend the March 2 Town Council meeting to discuss the chapters of the Town Code that the Planning Board is not reviewing.
We followed up this reference with Mr. Ogburn, who explained in an email: “The thinking is that the Council can go ahead and start their review of those other chapters while waiting on the Planning Board to do their work. The entire code will likely have to be adopted at the same time though. But the Council can get some of their review behind them.”
Mr. Meadows, Mr. Ogburn said, will “do a project refresh to jog [Council members’] memory and then focus on the key changes between current and proposed chapters” of the Town Code.
As for jogging memories, Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Leo Holland were on the Town Council in 2015 when Mr. Meadows started the Town Code update/revision, but Ms. Morey, Mr. Neal, and Councilman Jim Conners were not.
Ms. Morey, however, was a member of the Planning Board when it spent more than a year, from April 2017 to May 2018, reviewing revised Town Code sections within its purview in an earlier draft submitted by CodeWright.
(In hindsight, we realize that this delay served the legislative process well, enabling zoning changes to be made democratically via the Planning Board and Town Council, rather than via suggestions by a hired outside planner.)
(The Beacon erred in stating in an earlier blog that the Planning Board reviewed the entire Town Code revision. It did not. It reviewed only selected chapters, just as the current Board is doing. We apologize for the error.)
Mr. Haskett asked the Planning Board members Tuesday whether they wanted to have Mr. Meadows meet virtually with them, and they declined.
While we understand why the Board may view Mr. Meadows’s presence as intrusive or as a hindrance to their progress, we urge the members to reconsider. An overview by Mr. Meadows of the “before” and “after” of Code sections within the chapters they are reviewing could save the members time and help them to focus.
They can see how effective this intervention could be for them by tuning into the Town Council’s March 2 interaction with Mr. Meadows.
Planning Board Chairman Andy Ward, Vice Chairman Tony DiBernardo, regular member Lynda Burek, and alternates Robert McClendon and Jan Collins served on the Board Tuesday.
We mean no disrespect to the alternates when we say that we hope regular members David Neal, who is the only current member of the Planning Board who participated in the previous CodeWright review, and Ed Lawler attend the review sessions on chapter 22.
Mr. Neal participated in every important zoning chapter change that was made by the Town Council, with the Planning Board’s recommendation, in the past five years and can ensure that CodeWright’s Adoption Draft faithfully records them.
Mr. Lawler arrived on the Board in January 2019 in time to deliberate upon zoning text amendments pertaining to nonconforming lots and high-occupancy houses, as well as to hear arguments for and against regulating special events in residences.
Both bring the necessary institutional memory to the task at hand.
Tasked with choosing a civil engineering firm to conduct a pavement condition survey of the town’s 37.6 miles of roads, the Town Council yesterday gave Town Manager Cliff Ogburn all of the authority he needs to negotiate and contract with a firm, without actually choosing one of the firms he recommended.
The Beacon found this odd. The oversight occurred because Mayor Tom Bennett said, after Mr. Ogburn’s report on the pavement study and the firms who applied for the job, “We need a motion,” and then explained the motion that was needed without actually making a motion.
We consider what the Mayor did a procedural irregularity. And it is not the first time he has done this.
The Mayor phrased the “needed” motion as “to authorize the Town Manager to enter negotiations for a scope of work and costs to perform a pavement condition study and capital improvement plan.” But he omitted the name of the civil engineering firm with which Mr. Ogburn would negotiate.
He then asked at the end of this non-motion: “Do we need to add any more to that?”
By the time the Council finished adding language about money to fund the pavement study and capital improvement plan, the Mayor was referring to his non-motion as a motion, and Councilman Jim Conners had seconded it.
Mr. Ogburn, in consultation with a Town staff committee, recommended two engineering firms from among nine that applied to a Request for Qualifications proposal: SEPI Engineering & Construction, Inc. (“SEPI”) of Raleigh, which the committee ranked No. 1, and LaBella Associates, a Charlotte firm. (See The Beacon, 2/13/21, for background.)
Yesterday’s workshop was clearly held for the purpose of selecting an engineering firm.
We have blanched before when Mayor Bennett has said “We need a motion” and then read prepared language, telling the Town Council the content of the “needed” motion, instead of allowing a Council member to make a motion of his or her choosing.
This is simply not proper procedure. The Mayor’s request should be open-ended in the form of “Is there a motion?” He should not be telling the Council what motion to make. If he chooses to make his own motion, he can do so.
Had Councilman Matt Neal, who said during discussion about Mr. Ogburn’s report that “I’m happy with staff’s recommendation”—meaning, with the selection of SEPI—made the motion, we believe he would have specified the firm.
Mr. Neal also pointed out after the Mayor’s non-motion that money for the survey could be taken out of the FY 2020-21 budget’s “line item for streets improvement.”
Eventually, the Mayor rephrased his non-motion—with help from his colleagues—as a motion, with all of the necessary instructions, except the name of the engineering firm, and Mr. Conners seconded it.
No one addressed the obvious gap, and the motion passed unanimously.
Presumably, Mr. Ogburn will contract with SEPI and report back to the Town Council. He was instructed by the Council not to exceed $35,000 in cost, a figure that he himself offered as a ceiling.
While we appreciate that Mayor Bennett may be experiencing memory difficulties, we urge him to leave complicated motions to the rest of the Town Council and to refrain from telling his colleagues what motion is “needed.” To do otherwise suggests undue influence, which we do not believe he intends.
UNEASE ABOUT EASEMENTS AND MUNICIPAL SERVICE DISTRICTS
This needed-motion “curiosity” was one of several that transpired yesterday during the Council’s 19-minute-long workshop session.
In another, oceanfront property owner Lisa Emig, of 1 Mockingbird Lane, spoke during what amounted to a delayed public-comment period about the voluntary easement request that she had received from the Town for access during the 2022 beach-nourishment project and perpetually thereafter.
Ms. Emig started by saying that “It seems that my neighbor next to me did not receive an easement agreement, and I’m questioning why I was the only one within my area.”
Mayor Bennett responded by deferring to Mr. Ogburn and saying—unsatisfactorily, we believe—that he had nothing to do with the easement mailings.
Are we to believe that the Mayor of Southern Shores does not know how beach-nourishment easements are being handled? How can that be? Why isn’t he informed?
Mr. Neal and Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey, who are the strongest proponents of townwide beach nourishment in 2022, quickly sought to discourage Ms. Emig from continuing with her questions, both of them asking whether she was going to make comments—which is a proper use of the public-comment period—or ask questions, which is an improper use.
Ms. Morey advised Ms. Emig firmly, but courteously, that she should direct any questions to Mr. Ogburn after the meeting.
Ms. Emig continued by saying that she had “concerns” about the wording of the easement, including the use of the word “perpetual”; about whether her grant of the easement entitles “access to my property by anybody”; and “if the construction will involve removal of my property line.”
The Mayor picked up on what the Mayor Pro Tem said and steered Ms. Emig to the Town Manager. He also referenced the March 16 public hearing on the proposed municipal service districts (“MSDs”), with which Ms. Emig indicated she was familiar.
The only Council member who showed any empathy for Ms. Emig—at least publicly during the meeting—was Councilman Conners, and we thank him for that.
Here was a confused, obviously worried, but respectful and well-intended Southern Shores property owner who had made a special effort to attend a 9 a.m. meeting, only to receive a cool reception from the elected board. The Dare County GIS listing for her property suggests that she also is likely a nonresident.
To his credit, Councilman Conners reached out to her, but what he said was curious.
“The whole MSD district is undergoing a legal process right now,” he said. “We’ve gotten emails on this . . . The whole thing, it could change.”
Seeking to communicate further with Ms. Emig, Mr. Conners continued: “I’m very hesitant to address too much your concerns right now because [of the MSD “legal process”]. Everything could change.”
If there appears now to be a three-person majority on the Town Council that would vote to significantly change the scope of the 2022 beach nourishment project and/or alter the boundaries of the MSDs, then we strongly urge that majority to take that vote March 2.
Property owners should not have to be burdened by the stress and distress, inconvenience, time demands, and travel expenses involved in preparing for and attending the March 16 hearing, which is a major hearing with significant financial consequences for many.
It may be easy for the Town Council to show up and listen to public speakers, but we can assure Council members that it is not easy for those of us who will speak. It is a hardship.
We also would speculate that it was a hardship for Ms. Emig to appear at the Council workshop and raise the questions she did. Confrontation is not easy for most people.
Speaking as a former attorney—my law license is active in Maryland, but no longer in North Carolina—I would advise all Southern Shores property owners that they should not sign a document that has language in it that makes them uncomfortable. The easements that the Town seeks—whether from selected oceanfront property owners or not—are strictly voluntary, not mandatory.
The Beacon found much to dislike in the draft perpetual easement that Town Attorney Ben Gallop prepared by culling language, he said, from easements used in other Dare County towns, as well as in Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, and Topsail Beach. (See The Beacon, 10/2/20; 7/26/20.)
The Town Council unanimously approved Mr. Gallop’s draft easement, with some modifications, on Oct. 6, 2020, but it did not sign off on a rewrite, and it never reviewed a rewrite at a subsequent meeting—presumably because it also unanimously gave Mr. Ogburn the authority to proceed with trying to procure easements from oceanfront property owners. (See The Beacon, 10/15/20.)
At the Council’s Feb. 2, 2021 meeting, Mr. Ogburn reported that 45 of the 185 easements required of oceanfront property owners for the Town’s 2022 beach-nourishment project had been mailed. (See The Beacon, 2/5/21.)
At no time has the Town Manager publicly explained that some oceanfront property owners will be receiving easement requests and others will not. If this is true, he should inform the public.
I also would advise property owners that the fact that other people in other Dare County towns have signed similar easements—a point brought up yesterday by Councilman Neal—is irrelevant. Their property situations are different—no town is like Southern Shores—and they may have been negligent in protecting their own interests or received poor advice.
We also wonder if there is a town in Dare County that Mr. Gallop and his legal colleagues at Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland do not represent.
Property owners in other towns may perceive more benefit in granting an irrevocable and perpetual easement than a Southern Shores oceanfront property owner would. The beaches in Nags Head, for example, have experienced extensive erosion, unlike the beaches in Southern Shores, which are stable except at the southern end.
An easement conveys a legal right to use the property of another as specified in the granting document. A property owner should understand the terms of the use before agreeing to such a conveyance; and a town governing board should want the constituent-owners it represents to have that understanding.
Today’s 5 p.m. Town Planning Board meeting, which is being held to start the Board’s review of sections of consultant CodeWright Planners’ proposed draft of a new Town Code of Ordinances, will be live-streamed, according to Town Manager Cliff Ogburn.
Mr. Ogburn had already been discussing the possibility of live-streaming today’s Planning Board meeting with Wes Haskett, Town Planning Director and Deputy Town Manager, when The Beacon contacted him yesterday. We thank them both for enabling this convenience.
Traditionally, Planning Board meetings are neither live-streamed nor videotaped. The only way to determine what occurred at a Board meeting, if one cannot attend it, has been to read the meeting minutes, which are posted on the Town website.
All You Tube livestreams of public meetings are videotapes that may be viewed later on the same website. This is a far superior record of the proceedings than minutes of the meeting.
As The Beacon reported yesterday, the Planning Board will take up first the revised definitions section of the Town Code, which is chapter 4. It plans to review three other chapters that fall within its purview at subsequent meetings: chapter 22, zoning; chapter 26, subdivisions; and chapter 28, flood damage prevention.
The Town Code draft the Planning Board will be reviewing is dated Nov. 24, 2020, and it known as the “adoption draft.” You will find it on the Town website.
The meeting will be held in the Pitts Center subject to COVID-19 safety protocols.
The Southern Shores Planning Board will meet tomorrow at 5 p.m. to begin its substantive review of consultant CodeWright Planners’ final draft of the Town Code of Ordinances update and revision.
The Planning Board will take up first the revised definitions section of the Town Code, which is chapter 4. It plans to review three other chapters that fall within its purview at subsequent meetings: chapter 22, zoning; chapter 26, subdivisions; and chapter 28, flood damage prevention.
As previewed by The Beacon 2/13/21, the Southern Shores Town Council also will meet tomorrow at 9 a.m. for a workshop session, which will focus on the hiring of a civil engineering firm to perform a pavement condition survey of the town’s roads. The last such survey was done in 2004.
Both meetings will be held in the Pitts Center, with COVID-19 safety protocols in effect.
The Town Council’s meeting will be live-streamed on the Town’s You Tube website and videotaped for later viewing there. You may email public comments to firstname.lastname@example.org before the meeting or appear in person to present them.
Planning Board meetings are not customarily live-streamed or videotaped, but we are hopeful that the Town will make an exception for the Board’s review of CodeWright’s Town Code final draft, especially when it takes up the zoning chapter.
A project launched in 2015 and outlined by the consultant to take 14 months, CodeWright’s update/revision of the Southern Shores Town Code has been in the works for nearly 5 ½ years. The Town signed a contract with CodeWright Planners, a Durham-based company operated by principal Chad Meadows, in early September 2015.
A once-highly engaged Southern Shores public, which was particularly invested in potential zoning changes, has fallen by the wayside in the past five years, either frustrated by an inordinate amount of delay in the revision process, much of it engendered by the Planning Board, in its first review of CodeWright’s product, and by the Town Attorney; or else satisfied that the Town Council has addressed many of its concerns by amending or enacting new zoning ordinances in the interim.
(Since the project began, the Code ordinances on nonconforming lots, building height restrictions, allowable lot coverage, setbacks, and other zoning issues have been taken up and revised by the Town Council. The Council also has enacted restrictions on maximum overnight occupancy in vacation homes.)
In fairness to both the Planning Board and Town Attorney Ben Gallop, CodeWright submitted an inferior product that needed a thorough going-over.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey, who was on the Planning Board when it spent more than a year critiquing the “final” Town Code assessment that CodeWright submitted in October 2016, called it “an unacceptable work product” in an interview with The Beacon and said that the Town Council “dumped” it on the Planning Board, which was tasked with reviewing the entire draft.
We agree with Ms. Morey. Her familiarity with the CodeWright product should help to inform the Council’s eventual decision-making on its approval, however.
If the long delay were not enough of a damper, the interested public that remains now must contend with the COVID-19 pandemic. Few people are currently motivated to attend Planning Board meetings, which once commanded healthy (no pun intended) audiences whenever zoning issues were being discussed.
In December 2015-January 2016, when the CodeWright project was fresh and new, an Internet-based citizens’ survey consisting of 23 questions, many of them zoning-related, drew 932 responses, 137 of which were disallowed because the respondents did not provide street addresses. Subsequently, a well-attended public forum was held by Mr. Meadows on March 7, 2016 to discuss the survey results and the current Town Code.
It was then nearly three years before Mr. Meadows held another public meeting about the Code rewrite. Far fewer property owners attended this meeting—held Jan. 31, 2019—than did the March 2016 forum, but those that did had strong opinions about amending certain sections of the Town Code and about CodeWright’s failure to do so sufficiently.
We recall in particular much discussion about Town Code sec. 22-3, which addresses prohibited noise, and sec. 36-166, about outdoor lighting. Property owners were concerned that CodeWright’s revised sections were not written precisely enough and would not protect residents from noise and light pollution.
The Planning Board will be examining sec. 22-3 in its final review, but not sec. 36-166.
The public will have an opportunity to be heard on CodeWright’s final draft before the Town Council considers approving its enactment. Before that hearing occurs, it would be helpful if residents and property owners could hear the Planning Board’s deliberations either as they take place or on videotape.
SELECTIVE CODE ENFORCEMENT: TOWN NEWSLETTER HAS ANOTHER ‘REMINDER’ ABOUT REMOVING SIGNS IN THE RIGHT OF WAY
The Feb. 12, 2021 Southern Shores Town newsletter contained a “friendly reminder” to property owners that signs are not permitted in town right-of-ways, pursuant to Code sec. 36-165, and should be removed.
The Town has an ordinance that prohibits “obstructions” in the right-of-ways, such as the large stones and rocks that you see in front of property owners’ houses (including Mayor Tom Bennett’s) and/or lining their driveways—as well as fences, yard decorations, posts, poles, etc., etc.—but “Town Hall” has never “reminded” residents that these nuisances, which are numerous in number, need to be removed. (This is Code sec. 28-2.)
This is not the first time that “Town Hall” has been bothered by signage. When the “No! Mini-Hotels” campaign was in its early stages, and more than 100 such signs adorned Southern Shores, “Town Hall” targeted these signs for removal, in a less-than-friendly manner. We had a different town manager then. With a new manager, we thought we were done with such nonsense.
(The litigation against SAGA for its construction of the mini-hotels at 98 Ocean Blvd. and 134 Ocean Blvd. is pending, and so some No! Mini-Hotels signs remain.)
We are discouraged by the “friendly reminder” in the newsletter singling out signs, which clearly convey messages and thus raise a First Amendment issue, which the large bed of rocks in the right of way in front of the Mayor’s house does not. It, like all nuisances, raises a health and safety issue.
The newsletter reminder smacks of selective enforcement of the Town Code and, therefore, of personal bias.
The Beacon supports Town Code enforcement, but not discriminatory Town Code enforcement. With the recent hiring of a full-time building inspector/code enforcement officer, perhaps Town Hall will finally move away from “complaint-driven” code enforcement to objective and consistently applied code-enforcement-department oversight of the town.
Town Hall should be questioning whether the 30-percent lot coverage ordinance or the 15-foot-side-setback ordinance is being violated by new house construction, not expecting residents (neighbors!) to bring such potential violations to its attention. On-site compliance visits by the code enforcement department during new house construction and major renovations should be mandatory. Inspections after the work is done occur far too late.
The Southern Shores Town Council will consider at its upcoming Tuesday morning workshop a recommendation by Town staff to hire a Raleigh civil engineering firm to perform a town-wide pavement condition survey and to develop an associated capital improvement plan for maintenance and repair of the roads.
The firm, SEPI Engineering & Construction, Inc. (“SEPI”), is one of nine that responded to a Request for Qualifications (“RFQ”) for Professional Engineering Services issued by the Town on Dec. 15, after the Town Council voted unanimously to put out an RFQ for an engineering survey of the town’s 37.6 miles of roads.
The last pavement condition survey was conducted in 2004 by the N.C. Institute for Transportation Research and Education, according to minutes from the Oct. 4, 2017, inaugural meeting of the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning (CIIP) Committee, now known as the Streets Committee. (For committee history, see below.)
The Town Council’s workshop will be held at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center, with the usual COVID-19-safety protocols in effect. You may view a livestream of the meeting on the Town’s You Tube website. There will be one public-comment period.
An RFQ proposal evaluation/selection committee consisting of Town Manager Cliff Ogburn, Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett, Public Works Director David Bradley, and Town Engineer Joe Anlauf ranked SEPI No. 1 among all RFQ applicants, according to the packet for Tuesday’s meeting.
LaBella Associates, a Charlotte firm, came in second in the committee’s ranking, which was based on a quantitative scoring of four criteria that included company and personnel experience and qualifications. The committee also reportedly contacted and verified applicants’ references.
The Council’s consideration of the RFQ committee’s recommendations, which also address negotiations with SEPI (or another firm, if the Council chooses one) about the scope of the survey work and its cost, is the sole item of business on Tuesday’s agenda.
The selection of SEPI to serve as the road-survey engineer would appear to be a rubberstamp for the Town Council. According to its impressive RFQ proposal, SEPI provided engineering services to the Town of Nags Head in 2019, when Mr. Ogburn was town manager there, in order to develop its capital improvement plan. (See p. 12 of meeting packet.)
Founded in 2001, SEPI is a woman-owned business that has been recognized by the State of North Carolina as a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB), a designation that signifies its ownership by certain minorities, including women, is at least 51 percent.
The results of the pavement condition survey “will serve to better assist the Town in prioritizing street improvements based on a rational and consistent method of allocating limited resources,” Mr. Ogburn concludes in his agenda item summary, which is in the meeting packet.
We can’t argue with that. In fact, we welcome such an approach, after years of discretionary—and some would argue, biased—decision-making.
Reason, consistency, and objectivity need to be integrated into the Town’s decision-making about which street improvements will be done, why, and when.
We trust the Town Manager is aware of the 2004 survey and will have it to use for a comparative analysis, as well as for an assessment of how streets rebuilt during the past 17 years have held up.
A WORD ON THE HISTORY OF CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PLANNING
After reading Mr. Ogburn’s agenda item summary for Tuesday’s meeting, we feel compelled to recall some town history on The Beacon record.
Before the formation in 2017 of the CIIP Committee, the town had a “Capital Improvement Plan Committee,” which was controlled by Mayor Tom Bennett with input from Town Manager Peter Rascoe, Town Engineer Joe Anlauf, former Public Works Director Rachel Patrick, another Council member selected by the Mayor, and two citizen representatives selected by the Mayor.
The other four members of the Town Council had no say in who served on this committee, as they did with the former CIIP Committee and do now with the Streets Committee. This committee’s meetings, several of which we observed, were essentially Town staff meetings, presided over by Mayor Bennett and attended by non-staff members whom he hand-picked.
The 2015-16 minutes from the Capital Improvement Plan Committee are on the Town website. In 2015, current Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey served on it, at the Mayor’s invitation, as did current Town Councilman Jim Conners.
Ms. Morey eventually resigned; Mr. Conners has served on every capital improvements committee since 2015, first as a citizen representative selected by the Mayor and later, since his November 2017 election to the Council, as a co-chairman.
The Capital Improvement Plan Committee of 2015-17 identified the streets that needed improvement, purportedly based on first-hand observations—but residents’ personal requests also held sway, the minutes make clear—and then prioritized them. Streets that showed tree root upheaval and cracking and had stormwater drainage problems reportedly received the committee’s attention.
The process was decidedly informal and subjective. The Town Council as a whole did little more than approve the committee’s recommendations.
When this discretionary process resulted in a 2015 decision to destroy dozens of large trees lining the west end of Fairway Drive, which is a dead-end street off of South Dogwood Trail that the committee identified for rebuilding, the public became involved in it. Intense public protest also greeted the committee/staff/Council decision to re-do the intersection of South, North, and East Dogwood trails, a project that destroyed more large, old trees.
Three Town Council members who allowed these “improvements” to occur, despite considerable public opposition, lost their bids for re-election in November 2015.
It took another two years, however, before the Mayor’s Capital Improvement Plan Committee was replaced by the CIIP Committee, which has five citizen-members on it, each appointed by a Council member, in addition to two Council co-chairs.
Until the CIIP Committee appointments of January 2020, Mayor Bennett controlled this committee as a co-chairman, and selected the co-chair who would serve with him.
The CIIP Committee inherited a priority list of the target street projects identified by the previous committee.
Former Town Manager Peter Rascoe and/or Town Engineer Anlauf typically ran the CIIP meetings for Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Rascoe recorded the meeting minutes.
The CIIP committee has been re-conceptualized by the new Town Council as an entity referred to variously as the Streets Committee or the Streets Improvement Committee. It is co-chaired by Councilman Conners and Councilman Matt Neal.
It is unclear to The Beacon what the Streets Committee’s purpose and value are. The committee’s decision at its Jan. 21 meeting not to move forward in the current fiscal year with the postponed Sea Oats Trail improvement project was ignored by a unanimous Town Council at its Feb. 2 meeting.
Further, no minutes of the committee’s meetings are being reported, even though it is an official committee of the Town Council. This has to change. There is no excuse for the Town failing to keep and post minutes from this committee. It is ignoring the public record—something no government should ever do.
The Budget for Capital Improvements
Since the Town’s fiscal year 2018-19 budget, the annual capital improvements budget has been determined by a set-aside of five cents of the Town property tax rate, which in FY 2018-19 and FY 2019-20 was 22 cents on every $100 of assessed property value.
The Town Council unanimously approved the five-cent policy at a Feb. 20, 2018 strategic planning workshop, upon motion by then-Councilman Gary McDonald, who observed that the Town always had insufficient funds budgeted for capital projects.
In FY 2018-19, the five-cent, set-aside revenue came to $654,870; in FY 2019-20, it was $662,340.
The Town Council eliminated capital improvements in the FY 2020-21 budget because of concerns over a revenue shortfall during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In voting recently to proceed with the Sea Oats Trail rebuild—from Eleventh Avenue to Duck Road—the Town Council approved funding the project with monies from the Town’s Unassigned Fund Balance, not from a capital budget.
Before the five-cent policy took effect, the annual capital improvement budget was determined by Town staff, including the Public Works Director, the Finance Director, and the Town Manager, and then approved by the Town Council upon its recommendation.
In FY 17-18, the budget appropriation for capital projects was $575,000. In FY 2016-17 and 2015-16, it was $516,000. (We believe these figures were derived from a set-aside of four cents from the then-current tax rate, but we can only confirm through capital improvement committee minutes that the FY 2016-17 budget appropriation was.)
Mr. McDonald told The Beacon in an email yesterday that he regretted not choosing a higher set-aside than five cents.
The former Councilman, whose term expired in 2019, sought to increase the annual budgetary amount for improvements a year later by using a different formula, but a 3-2 Council majority did not agree with what he proposed and did not deem it necessary to increase the tax set-aside.