The Town Council gave Town Manager Cliff Ogburn permission at its meeting last night to cancel the two remaining Sunday left-turn bans at the U.S. Hwy. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection after he presented traffic-volume data for late June and July that he said suggested the Town is not getting much “bang for the buck” on Sundays.
The Council also authorized Mr. Ogburn to install local-traffic-only barricades on Juniper Trail in Chicahauk and on Ocean Boulevard, at the Duck Road split, bringing the number of such barricades in use during the weekends to 10.
To arrive at his conclusion about Sunday, Mr. Ogburn used Wednesday as a typical day and compared Wednesday traffic-count data with Sunday traffic-count data.
For one Saturday/Sunday and Wednesday period in late June, he reported, 439 more vehicles cut through Wednesday on the residential roads than did on Sunday. In mid-July, only 26 more vehicles cut through on Sunday than did on Wednesday.
In a blog dated Wed., June 23, we wrote: “As of today, you can add Wednesday to the days when summer vacationer traffic cuts through Southern Shores on South Dogwood Trail.”
Was that the Wednesday when the volume of cut-through traffic on Wednesday exceeded the Sunday volume? If so, it was not a typical Wednesday. Beach conditions were poor, and Corolla was holding a two-day Under the Oaks Art Festival.
If it was the following Wednesday, June 30, it marked the beginning of a long July 4 weekend.
To give meaning to statistics that Mr. Ogburn called the “Sunday difference” in his data, context is definitely needed. The weather is always a factor in the traffic load.
We do not support the suspension of the left-turn ban on Sunday, and we expressed our opinion during public comments at the meeting. We also spoke afterward with Mr. Ogburn, who said he would make a “game-time decision.”
The cost of setting up and taking down the barrels blocking the left-turn lane on U.S. 158 is $3900 for the weekend, according to Mr. Ogburn. Please see our commentary at the end of this post for more about the cancellation.
Mr. Ogburn spoke at length last night about the Town’s traffic management this summer, and we asked him after the meeting about the use of gates to prevent cut-through traffic.
We will take up his presentation and his response to our question about gating later in this blog. First, we would like to cover other news.
(You may view the Town Council meeting videotape at (47) Southern Shores Town Council Meeting-August 3, 2021 – YouTube)
MARKETPLACE UPDATE: Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett reported that Aston Properties, which owns the Marketplace and last month appeared before the Planning Board to discuss preliminary site redevelopment plans that would result in the demolition of a wing of the shopping center and the construction of a 24,000-square-foot Marshalls department store, has not yet filed a revised site plan with the Town.
(See The Beacon, 7/20/21, for background.)
The Planning Board voiced significant concerns in its July 19 meeting about increased stormwater runoff into the canal behind the Marketplace as a result of the proposed construction and quizzed L. Karen Partee, Aston’s vice president of construction and development, about the company’s use of pervious pavement in the parking lot, which would be reconfigured to add 27 spaces.
Aston’s proposed redevelopment, which also includes the construction of a 6,000-square-foot retail space next to the Marshalls store, would cover at least 10,000 more square feet of ground area.
The Southern Shores Town Code permits a maximum 67 percent lot coverage of a “group development” in the commercial district, provided it dedicates more than 5 percent of the total lot coverage to permeable pavement. If it does not, then the maximum allowable lot coverage is 60 percent. (Code sec. 36-207.)
This ordinance was changed in 2016 at the request of Aston Properties, when it sought, and received, a conditional use permit (CUP) to redevelop the Marketplace with two drive-through businesses.
Five years ago, the Town Council approved a CUP, which the Planning Board unanimously recommended, that allowed Aston to have drive-through lanes at an expanded CVS/pharmacy and at Starbucks—both of which would be relocated.
Aston’s plan was to build a 7,210-square-foot four-tenant building, with a drive-through Starbucks, another restaurant, and two new retail spaces on Hwy. 158 between the Wells Fargo Bank and the main Marketplace entrance, and an expanded 13,225-square-foot CVS with a drive-through at the west end of the shopping center where Starbucks currently is.
The Town Council not only changed the commercial maximum lot coverage ordinance to accommodate Aston—by a 3-2 vote, with former Council members Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald objecting—it allowed drive-through businesses in Southern Shores for the first time.
According to the minutes of a Jan. 5, 2016 Town Council meeting about the three zoning text amendments (ZTAs) Aston sought for its redevelopment, Ms. Partee reportedly stated that “CVS/pharmacy and Starbucks are actively looking for another location if the changes [can]not be accommodated.”
The 2016 redevelopment was also supposed to update the look of the Marketplace and make other changes in order to keep the then-current tenants.
Aston’s CUP expired after two years. In 2018, when we did some research on what happened to the drive-through redevelopment plan, we learned only that a problem subsequently had arisen with the septic system at the Marketplace. We have not had time recently to follow this up.
Mr. Haskett said at last night’s meeting that Aston has “up until the week before the [Planning Board’s Aug. 16] meeting” to file its revised site plan and be scheduled on the Board’s meeting agenda.
Currently on the Board’s Aug. 16 agenda, Mr. Haskett said, is the consideration of “potential requirements” for produce stands in the commercial district and action on proposed Zoning Text Amendment 21-08, which rewrites the Town’s ordinance on signage. (See Code sec. 36-165.)
The Beacon will publish a preview of the Planning Board meeting next week.
BEACH NOURISHMENT UPDATE: Although he spent most of his detailed report to the Town Council on his lead-off topic of traffic management, Mr. Ogburn also announced that the construction documents for the 2022 beach nourishment project are ready, and will be on the Town website sometime today, and that a “pre-bid notice” went out last month.
The Town is holding a mandatory pre-bid meeting with dredging contractors on Aug. 12 and expects to award the construction contract on Sept. 7, he said.
Mr. Ogburn last night displayed an illustration showing that the “landward limit” of the sand fill project will be “all berms,” he said: No oceanfront property owner’s steps or beach walkovers will be affected.
Property owners will be able to see from the construction documents exactly what will occur at their individual properties, he said.
According to the Town Manager, a separate contract will be awarded for the installation of two rows of sand fences on the Town’s beaches from Fourth Avenue to the Southern Shores-Kitty Hawk line.
TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT TO DATE AND GOING FORWARD
Mr. Ogburn was very thorough in reviewing the traffic-mitigation measures that he has taken thus far and how they appear to have affected traffic flow on different cut-through streets, according to the number of vehicles that traveled along them.
The Town Manager effectively used a PowerPoint presentation, which began with photographs of vehicles idling bumper-to-bumper along residential roads. He asked the Town Council and other Southern Shores residents who do not experience daylong weekend congestion to imagine how they would feel if they did.
In addition to placing physical impediments along the South Dogwood-East Dogwood route, Mr. Ogburn said, he has been participating in a program called Partner with Waze for Cities that allows him to edit maps of Southern Shores on the weekends to show anyone who uses the Waze app that the cut-through streets are closed.
The vehicle-count data showed that the left-turn ban combined with local-traffic-only signs and barricades along the cut-through route have helped some of the people some of the time.
The vehicle counts show that residents on Hickory Trail, between East Dogwood and Hillcrest Drive, never get a break, but residents on Hillcrest Drive, Sea Oats Trail, and Wax Myrtle Trail—depending on the block—sometimes do.
Asked by Mayor Tom Bennett whether he thought the local-traffic-only barricades had improved conditions for residents, Mr. Ogburn replied, “It depends on who you ask.”
(The Beacon cited and discussed some of this data in a 7/15/21 blog.)
The Mayor also pointed out that he had not been in favor of the experiment with chains along the East Dogwood Trail median to prevent northbound vacationers from turning left on to Hillcrest Drive, Sea Oats Trail, and Wax Myrtle Trail because of the adverse impact on residents.
Mr. Ogburn said if he were to implement a similar mitigation scheme again, he would prepare better for it, both in terms of alerting residents and in terms of the equipment being used. The chains he used this time were made of plastic, not metal.
The Mayor said he would be in favor of a “combination of measures” to redirect traffic away from the residential roads, provided it had a “minimal effect” on residents.
Mr. Ogburn thoughtfully spoke of “trying to balance the burden” on residents, saying that the traffic, like water, has to go somewhere, when it is blocked. One resident’s decrease in traffic is another resident’s increase. He implicitly encouraged cooperation and understanding among all residents, if the Town is going to continue to “route traffic.”
The Town Manager also emphasized that drivers cannot be ticketed for “going around” the local-traffic-only barricades. People cannot be cited, he said, “simply because they have an out-of-state license plate,” despite what he has heard from discontented residents.
“Locals are getting frustrated by people going around the barricades,” Mr. Ogburn acknowledged.
The intent of the barricades, however, he said, is to deter a percentage of the northbound drivers from using a residential road. The Town knew many would be noncompliant.
Mr. Ogburn presented a proposal by “a citizen” that calls for blocking all travel at the Duck Road intersections of Sea Oats Trail, Eleventh Avenue, Hillcrest Drive, and Hickory Trail, so that everyone driving north on the cut-through route would have to use East Dogwood Trail to reconnect with Hwy. 12.
The “no-exit” approach, as we call it, would employ “temporary cul de sacs” along Duck Road, Mr. Ogburn explained.
It did not garner any support from the Town Council, whose members offered no other ideas for traffic mitigation, when asked by the Town Manager.
In public comment, a resident of Circle Drive drew attention to the backup of cut-through traffic from the eastside Hickory Trail stop sign on Duck Road to Hickory’s intersection with Ocean Boulevard and then south.
(This backup is caused by northbound vacationers seeking to get around a short section of Duck Road by staying straight on Ocean Boulevard at the cell tower. Hence, the installation of the local-traffic-only barricade there, starting this weekend.)
Lionel Richard of Circle Drive also commented about speeding on this section of Ocean Boulevard, which is used by many pedestrians and has several blind curves. He said it would be “nice to see some police presence” on the road.
The Beacon applauds Mr. Ogburn’s empathetic approach, his intervention with Waze, his use of local-traffic-only signs and barricades along the cut-through route, and his experiment with chains along the East Dogwood Trail median to prevent northbound vacationers from turning left on to the side streets.
We also are encouraged that he will lead the Town Council in planning this fall for traffic mitigation measures next summer.
After the meeting, we asked Mr. Ogburn if gating certain streets to restrict access to residents and their guests was an option that he was considering in the future.
The Town Manager said he was concerned about the legality of excluding nonresidents from the Town’s roads, explaining that he had researched the question and had not gleaned a reliable or consistent answer from legal sources. No North Carolina case law exists on the matter as to whether such exclusion would be constitutional.
Mr. Ogburn concluded his traffic report by bringing up the Town’s application to the Dare County Tourism Bureau for a Tourism Impact Grant that would enable it to hire the company, StreetLight Data, to gather more information about the 11,000 vehicles that drive through Southern Shores on a summer weekend.
Principally by using drivers’ smartphones as sensors, StreetLight, he said, can “tell us where the cars are coming from, where they’re going, and how they’re getting there.” (See www.streetlightdata.com.)
A $50,000 grant from the Tourism Bureau, which the Town would not be required to match, would cover an arrangement with StreetLight, as well as other traffic-control expenses, Mr. Ogburn said.
CANCELING LEFT-TURN BAN ON SUNDAY
We based our objection to cancellation of the last two Sunday left-turn bans on our own observations and the testimonials and videotapes of Beacon readers of heavy traffic on Sunday afternoons on South and East Dogwood trails, starting around 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. We agree that Sunday morning cut-through traffic is usually relatively light.
We believe the Town’s vehicle-count data are limited in that they only express the total number of vehicles for the day on a given section of a street; they do not break down the vehicle count by the time of day and, thus, can miss traffic jams. Nor, as we noted above, do they provide context.
We also believe that Wednesday is a poor day of comparison. As Airbnb rentals increase, more northbound vacationers are arriving on Wednesday. That is what we have heard from readers who live on or near Duck Road, and what we have observed.
Finally, we believe it is discouraging when the Town retracts a promise about traffic mitigation upon which residents have relied. The next two Sundays fall on high-season weekends.
We have found in all of our dealings with the Town Manager that he listens to residents’ opinions and carefully deliberates upon his decisions. If he changes his mind about the Sunday turn prohibitions, we will let you know.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, ©8/4/21