2/15/21: TWO TOWN MEETINGS SCHEDULED TOMORROW; PLANNING BOARD TO TACKLE (AGAIN) THE TOWN CODE REWRITE, A 14-MONTH PROJECT THAT HAS TAKEN 5 ½ YEARS SO FAR. Plus, ‘Town Hall’ Is Bothered By Signs Again.

The display of yard signs, such as this one in the Southern Shores woods, is governed by Town Code sec. 36-165. CodeWright’s final rewrite of the Town Code will rework the ordinance, if it conforms to language in an earlier draft.

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 info@southernshores-nc.gov 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.  

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/15/21

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