9/6/21: A MARSHALLS DEPARTMENT STORE IN SOUTHERN SHORES: IS THIS WHAT RESIDENTS WANT?

Under Aston Properties’ reconfigured site plan, all unit space to the left of CVS/pharmacy, up to and including Coastal Rehab, would be demolished to make room for the Marshalls department store and an adjacent 6,000-square-foot retail space in the Marketplace. (Photo by Caroline Walker, OBX Today)

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 ssbeaconeditor@gmail.com.

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.”

PUBLIC OPINION

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

9/3/21: TOWN COUNCIL TO HOLD PUBLIC HEARING TUESDAY ON DEVELOPER’S MARKETPLACE PROPOSAL. And a Preview of Other Agenda Items, Including Opposition to Critical Habitat Designation of the Rufa Red Knot.

The Southern Shores Town Council will hold a public hearing Tuesday about Aston Properties’ proposal to demolish a section of the Marketplace shopping center and build in its place a 24,000-square-foot Marshalls department store and another 6,000-square-foot retail space for a business that has yet to be determined.

The hearing will be held during the Town Council’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center.

All meeting attendees must wear face masks, regardless of their vaccination status.

The meeting will be live-streamed at  https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

The Beacon first reported 7/20/21 on Aston’s site plan amendment application proposing to demolish 19,775 square feet of existing shops to the west of the CVS/pharmacy in the Marketplace and to replace them with a new junior-box Marshalls and a 6,000-square-foot store that has not yet been leased.

The Charlotte-based developer’s plan also calls for modifying and reconfiguring about two acres of existing parking lot, in part by using permeable pavers that would allow it to be eligible under the Southern Shores Town Code for a maximum lot coverage of 67 percent, instead of the commercial zoning district standard of 60 percent.

In order to accommodate the parking lot changes, Aston would destroy a wooded park in front of the future Marshalls site. Its plans show that 10 mature oak trees and one mature crape myrtle would be removed.

The Town Planning Board unanimously recommended conditional approval of Aston’s application at its Aug. 16 meeting.

We reported in detail 8/17/21 on the five conditions that the Planning Board advised must be met by Aston Properties before it can apply for a Town building permit. Besides not exceeding the maximum lot coverage, the most significant of the five addresses stormwater management on the site.

Aston’s current proposed lot coverage is 67.1 percent, not 67 percent, according to Town Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett, whose report on the Planning Board’s conditional approval is in the Town Council meeting packet, as are Aston’s application materials.

See https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/soshoresnc-pubu/MEET-Packet-fb5b5ef67cc245fda641514e8fd6e298.pdf.

(The meeting agenda is on the first two pages of the packet.)

Before Aston may avail itself of the 67 percent maximum lot coverage, it must, according to Town ordinance, “incorporate the use of permeable pavement . . . in excess of 5 percent of the total lot coverage.” (See Code sec. 36-207(d)(5)(b).) 

One of the Planning Board’s five conditions requires Aston to submit documentation to the Town about the permeability of the pavers it proposes using in the parking lot.

As of Sept. 1, Mr. Haskett writes in his report, Aston had not provided sufficient documentation to assess how well stormwater would penetrate the pavers.

The permeability of the proposed pavers, he writes, “could affect the square footage of permeable pavers required.”

It is unclear from Mr. Haskett’s report if Aston Properties has met another Planning Board condition that one of its representatives work with Town Engineer Joe Anlauf to “evaluate the existing stormwater system [at the Marketplace] for glaring deficiencies and address them.”

TOWN MANAGER’S REPORT: Beach Nourishment and Traffic

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn’s chock-full-of-news report has become one of the Town Council’s monthly meeting highlights. Tuesday’s agenda shows Mr. Ogburn giving a beach nourishment update and reports on traffic and the FY 2021-22 tax bills. No other details are provided.

Mr. Ogburn most likely will relate his report to other business that the Town Council will take up after the public hearing, including an advisory agreement with DEC Associates, Inc. that spells out how the Charlotte-based financial consultant will assist the Town in closing the financing for the 2022 beach nourishment project; and a resolution that directs Town Finance Officer Bonnie Swain or her designee to apply to the N.C. Local Government Commission for approval of the Town’s special obligation bond to finance the project.

DEC has received $32,500 for advising the Town in the planning stage of the 2022 project’s financing; it will receive another $32,500 for its closing services.

According to the resolution pertaining to the Local Government Commission’s approval of the project’s funding, the aggregate principal amount of the bond is estimated “not to exceed” $8.1 million.

The Town Council will close out its meeting business with the consideration of two grant applications, one of which is for a $50,000 Dare County Tourism Impact Grant that would be used “to secure traffic data that will be instrumental in helping the Town better evaluate and understand the impacts that tourism related traffic generates,” according to Mr. Ogburn’s agenda summary.

Mr. Ogburn proposes to contract with Streetlight Data, a company that collects “location records from smart phones and navigation devices in connected cars and trucks,” in order to illuminate traffic patterns in Southern Shores.

This data, Mr. Ogburn explains, “can help us to better understand where the traffic that cuts through the residential streets . . . originates . . . [and] the volume of traffic that uses Southern Shores as a cut through by either turning off U.S. 158 or N.C. 12, [as well as where this traffic] exits the residential streets. . . .”

A white paper from Streetlight Data about its methodologies and data sources is included in the meeting packet.

PROTECTING THE LONG-DISTANCE RUFA RED KNOT OR NOT

We do not usually detail items on the Town Council’s consent agenda, which rarely are discussed publicly before a motion is made to approve them. This time, however, we were stopped short by item two of Tuesday’s consent agenda, which reads:

“Consideration of Resolution opposing U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s proposed designation of critical habitat for the Rufa Red Knot.”

Opposing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)? Surely, this is a misprint.

Our second thought was: What is a rufa red knot?

It turns out that the rufa red knot (Calidris canutus rufa) is a “robin-sized shorebird” that is “truly a master of long-distance aviation,” according to the USFWS. (Actually, we think photos on the Wildlife Service’s website show the knot to be much larger than a robin and much more vibrantly colored.)

“On wingspans of 20 inches,” the USFWS writes in an online summary about the birds, “some knots fly more than 9,300 miles from south to north every spring and repeat the trip in reverse every autumn, making this bird one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom.”

See more details at Northeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov)

In 2015, the USFWS added the rufa red knot as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and announced that a proposed critical habitat designation would be forthcoming.

That designation did not occur until July 15 of this year when the Wildlife Service proposed setting aside 649,066 acres of “critical habitat” across 13 states—including New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida—for the long-distance rufa red knot.

Large flocks of rufa red knots, the Service explains, arrive each spring “at stopover areas along the Delaware Bay and the U.S. Atlantic coast . . . with many of the birds flying directly from northern Brazil.”

The knots’ spring migration coincides with the spawning season of the horseshoe crab, whose eggs provide them with a rich food source. Delaware Bay is a prominent stop-over point, apparently, because it provides an abundance of horseshoe crab eggs.

Mussel beds and small clams on the Atlantic coast are also important food sources for migrating knots, in both the spring and the fall, the Wildlife Service says.

In the 19th century, according to the USWFS, rufa red knot populations in the United States were decimated by commercial hunting. After knot hunting ended in 1918 with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the birds were able to recover, but they were again threatened in the 20th century by coastal development and an overharvest of the horseshoe crab.

From the 1980s to the 2000s, the USFWS reports, the knots’ numbers declined about 75 percent.

The smaller populations that remain now, it says, face many hurdles to recovery, including sea level rise, climate change, coastal development, shoreline stabilization, dredging, disturbances by vehicles, people, dogs, aircraft, and boats, etc.

In its proposed resolution, the Town alleges that the USFWS has “indiscriminately” designated oceanfront shoreline as critical habitat for the rufa red knot, including a 150-mile continuous stretch of N.C. oceanfront in Carteret and Dare counties; and it seeks a “more fine-tuned designation of important habitats” for the shorebirds.

In an email to The Beacon, Town Manager Ogburn said his concern with the critical habitat designation is it “will affect our beach nourishment in the future.”

 “[T]o the extent that [the designation] might close beaches during our summer construction windows,” he continued, “it could significantly impact our ability to construct projects and would certainly increase our costs if we were somehow required to construct outside our current windows.”     

Mr. Ogburn said that the critical habitat on the USFWS’s proposed map appears to stop “at the northern end of the Oregon Inlet,” and, therefore, does not appear to directly affect Southern Shores or the 2022 beach nourishment project, but “it could have [an] impact on the southern portion of Dare County.”

As worded now, the Town’s resolution expresses strong opposition to the USFWS’s proposed designation of rufa red knot critical habitat along the shoreline between Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach and along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

It also asks the USFWS to “revisit” its habitat designation methodology in order to arrive at a more fine-tuned area map. This seems like a reasonable request.

We delve into so much detail here about the rufa red knot because we love birds and were charmed to learn about the existence and habits of this one. We thought you might enjoy learning about the knot, as well.

We also think that the USFWS’s critical habitat designation is a reminder that humans coexist with a large variety of other species, and we always need to be cognizant of how our actions affect their lives, especially when we cause potential harm.

The Wildlife Service’s critical habitat proposal is available for public review and comment at https://www.regulations.gov/docket/FWS-R5-ES-2021-0032. Comments must be received by Sept. 13.

***

THE ELECTION

With the Southern Shores municipal election just two months away (Nov. 2)–and early voting starting Oct. 14–you should begin to see political signs in people’s yards soon.

It is already legal in Southern Shores to display a political sign, provided you do not place it in the public right-of-way. Signs may be placed in the right-of-ways of N.C. Hwy. 12 as of Sept. 14.

For news about my Town Council candidacy, including how to obtain a yard sign, I invite you to check out my website, vote4ann.com, and my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/annsjoerdsmaforcouncil.

Political campaigns will be largely electronic this year because of the surge in Delta-variant COVID-19 cases.

The League of Women Voters of Dare County has already announced that its candidates’ forums will be virtual. The one for Southern Shores is scheduled Wed., Oct. 13, at 6:30 p.m. We will pass along more details when we have them.

***

Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone. There will be a trash collection on Monday. The last Friday pickup of the season occurred today.

Have fun and stay safe.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/3/21

8/30/21: ANOTHER DARE COUNTY RESIDENT DIES OF COVID-19.

Another Dare County resident has died as a result of COVID-19, according to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services’ case dashboard today.

The death brings the number of Dare locals who have died of COVID-19 since the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic began last year to 17.

This is the second COVID-19-related death reported in Dare County during the past week. (See The Beacon, 8/25/21.)

The DCDHHS provided no details about the person who died, not even his or her age.

Seven Dare County residents are currently hospitalized with the disease, according to the dashboard. Last week there were eight.

The DCDHHS updates the number of new COVID-19 cases in the county on a daily basis, from Monday through Friday, with Monday’s total including positive tests reported on the weekend.

In the past two daily reports, the health department has reported how many of the new positive COVID-19 tests were in vaccinated people, making them “breakthrough cases.”

A person who tests positive for COVID-19 two weeks after receiving a final vaccine dose is considered a breakthrough case.

Today, of the 103 new cases reported, 20 or 19 percent were of vaccinated people. On Friday, 12 of the 49 new cases—nearly 25 percent—were breakthrough cases. 

The DCDHHS will publish its weekly update about COVID-19 cases in Dare tomorrow.

Last Tuesday, the DCDHHS reported that since the week of April 12, 2021, when the first breakthrough case was identified locally, 250 of the 1,346 positive cases of COVID-19 in Dare County—or about 19 percent—have been breakthrough cases. Of those 250 cases:

  • 136 reported mild symptoms, and 10 reported moderate symptoms
  • One was hospitalized
  • 57 had the J&J vaccine
  • 95 had the Moderna vaccine
  • 96 had the Pfizer vaccine
  • Two had the Astrazeneca vaccine

Of the total number of COVID-19 vaccines administered by the DCDHHS, it said, 5 percent were J&J; 24 percent were Pfizer; and 71 percent were Moderna.

The DCDHHS is now accepting online registration requests for booster vaccine doses from moderately to severely immuno-compromised people, who were vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. You may register at http://www.darenc.com/Register4Vaccine. (See The Beacon, 8/25/21.)

The health department anticipates that all other people who were vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least eight months before they receive a booster dose will be able to get one by the third week in September.

U.S. public health officials are reportedly considering recommending boosters for vaccinated people just six months after they receive their final vaccine dose.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/30/21

8/25/21: ANOTHER DARE COUNTY RESIDENT DIES OF COVID-19.

Another Dare County resident has died as a result of COVID-19, according to today’s dashboard of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, which makes no mention of the death in its now-daily reporting of new cases.

The dashboard shows that seven residents are currently hospitalized because of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus—a total that has held steady recently and is greater than at any other time in Dare County before the emergence of the Delta variant.

UPDATE: As of 8/26/21, there are eight Dare County residents hospitalized.

Since March 2020, 16 local residents have died from COVID-19, according to the DCDHHS.

The Beacon, 8/25/21

8/25/21: COVID-19 VACCINE BOOSTERS AVAILABLE IN DARE FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE MODERATELY TO SEVERELY IMMUNO-COMPROMISED.

Dare County is now accepting registration requests from moderately to severely immuno-compromised people for third “booster” shots of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines.

You may submit your request to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services at Vaccine Registration | Dare County, NC (darenc.com)

According to the DCDHHS website, a call center member will call you back with an appointment date and time as soon as vaccine is available.

The DCDHHS says that it is experiencing a high volume of calls from people desirous of third doses, so it could take several days before you receive a return call.

Repeat: The booster shot is only being offered now to people whose immune systems have been significantly compromised.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that people who are moderately to severely immuno-compromised include those who have:

  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the past two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskoff-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

The CDC also suggests that people talk to their healthcare providers about their medical condition and ask him/her if an additional vaccine dose would be appropriate for them.

The Beacon knows of two over-75 residents in Southern Shores who have registered for booster shots with the DCDHHS. Neither falls within the CDC’s categories, above. One has type 2 diabetes and the other has a history of cancer.

According to the CDC, information about the risks of receiving an additional dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is “limited,” and “the safety, efficacy, and benefit of additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine in immuno-compromised people continues to be evaluated.”

The public-health agency reports that reactions experienced, thus far, by people who have received a third dose of the Moderna and Pfzier vaccines are similar to those of the two-dose series, with fatigue and pain at the injection site being the most common. Although rare, serious adverse effects, such as anaphylaxis, may occur.

The Beacon has largely suspended its local coverage of COVID-19 cases because most readers keep updated daily through other Outer Banks media, as well as through the DCDHHS website. We made an exception today because we have not seen much local news about booster vaccinations.

THE BEACON, 8/25/21

8/22/21: FY 2021-22 PROPERTY TAX BILLS STARTED ARRIVING IN SOUTHERN SHORES MAILBOXES YESTERDAY; TOWN’S TWO-RATE TAX LEVY REVIEWED.

Every Southern Shores property owner will pay a tax amounting to 4 cents per $100 of property value to fund the 2022 beach nourishment project. Property owners in designated districts on or near the oceanfront will pay more.

Property tax bills for fiscal year 2021-22 started arriving yesterday in Southern Shores mailboxes. The ad valorem taxes levied go into Dare County’s General Fund, the Town of Southern Shores’ General Fund, and the Town’s 2022 beach nourishment (“BN”) project fund. 

Considerable public discussion about tax rates for the beach nourishment project was held in the spring by the Town Council and Town Manager Cliff Ogburn. We appreciate, however, that some of you may have missed the public dialogue and the Town Council’s decision-making and explain below what occurred.

But first we note that the General Fund tax rate imposed for FY 2021-22 remains the revenue-neutral rate of 19.58 cents per $100 of property value that was calculated when Dare County reassessed all properties in 2020. You paid 19.58 cents in FY 2020-21, too.

The revenue-neutral rate seeks to achieve the same level of revenue that was raised with the tax rate that was being levied before the reappraisal occurred. In Southern Shores, that rate was 0.2200 or 22.00 cents. In FY 2022-23, you can anticipate an increase in the ad valorem tax rate for the Town’s General Fund to at least that amount. (Note: If two new people are elected to the Town Council in November, this might not be a foregone conclusion.)

On June 1, the Town Council approved the following ad valorem tax rates to fund the beach nourishment project:

  • For properties in municipal service district (“MSD”) 1: 7.15 cents per $100 of assessed value
  • Properties in MSD 2: 3.0 cents per $100
  • Properties town-wide, not in either MSD 1 or 2: 4.0 cents per $100

After holding State-mandated public hearings, the Town Council enacted on July 1 an ordinance creating and establishing the two MSDs, defining them as follows:

  • MSD 1: “All properties that abut the ocean beach of the Atlantic Ocean having an eastern boundary greater than or equal to 25 feet, beginning at the southern town limit and extending to the northern town limit.”
  • MSD 2:
  • “All properties in District 1 and
  • “All properties located east of Ocean Blvd./N.C. 12 and Duck Road/N.C. 12 beginning at the southern town limit extending north to the northern town lines; and
  • “All properties located west of and abutting Ocean Blvd./N.C. 12 beginning at the southern town line extending north to 137 Ocean Blvd., and abutting Duck Road/N.C. 12 beginning at 139 Duck Road extending north to 149 Duck Road.”

(See ORD-2021-04-01-MSD.pdf (southernshores-nc.gov))

The Town views MSD 1, the oceanfront area, as subsuming both MSD 2 and the town-wide district, and MSD 2 as subsuming the town-wide district. Computed cumulatively, the BN ad valorem tax rates, therefore, total for each district:

  • MSD 1: 14.15 cents per $100 of property value (7.15 + 3.0 + 4.0)
  • MSD 2:  7.0 cents per $100 (3.0 + 4.0)
  • Town-wide district: 4.0 cents

If you add the General Fund tax rate of 19.58 cents per $100 of property value to the BN rates, property owners are paying a combined total ad valorem tax rate, per district, of:

  • MSD 1: 33.73 cents (14.15 + 19.58)
  • MSD 2: 26.58 cents (7.0 + 19.58)
  • Town-wide district: 23.58 cents (4.0 + 19.58)

The BN tax rates are expressed in your tax bill as “SS BN” (town-wide); “SSMD1” (MSD 1); and SSMD2 (MSD 2). These rates are only in effect for the 2021-22 fiscal year and may be changed by the Town Council in subsequent years of the five-year debt cycle for the nourishment project.

According to Mr. Ogburn, the Town’s annual debt for the project will be about $1.4 million, of which the Town will pay $200,000 from its undesignated fund balance.

Of the remaining $1.2 million, he has explained, MSD-1 property owners will pay in this fiscal year 20 percent; MSD-2 owners will pay 17 percent; and the remaining property owners in town will pay 63 percent. 

You may access the Town’s FY 2021-22 budget ordinance here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/ORD-2021-06-01-Budget-Ord.pdf.

An explanation of the tax rate-assessment is given on Page 3 of the ordinance.   

Dare County’s FY 2021-22 budget appropriates $177,886,587, of which $112,706,798 is for General Fund expenses. Its property-tax rate has been 0.4005 (40.05 cents per $100 of value) for the past two fiscal years.

You may access Dare County’s FY 2021-22 budget here:

https://www.darenc.com/home/showpublisheddocument/9728/637619387916130000

You may see Dare’s tax rates for the past six fiscal years at https://www.darenc.com/departments/tax-department/tax-rates.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/22/21

8/21/21: TOWN ENDS CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC MITIGATION FOR 2021 SEASON.

Local-traffic-only barriers were removed this weekend.

The Town lifted all cut-through traffic mitigation efforts this weekend, including the left-turn ban at U.S. Hwy 158 and South Dogwood Trail, because vacationer traffic generally trickles off after mid-August as the resumption of school approaches.

Dare and Currituck county public schools start Monday—as do most school systems in North Carolina—while schools in the Hampton Roads area are not open until Sept. 7. 

What has been your road experience today? How heavy has the traffic been on your street? Have you seen or been in backups? Have you noticed any difference this Saturday from last Saturday or any other summer Saturday?

Based on Sunday vehicle-count data this summer, Town Manager Cliff Ogburn decided to lift the South Dogwood Trail left-turn ban on the past two Sundays, Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. We argued against this decision, but it appears, at least anecdotally, to have been a cost-effective one that did not unduly burden residents.

Unquestionably, Saturday cut-through traffic through August is heavier than Sunday cut-through traffic. Should the Town Council have authorized Mr. Ogburn to reinstitute the left-turn prohibition this Saturday and next Saturday, using the funding that was saved by the Sunday decision?

We keep hearing that rental properties on the Outer Banks are booked through October. If that is the case, then the volume of cut-through traffic should reflect it. Please tell us what you have observed today on the residential roads of Southern Shores and on N.C. Hwy. 12 through our town.

Thank you. 

8/18/21: A MIX OF NEWS: Library Committee Meets Friday; No Gym or Veterans’ Parking in Marketplace; Charging Station at Pitts Center; & Road Maintenance.

One of the delights of summer. (Photo taken on Southern Shores beach in 2019. For information about this year’s sea turtle nests, see https://www.nestonline.org/nests-hatchlings/active-nest-status/.)

The Exploratory Committee for a Potential Branch Library in Northern Dare will meet Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. The meeting is open to the public.

Please see The Beacon, 8/1/21, for a report on the committee’s last meeting during which members discussed regaining the momentum they had for the library/community center before the COVID-19 pandemic up-ended Dare County’s business agenda.

The proposed library would be located on Juniper Trail in Southern Shores and would serve the Duck-Southern Shores-Kitty Hawk legislative district, which also includes Martin’s Point.

On 8/1/21, we asked for readers’ thoughts about the project and received a sprinkling of responses.

Marilyn Hull of Fairway Drive said, “I totally support a Southern Shores library—it would be such an asset to our community!”

Fran Kapinos of Tenth Avenue agreed, emphasizing in particular the use of the library as a gathering place and community center.

“Love the idea of using it as a community center for gatherings, classes, etc.,” Ms. Kapinos wrote in a Beacon blog comment. “Pitts Center isn’t widely available because of town-related meetings. Over the last year folks have ordered their books online, so this can be a smaller branch with some books and pick up and drop off.  A meeting room would be widely used, similar to the one in KDH.”

Karen Bachman of Beech Tree Trail disagreed with opening a new library, advocating instead for a joint effort among towns to “create an improved KDH library,” thus making county money go “further by spending smarter.”

Three Beacon Facebook readers gave her comment thumbs-up.

Ms. Bachman could imagine building a “gorgeous” new and expanded library in Kill Devil Hills with funds that would go toward supporting a branch in Southern Shores.

One reader, whose name we cannot find now, suggested that a YMCA or a gym be built on the Juniper Trail site that landowner TowneBank has said it would rent for $1/year to Dare County for the new library.

At the Planning Board meeting Monday evening, we recalled this suggestion, when the discussion turned to what retail business might occupy the 6,000-square-foot space that Aston Properties proposes to build next to a Marshalls department store in the Marketplace. (See The Beacon, 8/17/21.)

We asked L. Karen Partee, Aston’s vice president of construction and development, if a health club or gym might be considered for this space. With a rather sour look, she replied, “Grocery stores don’t like gyms nearby.”

Since we are free-associating a bit, we will also mention that Planning Board member Tony DiBernardo asked Ms. Partee on Monday about the possibility of the shopping center landowner setting aside some reserved parking spaces for veterans, as is done in the Harris Teeter parking lot across the highway in Kitty Hawk.

Ms. Partee replied that those parking spaces are dedicated by the landlord at the request of the tenant. What she did not say is if Food Lion or CVS asked Aston to set aside veterans’ parking, it would be happy to do so. Nor did she say her employer would suggest the idea to either retailer.

The community-spirited Mr. DiBernardo also championed again an electric-vehicle charging station at the Marketplace, an idea that has not ignited a spark with Aston’s representatives.

There is now a 24/7 electric-vehicle charging station outside of the Pitts Center.

PAVEMENT CONDITION AND ROAD MAINTENANCE

We will return soon to report upon the pavement condition survey that was presented to the Town Council yesterday morning at an hours-long workshop by SEPI engineer Anthony Roper. Mr. Roper’s draft report is online at  MEET-Packet-bacca4c9fff8459f8c796883c3efc33e.pdf (usgovcloudapi.net)

The good news is that SEPI’s survey of the asphalt on the 37-mile network of roads in Southern Shores revealed all streets to be in fair (73 percent), good (15 percent), or excellent (12 percent) condition.

The bad news is that all of the streets will inevitably deteriorate because of age, weather, and traffic load. “Asphalt dries out, gets brittle, and starts to break down,” Mr. Roper said.

The SEPI engineer, who previously worked with Town Manager Cliff Ogburn in Nags Head, proposed that the Town adopt one of two options for 10-year capital improvement plans (CIP), each of which is designed to preserve the roads by preventing damage, not to save the roads by completely rehabbing them, as the Town has been doing. Mr. Roper is proposing a “proactive approach.” 

The Town Council previously voted to invest $1 million annually in a 10-year capital-improvement plan. Mr. Roper’s survey and suggested scheduling of “right treatment, right road, right time,” as he said, gives the Town a blueprint to follow.

The Town Council was enthusiastic yesterday about Mr. Roper’s prevention techniques and his CIP options, but it made no decisions about implementation. Presumably it will do so after the SEPI report is finalized. 

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/18/21     

8/127/21: PLANNING BOARD RECOMMENDS CONDITIONAL APPROVAL OF MARKETPLACE PROJECT; Discussion on Revised Sign Ordinance Postponed.

The Marketplace at Southern Shores currently has 16 tenants and 16 vacancies. Barrier Island Bagels has closed.

The Town Planning Board yesterday unanimously recommended conditional approval of Aston Properties’ revised site plan application to redevelop the Marketplace shopping center by constructing a 24,000-square-foot Marshalls department store and an adjacent 6,000-square-foot retail space in place of a building wing that would be demolished.

Several of the conditions imposed by the Board—which it is recommending to the Town Council that Aston meet before the Charlotte developer applies for a building permit—address stormwater management, inasmuch as the proposed construction would add about 10,000 square feet to the shopping center’s ground coverage.  

As The Beacon first reported 7/20/21, Aston’s proposal would demolish 19,775 square feet of existing shops to the west of CVS/pharmacy, replacing them with a new junior-box Marshalls and with an as-yet-to-be-identified 6,000-square-foot store, and would “reconfigure” about two acres of existing parking lot.

During a July 19 preliminary review of the site plan, the Planning Board expressed considerable concern about stormwater infiltration and drainage into a canal behind the Marketplace, which also borders residences on Palmetto Lane. Among the modifications that Aston submitted with its revised site plan was the use of permeable pavers in the parking lot to improve infiltration.

Permeable pavers are sections of porous pavement that allow rainwater to pass through them to be absorbed (infiltrated) by the ground underneath. Aston proposes creating 150 new parking spaces, 102 of which would have permeable pavers.

The Planning Board, led by member Ed Lawler, questioned Aston’s engineer, Kimberly D. Hamby of the Timmons Group in Elizabeth City, extensively about stormwater management and the efficiency of the current system in effect at the Marketplace.

Aston is not proposing a new stormwater-runoff treatment plan.

Ms. Hamby advised the Board that “There is no way for water from the parking lot to go straight out to the canal.” She also said that all water that strikes the 28,000 square feet of pavers that will be installed will infiltrate the ground.

Town Engineer Joe Anlauf informed the Board that the stormwater management system installed at the Marketplace site around 1985—including a filtration/drainage area behind Coastal Rehab that would bear the most impact from the redevelopment—was “forward-thinking” and should continue to perform well “provided everything is intact.”

Mr. Anlauf explained that there are two perforated pipes with filters on them in this basin site. (And that is as far as we will go with the engineering.)

According to conditions that Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett suggested and the Planning Board approved, Aston must secure the following approvals before it applies to the Town for a building permit:    

  1. A soil erosion sedimentation control plan permit for land disturbance over one acre from the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ);
  2. A stormwater management permit from the NCDEQ;
  3. Wastewater approval by the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services;
  4. Review and approval of potable water distribution system modifications or extensions from the Dare County Water Dept., which has already tentatively approved them.

The Planning Board added a fifth condition that Mr. Anlauf inspect in person, with an Aston representative, the current Marketplace stormwater system for any “glaring deficiencies,” as member Tony DiBernardo said in framing the condition, and, if necessary, produce a “punch list” of items that need addressing.

Mr. Anlauf said he was familiar with the stormwater basin adjacent to Juniper Trail, in front of the Farm Bureau’s parking lot, but not with the drainage area behind Coastal Rehab.

67 PERCENT MAXIMUM LOT COVERAGE

In addition to these five conditions, Aston must reduce its proposed lot coverage to 67 percent, in order to conform to Town ordinance.

In his report last evening, Mr. Haskett said that Aston’s current proposed lot coverage is 67.1 percent, which Ms. Hamby said she did not know.

Thanks to a zoning text amendment (ZTA) enacted by the Town Council (3-2) in 2016 when Aston sought a conditional use permit (CUP) to redevelop and expand the Marketplace with two drive-through businesses, the maximum lot coverage in Southern Shores’ general commercial district increased from 60 percent to 67 percent for “group developments” that “incorporate the use of permeable pavement . . . in excess of 5 percent of the total lot coverage.”  

Five years ago Aston proposed relocating and rebuilding Starbucks and CVS with drive-through lanes and expanding upon and improving the appearance of the other retail and restaurant spaces at the shopping center.

According to its 2016 site plans, Aston was going to build a 7,210-square-foot four-tenant building, with a drive-through Starbucks, 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.

Neither the Town Council nor the Town Manager ever made clear to the public what stopped Aston from going forward with this redevelopment, but The Beacon did hear that a wastewater problem thwarted it. Aston had a two-year “vested right” in its CUP. 

The revision to Town Code sec. 36-207 that permitted maximum lot coverage to go as high as 67 percent was actually a compromise. (See Code sec. 36-207(d)(5)(b).) Aston had introduced a ZTA bumping up the maximum commercial lot coverage from 60 percent to 70 percent.

For the developer to avail itself of the 67 percent maximum, it must show that at least 5 percent of the overall property is covered with permeable pavement. As we understand it, Aston will have to determine the percent of permeability provided by its paver product in order to do this.

At the July 19 Planning Board meeting, Ms. Partee projected a tentative opening date for the Marshalls store of spring 2023.

GROVE OF TREES TO BE DESTROYED

We end this report about the Planning Board’s consideration and recommendation of Aston’s revised site plan application by thanking Mr. Lawler for his argument in favor of preserving the lush grove of trees in the Marketplace parking lot located in front of the planned Marshalls site.

Mr. Lawler called the destruction of the 10 mature trees in this park-like setting “a heck of a sacrifice” and asked Ms. Hamby and L. Karen Partee, Aston’s vice president of construction and development, to reconfigure accessibility to the new stores. He also pointed out that the trees assist with stormwater absorption.

Ms. Partee replied that Marshalls would not have been interested in the Marketplace site if the trees were to remain.

Aston plans to do new landscaping, with clusters of new trees in islands near Hwy. 158, Ms. Hamby pointed out.

Mr. Lawler aptly captured the appeal of the grove when he said it “gives you some relief from the ugliness and the monotony of the parking lot.”

Not to mention the hollowness of a shopping center that is 50 percent vacant.

Said Planning Board Chairperson Andy Ward: The grove is “an oasis in the middle of a pavement desert.”

UPDATE ON THE PROPOSED SIGN ORDINANCE, ZTA 21-08

The Planning Board tabled until its September meeting a detailed discussion of a new Town Code sign ordinance. ZTA 21-08 is currently a work in progress.

The text of the ZTA that the Board considered yesterday was substantially different from the one we previewed 8/14/21. The Board did not receive the new version until a few hours before its meeting.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/17/21

8/14/21: PLANNING BOARD TO REVIEW FIRST AMENDMENT- DRIVEN OVERHAUL OF TOWN SIGN ORDINANCES; Survey Shows Town’s Streets in Fair or Better Condition.

The Planning Board will consider Monday a substantial revision of the Town’s regulations on signs—of all types and in all zoning districts—that is designed to eliminate all content-based restrictions that presumably violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The substantial revision is Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 21-08, which proposes to strike most of the existing language of Town Code secs. 36-165 (“Regulations governing signs”) and 36-57, (definition of sign), in order to bring the ordinances into conformity with a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U.S. 155 (2015). 

You may access ZTA 21-08 here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ZTA-21-08-Signage-1.pdf.

The Planning Board meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Pitts Center. (See The Beacon, 8/11/21, for a preview of the agenda.) All attendees must wear face masks.

ZTA 21-08 was drafted by consultant Chad Meadows of CodeWright Planners, during his review/revision of the Town Code, and reviewed by Town Attorney Ben Gallop. The Town staff has recommended its approval.  

As Mr. Gallop makes clear in written comments that are included in the meeting’s materials, Reed v. Town of Gilbert is not as straightforward as it may appear to those unversed in First Amendment law. “A significant body of conflicting case law has developed since Reed was decided,” he writes.  

Indeed, the opinion itself, which was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, has three concurrences in which six of the justices make legal distinctions. So, although all nine justices agreed on the ultimate judgment in the case, they quibbled on the analysis.  

Fortunately, the Planning Board does not have to learn constitutional analysis. But it does have to be on the lookout for regulations that interfere too much with individual property owner’s rights.

It is generally well understood that while government cannot restrict speech—on signs or otherwise—because of its message, ideas, subject matter, or content, government can regulate signs for legitimate, content-neutral reasons such as to promote public safety (reduce traffic obstructions, for example) or to preserve “aesthetics.” 

Southern Shores’ current sign definitions in Town Code sec. 36-57 distinguish between commercial and noncommercial signs and address their use, purpose, and content. ZTA 21-08 deletes all of this language.

Current Code Sec. 36-165 carries over this commercial-noncommercial distinction, and it, too, is eliminated by ZTA 21-08. Other regulations within this Code section, however, govern the permissibility of signs according to the zoning district in which they appear—residential, commercial, or government and institutional—and it is this framework that forms the basis of the Town’s proposed new signage regulations.

What ZTA 21-08 leaves you with are four categories of signage:

  • Permanent signage in a residential district
  • Permanent signage in the commercial district
  • Permanent signage in the government/institutional district
  • Temporary signage, in 1) residential districts and 2) all other districts

ZTA 21-08 then proposes to regulate the signage within these four categories by:

  • Maximum number of signs per lot
  • Cumulative sign area of lot (square footage)
  • Maximum surface area for a single sign (square footage)
  • Maximum height of sign (in feet above grade)
  • The type of signs allowed
  • Other “additional standards”

EXCEPT, in the case of temporary signs, ZTA 21-08 limits the number of days per year that a property owner may display the sign. In the residential district, the “maximum duration per calendar year” is 30 days; in all other districts, the maximum duration is 90 days.

We ask: Is this 30 days per temporary sign per year? If so, then a person could have 12 signs expressing the same sentiment and display them one at a time, each for 30 days. Doing so would defeat what appears to be the aesthetics rationale behind the restriction.

We also note that state and county regulations governing the placement of temporary campaign signs allow for about 60 days.

Interestingly, the current Town sign ordinance states that temporary signs may be posted for up to 90 days, “at which time the sign shall be removed or replaced.” (Code sec. 36-165(12)) If you look around Southern Shores, you can appreciate that this ordinance is not enforced. 

We believe that this arbitrary time restriction could be perceived as a subtle form of viewpoint-repression that does not have a content-neutral justification to pass First Amendment muster.

The limit on the number of signs that a property owner may have on his/her lot at one time also raises our eyebrows. The number selected is three. Why not five or 10? If property owner A’s lot is twice as large as property owner B’s lot, shouldn’t A be allowed six temporary signs?

Here again, we ask, is the restriction a subtle form of viewpoint-repression or is it justified by a legitimate aesthetic objective that overrides First Amendment protection?  

Certainly, a yard filled with the signs of a certain political candidate makes a stronger and more emphatic statement than a yard with only one of the candidate’s signs, even if some people think it is unattractive.

Provided the signage does not “obstruct or impair access to a public sidewalk, public or private street or driveway, traffic control sign, bus stop, fire hydrant, or any other type of street furniture, or otherwise create a hazard”—this is language from current Code sec. 36-165(12)(b)—how much say should the Town have in regulating this speech?

In his concurrence to Reed, Justice Samuel Alito listed some “reasonable sign regulations” that municipalities can enact without running afoul of content-based distinctions. He was joined in his opinion by Justices Anthony Kennedy (ret.) and Sonia Sotomayor. Among the regulations he listed were:

  • Rules regulating the size of signs
  • Rules regulating the locations in which signs may be placed (e.g., free-standing signs versus those attached to buildings)
  • Rules distinguishing between lighted and unlighted signs
  • Rules distinguishing between signs with fixed messages and electronic signs with messages that change
  • Rules distinguishing between the placement of signs on commercial and residential property
  • Rules restricting the total number of signs allowed per mile of roadway (not per lot)

Although Justice Alito’s concurrence is not the majority opinion in Reed, nor is his list “comprehensive,” as he notes, it offers fairly reliable guidance to municipalities in formulating their sign ordinances. The Town of Southern Shores seems to have adhered to it in ZTA 21-08, in large part, except for the maximum-day and maximum-number regulations that we point out above.

Temporary yard signs have long been a medium of political expression for Southern Shores residents, so much so that one enterprising homeowner on South Dogwood Trail dubbed Southern Shores the “town of yard sign opinions” (above)—and announced this cleverness on a yard sign, of course.

According to ZTA 21-08, a property owner in a residential district may post a maximum of three signs on his/her lot, each of which may be no larger than six square feet, and, cumulatively, cover no more than 21 square feet.

A free-standing sign in the residential districts may be as high as five feet above grade; a wall sign must be “under roof,” ZTA 21-08 says.

Further, temporary signs “shall not be illuminated or painted with light-reflecting paint” and “shall be placed outside the right-of-way and at least five feet from all lot lines.” The lot owner also must give his/her permission before the temporary sign is located on the lot.

According to ZTA 21-08 and the current Town Code, a temporary sign is one that is “intended to display messages of a transitory or temporary nature.” Is a yard-sign statement in support of world peace transitory or temporary in nature?

Examples of temporary signs in the Town Code include “portable signs, or any sign not permanently embedded in the ground, or not permanently affixed to a building or sign structure that is permanently embedded in the ground.”

Such signs are “typically constructed from nondurable materials, including paper, cardboard, cloth, plastic, and/or wallboard,” the ordinance states.

We commend ZTA 21-08 to you for your consideration.  

TOWN PAVEMENT STUDY & CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PLAN

As we reported 8/11/21, the results of the pavement condition study by SEPI Engineering and Construction Inc. are in and will be discussed by the Town Council at its Tuesday 9 a.m. workshop at the Pitts Center.

You may now access a draft the SEPI report, dated Aug. 17, 2021, here:

According to its report, SEPI conducted a visual pavement condition survey in March and April this year of a street network of about 38 miles, which it broke down into 163 segments.

SEPI states in its executive summary that it found 12 percent of the Town’s street network to be in excellent condition; 15 percent to be in good condition; and 73 percent to be in fair condition. It did not rate any road sections as poor or failed.

The street system, the consultant writes on p. 12 of the report, “is in fair but aging condition and is well suited for preservation and minor rehabilitation repair treatments.”

For those of you who are acquainted with pavement “distresses,” we note that the top three distresses identified by SEPI in Southern Shores are “fatigue cracking, surface distresses, and transverse cracking.” We will delve into these problems in a subsequent, more detailed blog on SEPI’s study.

SEPI concludes its report with two recommended options for 10-year Town capital improvement plans (CIP) to preserve and rehabilitate the roads. The first would cost Southern Shores annually about $675,000 to implement, while the second would cost upwards of $1 million per year.

Last week, upon our request, and before the report was online, Town Manager Cliff Ogburn gave us a statement about the scope, intent, and use of SEPI’s work product, as follows:

“The intent of initiating the study was to have an evaluation of the pavement condition for each mile of town streets and then [to put] those results . . . into a 10 year CIP so that we have a plan to perform the recommended maintenance work starting with the streets in the poorest condition.  It’s important to note that the study looked at pavement only and not things like road width or how we classify the street. 

“The scope of the work includes several things but it produces two key deliverables . . . One is a color-coded map that will indicate the condition of every street with its PCI score (pavement condition index) and the recommended maintenance treatment.  My goal would be to place this map on the Town’s website so that any property owner could click on their street and see when and what is planned or recommended for upcoming maintenance. The other is a technical report that lists:

  • “every street by segment from worst to best condition;
  • “the amount of distress present for each item analyzed to generate a PCI (how much fatigue cracking, transverse cracking, surface defects, rutting/roughness, block cracking)
  • “recommended maintenance and cost

“The CIP is how we rank/prioritize the work.”

Mr. Ogburn concluded by saying that “The Council likely will not make any decisions at the meeting Tuesday.”

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, ©8/14/21