3/3/21: TOWN COUNCIL FINALLY GIVES UP ON CODEWRIGHT DRAFT, VOTES TO KEEP EXISTING TOWN CODE AND POSSIBLY INTEGRATE ‘ELEMENTS’ FROM PROPOSED CODE ‘UPDATE.’

The division of a developed 100-foot-wide parcel into these two buildable 50-foot-wide lots on Ocean Boulevard led to the Town Planning Board examining and then recommending in 2018 a rewrite of the Town Code ordinance on non-conforming lots.

My father always said that when you dig yourself a hole, you have to stop digging and figure out how to crawl out.

Last night the Southern Shores Town Council stopped digging in the hole known as the CodeWright Town Code of Ordinances “update” project, but it may not have figured out yet the best way to crawl out.

That is OK. As Dad knew, the most important thing to do, once you find yourself in a hole, is to stop digging. Your way out may not be immediately apparent without some trial and error.

For those of you who are new to town or otherwise unfamiliar with “CodeWright,” it is a reference to CodeWright Planners, a Durham-based company with which the Town of Southern Shores contracted in September 2015 to prepare an “updated” Town Code of Ordinances.

The Town Code codifies all of the Town’s legal regulations (ordinances) and also contains the Town Charter. It is a vitally important document that governs, among other things, how land is to be used and development is to occur and how we coexist amicably and safely in Southern Shores.

According to the 2015 contract, CodeWright principal Chad Meadows anticipated delivery of the Town Code “update” in 14 months.

See the CodeWright contract at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/9-8-15-Signed-Town-Code-Update-Contract.pdf.

Last night, after nearly 5 ½ years, the Town Council unanimously voted at its regular monthly meeting (essentially) not to accept delivery of CodeWright’s product, because, frankly, folks, it is a big, bloated, confusing, user-unfriendly, distracting mess.

Of course, Councilman Matt Neal, who made the awkwardly worded motion to abandon CodeWright’s latest version of its Code rewrite, known as the Adoption Draft, did not actually say that. He is too diplomatic, polite, and friendly to be so blunt, but that is what he meant.

Instead, Mr. Neal said he likes the Town Code of Ordinances the way it is now, not the way Mr. Meadows has reinvented it, and he is concerned about what may have been left out of, or included in, the new Code that should or should not be there.

How did Mr. Neal propose in his unanimously approved motion that the Town “crawl out” of the CodeWright hole?

He instructed Town staff to “pull” from the Adoption Draft any “valuable elements” that they believe should be included in the current Town Code.

It will be up to Town Manager Cliff Ogburn and Town Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett to decide what “to take out of the Adoption Draft and include in the existing code,” as Mr. Haskett stated—to the relief of anyone watching the livestream of the meeting, who may have been confused about Mr. Neal’s meaning.

We were not sure ourselves at first, and we have been in the trenches on the CodeWright fiasco from the beginning.

Considering how much Mr. Haskett and Mr. Ogburn have to do, this may not be the best use of their time. But it is one way to crawl out.

***

Former Town Manager Peter Rascoe defined and spearheaded the Code “update” project, starting with its introduction at the April, 21, 2015, fiscal year 2015-16 budget meeting, at which we first spoke out.

Mr. Rascoe, who resigned in August 2019, had the full support of Mayor Tom Bennett and Mr. Haskett, who identified CodeWright Planners as the contractor for the project.   

We opposed the project when it was introduced because of concern that it shifted legislative authority away from the Town Council and the Town Planning Board to an outside planner and the Town Manager. We also thought it was a waste of money: A Town staff member or a local college student could do the Code “cleanup” that Mr. Rascoe was proposing. The “update” seemed an unnecessary and politically motivated undertaking.

In all of his public statements, including in Town newsletters, Mr. Rascoe described the purpose of the CodeWright project as the elimination of “confusion,” “ambiguity,” and “obsolescence” in the Code’s language and the update of ordinances so that they conformed with the latest federal and state law changes. He always spoke of clarification and consistency, not new substantive changes.

But a few other homeowners, including future Council member Fred Newberry, and I feared that ordinances—in particular, those related to zoning—would be rewritten, and that the existing Town Council majority would rubberstamp them. (Mr. Newberry served on the Town Council from December 2015 to December 2019.)

The 23 questions on CodeWright’s “Town of Southern Shores Code Update Project Citizen Survey,” conducted in December 2015-January 2016, convinced us that we were on the right track. At the same time, SAGA Realty & Construction was banging at the Town gates, wanting to build a 16-bedroom wedding-destination venue on the Southern Shores oceanfront.

Whether house size in town should be limited was one of the many zoning questions on the survey. See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/TOSS-Citizen-Survey-Report-2-18-16.pdf. (The Town Council passed the current 6,000-square foot maximum house size ordinance in January 2016 by a 3-2 majority. Mayor Bennett and former Town Councilman Chris Nason opposed it.)  

In his May 5, 2015 summary for the proposed fiscal year 2015-16 operating budget—which few members of the public read—Mr. Rascoe unequivocally wrote: “The projected budget recommends an expenditure this year for the updating and rewriting of the entire Town Code, including it’s [sic] zoning provisions. The current Code has retained ambiguous and duplicating provisions that have become irrelevant and difficult to administer and enforce as modern circumstances and conditions have evolved since the Town’s incorporation in 1979. This effort will be conducted by an outside firm, with input from the Town Planner, the Town Attorney, and the public.”

Please read the thorough account we wrote 7/30/20 about the CodeWright project history, so we do not have to repeat ourselves any further here: https://southernshoresbeacon.com/2020/07/30/7-30-20-the-making- of-a-fiasco-codewrights-update-of-the-southern-shores-code-of-ordinances-a-tainted-project-from-its-conception/.

We weighed in on CodeWright’s work (“big, bloated”) in a 1/30/19 critique of its December 2018 Town Code final draft and in a 7/29/20 analysis titled “The Making of a Fiasco: Codewright’s ‘Update’ of the Southern Shores Code of Ordinances: A Tainted Project From its Conception.”

Mr. Meadows’s new Code reformats, reorganizes, pictorializes, and footnotes the current Code without making it easier to use or understand.

Last year we called for the Town Council to cut its losses before Town Attorney Ben Gallop, who “sat” on his legal review of the December 2018 final draft for nearly two years, took it up. Ironically, Mr. Gallop’s delay may have proved beneficial.

During the past five-plus years, the Planning Board, whose recommendations have been enacted into law by the Town Council, has protected property owners on a number of zoning matters (building height and fill requirements, maximum vacation home occupancy, regulation of nonconforming lots, permissible lot coverage, etc.) that might have been settled differently by CodeWright.

Last night Mr. Meadows, who appeared by Zoom to give the Town Council a superficial “overview” of the changes in his Adoption Draft, said he had received 16 zoning text amendments (ZTAs) to integrate into his draft. The number seems excessive to us, but, regardless, with many newly enacted changes already in the current Code, it makes sense to reverse the direction of integration, as the Town Council did, so that the current Code is the primary document and the Adoption Draft augments it.

Mr. Neal (as a private citizen), Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey (as a Planning Board member and chairperson), and Planning Board Chairman Andy Ward (as a private citizen and Planning Board member) all contributed to the good government-public exchange that led to some of these ZTAs, and all referred to this progress last night.

A meeting last Friday among these three and Mr. Haskett led, according to Mr. Neal, to their consensus about how to stop digging the CodeWright hole and crawl out. 

“We think our [current] Code is pretty good,” said Ms. Morey.

During her tenure on the Planning Board, Ms. Morey participated in the review of CodeWright’s December 2018 “final” draft, which she told The Beacon in a June 2018 interview was an “unacceptable work product.”

Then chaired by Sam Williams, the Planning Board spent more than a year reviewing the revised Code chapters that were under its legal purview.

This delay, like Mr. Gallop’s, was immensely helpful to legislative processes that resulted in both the enactment of beneficial zoning changes and in the defeat of detrimental changes, such as a new method for calculating the 30-percent lot coverage building restriction that former Councilman Nason, an architect, twice sought to pass.  

Mr. Ward, who complimented the Town Council last night after its vote for making “a wise decision,” has been struggling with his Board’s review of most of the same Code chapters in the Adoption Draft that the previous Board addressed in its review.

At the Planning Board’s February meeting, during which it critiqued the new definitions section, Mr. Ward understatedly said that the Adoption Draft “is not an easy read.”

He also said, “We don’t want to go looking for trouble if we don’t have to,” clearly recognizing that as the Board got into the Code zoning and subdivision chapters, it could encounter more than a few editing and rewrite woes. 

The Planning Board had been scheduled to take up the all-important zoning chapter, Chapter 22, at its March 15 meeting. Now Mr. Ward and the Planning Board are mercifully off the hook.

So is The Beacon.

We look forward to crawling out.

You may access the redline version of CodeWright’s Adoption Draft here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/TOSS-Town-Code-Adoption-Draft-11-24-20-REDLINE.pdf

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 3/3/21

3/2/21: DARE COUNTY NOW ACCEPTING VACCINE REQUESTS FROM ALL FRONTLINE ESSENTIAL WORKERS; Bulletin Pre-empts Governor’s Announcement on Eligibility for Group 3; 80,000 Doses of J&J Vaccine to Arrive In State This Week; N.C. Emergency Director Praises Dare’s Operation.

All frontline essential workers may now register for COVID-19 vaccination in Dare County, according to a bulletin posted online today by the county’s Dept. of Health and Human Services—two hours before Governor Roy Cooper announced at a press briefing that all such essential workers, not just those in schools, will be “eligible” for vaccination statewide starting tomorrow.

Thanks to an increase in Dare County’s vaccine allocations from the State for the next three weeks, the DCDHHS has been able to offer appointments to all people age 65 or older who were on its waiting list and is ready to move into “Phase 3” of the rollout, the DCDHHS bulletin said, pre-empting the Governor’s announcement this afternoon about the vaccination eligibility of all remaining “Group 3” workers.

Vaccine administration in North Carolina has been “fast and fair,” Governor Cooper said during his COVID-19 update, and has been a model for the rest of the nation. More than 60 percent of “seniors” in North Carolina, he said, “have received a vaccine.”

The Governor permitted child-care and pre-K to grade 12 school workers—who constitute a subset of Group 3 frontline essential workers—to start receiving vaccines on Feb. 24, in order to accelerate a return to in-person learning in the public schools.

Remaining Group 3 frontline essential workers include people who work in the following fields, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: critical manufacturing, essential goods—including grocery stores, pharmacies, food service (restaurants, bars), and gas stations—government, community service organizations, churches, public health, public safety, and transportation.

For a list of workplaces and/or industries, see the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ website at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines/find-your-spot-take-your-shot/deeper-dive-group-3#frontline-essential-worker-frontline-essential-workers.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, referred to such workers at today’s briefing as people who “cannot be home to do their jobs.” They not only must come into their workplaces to work, they also must come into contact with customers. 

To register for vaccination as a frontline essential worker in Dare County, go to the DCDHHS’s website at www.darenc.com/covidvaccine and complete a vaccination request form. You will be called by a health department staff person about scheduling an appointment.

According to the Governor, the State will move into Phase 4/Group 4 of the vaccine rollout, which includes people with medical conditions that put them at greater risk for serious illness if they are exposed to COVID-19, on March 24.

The Governor also announced that North Carolina will receive this week 80,000 doses of the newly FDA-approved one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which he described as “more easily stored” than the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that have been in use in North Carolina.

Next week, according to Dr. Cohen, however, the State will not receive any more doses of the J&J vaccine. Its allotted supply will vary from week to week.

Dr. Cohen described the State’s supply of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as “improving.” This week, she said she expects to receive a combined 300,000 doses of the J&J vaccine and first doses of the other two vaccines. These are in addition to the second doses that must be sent.

HATS OFF TO DARE COUNTY

Thanks to a question by Sam Walker of OBX Today, Michael A. Sprayberry, director of Emergency Management for the State of North Carolina, elaborated upon a visit he made to Dare County’s COVID-19 vaccination site in Kill Devil Hills last Friday.

Mr. Sprayberry explained that he has been visiting some of the better-run vaccination sites in order to pick up “some best practices” for a mass vaccination site that the State and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be operating together in Greensboro for eight weeks.

According to the Governor, the FEMA site will administer 3,000 vaccines per day during its operation.

Mr. Sprayberry complimented the Dare County vaccination site as a “very efficient operation” with “a lot of volunteers” and said that the “attitude” of everyone involved, including vaccine recipients, “was phenomenal.”

The emergency director said he had met with Dr. Sheila Davies, director of the DCDHHS, and with County Manager Bobby Outten.

Mr. Sprayberry also said he recently visited a vaccination operation at Moorehead City, which is a port town in Carteret County near Beaufort.

“Hats off to the folks in Carteret and Dare counties!” he exclaimed.

Indeed. For the first time in six months–since Aug. 30, 2020–the DCDHHS dashboard reported no new COVID-19-positive tests.  

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 3/2/21

2/28/21: TOWN CODE UPDATE PROJECT FINALLY REACHES TOWN COUNCIL; CONSULTANT TO GIVE OVERVIEW OF CHANGES AT MEETING TUESDAY.

The Town’s regulation of sign displays is different in the proposed new Town Code of Ordinances.

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.

The Town Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. In-person public attendance is permitted, subject to COVID-19 safety protocols. You may live-stream the meeting at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

For the meeting agenda and packet, see https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2021-03-02.pdf.

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.

You may access the Adoption Draft here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/TOSS-Town-Code-Adoption-Draft-11-24-20-REDLINE.pdf.

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.  

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/28/21

2/25/21: 14TH DARE COUNTY RESIDENT DIES 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, 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.

The Beacon, 2/25/21

2/24/21: GOVERNOR ENDS STAY-AT-HOME ORDER, CURFEW; ALLOWS INDOOR BARS TO REOPEN AT LIMITED CAPACITY; AND EASES OTHER COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS, AS OF FRIDAY.

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.”

For FAQs about the changes implemented under Executive Order 195, see https://www.nc.gov/covid-19/current-restrictions/faqs-eased-restrictions-under-executive-order-195.

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.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/24/21

2/19/21: ANOTHER DARE COUNTY RESIDENT DIES OF COVID-19, BRINGING NUMBER OF LOCAL FATALITIES TO 13.

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.

The Beacon, 2/19/21

2/18/21: UPDATE: CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC REPORT IS NOW AVAILABLE ON TOWN WEBSITE.

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 Beacon, 2/18/21

2/18/21: TRAFFIC ENGINEER RECOMMENDS ERECTING PHYSICAL BARRIERS TO PREVENT CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC ON RESIDENTIAL ROADS. Citizens’ Committee Needs to File Its Report; Plus More on Road Conditions and the Proposed New Town Code of Ordinances.

Cut-through traffic backs up on Sea Oats Trail at its intersection with Duck Road on a summertime Saturday afternoon.

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. 

You may access the November 2020 Adoption Draft here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/11-24-2020-Adoption-Draft.pdf.

A redline version of this draft, which shows how it differs from the previous final draft, may be accessed here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/TOSS-Town-Code-Adoption-Draft-11-24-20-REDLINE.pdf. 

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.  

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/18/21

2/17/21: CURIOSITIES ABOUND IN COUNCIL’S 19-MINUTE WORKSHOP; HOMEOWNER QUESTIONS WHY SHE RECEIVED EASEMENT REQUEST, BUT NEIGHBORING OCEANFRONT PROPERTY OWNER DID NOT.

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.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/17/21

2/16/21: TODAY’S 5 P.M. PLANNING BOARD MEETING TO BE LIVE-STREAMED.

The cover page of the “final” assessment submitted by CodeWright in 2019. The Planning Board will be reviewing an amended version of its earlier draft, known as the November 2020 Adoption Draft, which is available on the Town website.

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.

You may watch the livestream on the Town of Southern Shores You Tube website at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

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 Beacon, 2/16/21