On the eve of a public hearing before the Southern Shores Town Council that will decide a question that not long ago would have been considered unfathomable by year-round residents to ask, we ask you what your answer is to:
Should the Town Council permit a 24,000-square-foot box department store in a “small commercial district” that has always been limited, by community preference, either to uses “deemed essential to local residents” (per the Town’s 1985 land-use plan) or focused “on convenience shopping and services” (per the 2008 land-use plan, the Town’s latest)?
More precisely, we ask you:
Do you support Charlotte developer Aston Properties’ site-plan amendment to the Marketplace shopping center that, if carried out as represented, would result in the first-ever department store in Southern Shores—an “off-price” Marshalls—and another presumably national retailer, yet to be identified, in an adjacent 6,000-square-foot space?
Or do you oppose these changes?
Please tell us why you support or oppose Aston’s proposal, which we have written about on several occasions, including on 7/20/21, 8/17/21, and last Friday in a preview of the Town Council’s meeting tomorrow, which will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.
You will have an opportunity to speak at the public hearing, if you would like. Anyone may sign up to speak. Remarks made at hearings are generally not restricted to the three-minute time limit imposed by the Town Council on public comments.
Before tomorrow’s hearing, we would like to know which way sentiment is running in town on this redevelopment and re-imagining of the Marketplace—or if there even is any sentiment running.
You may comment on the Beacon blog or our Facebook page, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOUTHERN SHORES LAND-USE PLANS
Aspirations that the 520 year-round residents who lived in Southern Shores in 1980 had for the commercial district on the southern end of town were clear in that year’s land-use plan (LUP), which was the newly incorporated town’s inaugural plan. They wanted “only commercial facilities that are necessary to meet basic needs,” such as a physician’s or lawyer’s office or a drug store.
The goal was similar five years later, according to the second Southern Shores land-use plan, which specified that the “commercial zone in the town shall be very limited in size and restricted to uses deemed essential to local residents.”
Based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics showing that the 1980 population in Southern Shores was 520, and the 1990 population was 1,447, we would guestimate that about 1,000 people lived here year-round in 1985.
By 2000, according to the Census Bureau, that number had increased to 2,201, and by 2010, it was 2,714. (The 2005 population was estimated in the Town’s 2008 land-use plan to be about 2,612.)
Unfortunately, we do not have copies of the Town’s 1992 and 1997 land-use plans. But we know from the 2008 LUP, which we have and you can find on the Town website, that each of the four previous plans was, according to the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, a “sketch plan, a plan for municipalities that are completely platted, know the upper limits of growth, and are not experiencing rapid growth or change.”
Coastal local land-use plans were authorized by the N.C. Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA), which the N.C. General Assembly enacted in 1974 to protect the unique natural resources of North Carolina’s coastal areas.
CAMA created the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), which is responsible for implementing an integrated program of planning, permitting, education, and research to protect, conserve, and manage the State’s coastal resources. All local land-use plans in coastal towns and counties are submitted to the CRC for its certification/approval.
Land-use plans address the protection of coastal resources, such as coastal water quality, wetlands, and fisheries; the desirability of different types of economic development; the reduction of storm hazards, as well as a range of local issues of concern that provide a blueprint to town planners and commissioners for policy-making, planning, and growth.
A key element of every LUP is a vision statement that summarizes the aspirations that residents have for their coastal town’s identity, character, and future. According to Southern Shores’ vision statement, the town is:
“a quiet seaside residential community comprised primarily of small low density neighborhoods consisting of single family homes primarily on large lots . . . interspersed with recreational facilities, . . . beach accesses, walkways and open spaces. These neighborhoods are served by picturesque local roads (rather than wide through streets) along the beach, in the dunes or in the sound-side maritime forest. The scale and architecture of new development and re-development is compatible with existing homes.
“The community is served by a small commercial district, located on the southern edge of town, which focuses on convenience shopping and services. The desired plan for the future is to maintain the existing community appearance and form.”
The Southern Shores public participated in the preparation of the 2008 LUP through a citizens’ survey, conducted in 2005, and a 2007 “Speak out for Southern Shores” workshop meeting held at the Duck Woods Country Club. Some of you may remember the small-group exercise at the club.
The workshop was especially helpful to the Town in developing the LUP vision statement and in identifying local issues. One of the “over-arching themes” that emerged from it, according to the plan, was a concern that residents had over “an increase in commercial development.” (p. 10, 2008 LUP)
In a section of the 2008 LUP that analyzes land use and development, the Town states:
“In the next twenty years, commercial development is, and is expected to remain, limited to small scale local convenience shopping and service establishments at the southern boundary of the town. No industrial, agricultural, big-box retail and entertainment business exist or are desired.” (p. 39)
The Marketplace opened in 1987, so by 2005-07, residents had enjoyed its conveniences for 20 years.
We do not know when the Wal-Mart arrived, but certainly by 2008, the concept of a box-retail store was well known. The LUP analysis that singled out big-box retail stores for disfavor did not result in any Town zoning changes.
Unquestionably, the Marshalls proposal increases the square footage of commercial development at the Marketplace site. The Town Planning Board did a thorough job of assessing the environmental impact of Aston’s site plan amendment, but it did not address the desirability of the project or how it squares with the LUP.
Planning Board member Ed Lawler, however, did express displeasure over Aston’s proposed destruction of the 11-tree grove and park in front of the future Marshalls site.
According to a 2020 U.S. Census municipality population listing published by the N.C. General Assembly, Southern Shores had 3,090 year-round residents as of last year. That is only 400 more people than were guestimated for the land-use plan of 2008.
Land-use plans express objectives, policies, standards, and goals for long-range planning, but they are only as effective as the people who implement them.
What do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down on the Marshalls project? Please let us know. Thank you.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/6/21