The Planning Board unanimously voted to recommend the addition of various group fitness and dance establishments as permitted uses in the Town’s general commercial district and approved a preliminary subdivision plat submitted by the owners of an oversized lot at 267 Hillcrest Drive at its regular monthly meeting yesterday.
The Board also received an overview from attorney Jay Wheless, who represents the Town’s Board of Adjustment (BOA), about the BOA’s hearing procedure in anticipation of an upcoming appeal by an aggrieved property owner of a Town zoning decision.
The Planning Board also sits as the Board of Adjustment, which is a quasi-judicial body that decides issues of fact and makes legal decisions in certain zoning matters, but only two of the Board’s current five regular members have participated in a hearing. Neither of the Board’s two alternates has taken part in one.
(For background on the Board’s business agenda yesterday, see The Beacon, 8/11/22.)
The Planning Board actually recommended approval of an edited and expanded version of Zoning Text Amendment 22-09, which was submitted by Mila Smith, the owner and operator of Atlantic Dance, and proposed to add “group fitness-aerobics/dance/karate/yoga” to the permitted “service establishments” in the commercial district.
The language the Board recommended replaces hyphens with commas and adds two more fitness examples so that the use now reads “group fitness, aerobics, dance, karate, yoga, gym, and/or weight training.”
Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett clarified that “similar uses not specifically listed” also would be considered permissible under this language. He told The Beacon that the original language of the ZTA was based on a Nags Head ordinance.
Ms. Smith, whose business is currently located in the Dare Centre in Kill Devil Hills, submitted ZTA 22-09 as a required first step to moving into Southern Shores. In remarks she made to the Planning Board yesterday during the ZTA’s hearing, Ms. Smith said she was “looking to move to a safer unit that functions properly.”
She also mentioned that the majority of her students, who are girls who come for lessons after-school, live in Southern Shores and Kitty Hawk. (See The Beacon, 8/11/22, for more details about Ms. Smith’s application.)
Mr. Haskett confirmed with The Beacon that Ms. Smith is looking at a location in the Southern Shores Crossing.
(Some of you may remember, as we do, that a small fitness facility once operated in the Crossing. Mr. Haskett did not know its history. It ceased operation some time ago.)
Planning Board members said very little about the preliminary subdivision plat submitted by Matthew and Allison Cassella, Chicahauk homeowners who purchased the large, irregularly shaped property at 267 Hillcrest Drive in May and now seek to subdivide it into two lots.
The Hillcrest property, which already has a single-family dwelling and other improvements on it, consists of 122,376 square feet, well in excess of the Town’s minimum lot size requirement of 20,000 square feet. The two lots that the Cassellas propose creating through what Mr. Cassella called in brief remarks before the Board a “conservative subdivision” also would be well in excess of 20,000 square feet each. Each would be at least 100 feet wide and have at least 30 feet of frontage on the public right of way, as required by Town ordinance.
Mr. Cassella said that he and his wife are dividing the lot into two for their children, so that each will have a home in Southern Shores.
UPCOMING BOA APPEAL
The appeal that the Board of Adjustment expects to hear, and for which Mr. Wheless was preparing members, is of the Town’s denial of a recombination plat that the owners of 55 Skyline Road submitted, according to Mr. Haskett, who spoke with The Beacon after the meeting.
According to the Dare County gis, the Skyline Road property is vacant and consists of 80,000 square feet or 1.8365 acres. The owner of record is Skyline Oaks Properties LLC, which formed in July 2021 and purchased the property on Aug. 19, 2021. According to public records, Planning Board member Robert McClendon is an owner and the registered agent of the LLC, which uses his home address as its business address.
During yesterday’s meeting, Mr. McClendon asked his fellow Planning Board members if any of them were “aware of the appeal that’s coming up.” Board chairperson Andy Ward quickly acknowledged that he was, and member Ed Lawler said he was, as well, in “a rough way.”
Impartiality by members of the joint Planning Board-Board of Adjustment is a huge problem, we believe, when the BOA hears appeals of Town zoning decisions, which is why The Beacon has long championed the re-establishment of a BOA separate from the Planning Board. The decision being appealed to the BOA by an aggrieved property owner is always one made by Mr. Haskett, with whom the Planning Board works hand-in-glove. The Planning Board represents the Town, and it is the Town that opposes a property owner in a BOA appeal.
Before April 1, 2014, Southern Shores had two boards, with no overlapping members. In the interest of fairness, it should restore that status. All other towns on the Outer Banks have separate planning boards and boards of adjustment.
As Mr. Wheless explained yesterday, any decision that the BOA makes on an appeal must be supported by three of the five members. Mr. McClendon obviously will have to recuse himself. That already two other Planning Board members know about the appeal and, therefore, have talked about it, most likely with Mr. Haskett, is a red flag.
The Beacon will delve into the facts and law pertaining to the appeal at a date closer to the hearing, which has not yet been scheduled, but will not occur before Sept. 19, according to Mr. Haskett.
THE TOWN COUNCIL REACHES OUT
Town Councilman Leo Holland spoke during public comments yesterday to “get into the record” how he responded to two emails that he received from Chairperson Ward regarding the Council’s approval of a significantly different version of a Zoning Text Amendment establishing mixed-use developments in the commercial district than the one recommended by the Planning Board.
We refer you to The Beacon’s 7/19/22 article for details about these emails, which Mr. Ward read into the record at the Planning Board’s July 18 meeting. In short, he described the gap between the two town bodies as a “bit of a disconnect” and expressed strong opposition to the lot coverage that the Council approved for mixed-use, saying it had “strayed from our founders’ original vision of Southern Shores which speaks to land use that naturally protects environmental resources and fragile areas by limiting development and growth.”
According to Mr. Ward, neither the Mayor nor any other members of the Town Council acknowledged his first email, which was dated June 8, so he sent a second one a week later with the subject, “Reply?” In this email, he questioned Council members’ lack of a response and wrote: “Respect should not get in the way of different viewpoints.”
Mr. Holland said yesterday that he “interpreted” the June 8 email “as not requiring a comment” and mentioned that, in fact, an unnamed Council member had responded.
He further explained that he responded to Mr. Ward’s second email within two hours of receiving it. Since then, Mr. Holland said, “he and I have had some discussion.”
It was not “the intent” of the Town Council to “ignore” the Planning Board, the Councilman concluded.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/16/22