A draft of projected expenses and revenues in fiscal year 2019-20 for the Town of Southern Shores shows a balance of $6,220,846, according to a report recently posted on the Town website, without any need to raise ad valorem (real property) taxes.
Town Manager/Budget Officer Peter Rascoe and Finance Officer Bonnie Swain will present these figures to the Town Council for review at a special budget work session next Tuesday, at 9 a.m., in the Pitts Center. The public will have an opportunity to comment during the meeting.
The Town Council approved by resolution last year a second budget session meeting for Tuesday, April 30, which is the date of the special congressional primary election. That session has not yet been canceled or rescheduled.
After the review(s), Mr. Rascoe will incorporate the projected expenses and revenues into his proposed FY 2019-20 annual operating budget, which he will submit to the Council at its May 7 meeting. He is expected to recommend that a public hearing be held on the budget at the Council’s June 4 meeting.
The Town Council must adopt a budget no later than July 1, 2019, the first day of the 2019-20 fiscal year.
To see both the April 23 budget meeting agenda and the draft projected General Fund expenses and revenues, click:
According to Ms. Swain, who spoke with The Beacon last year about budgetary basics, the Town has three different funds: the General Fund (GF), which covers nearly all of the budget expenses, including monies to fund operations of the different Town departments (administration, public works, police, code enforcement), to purchase fire-protection services, and to pay for capital improvements; the Capital Reserve Fund (CRF), which Ms. Swain described as “a savings account for capital projects”; and the Cemetery Fund.
Both the GF and the CRF have unassigned fund balances. Pursuant to a Town Council resolution, a minimum of $1.75 million must be maintained in the GF unassigned fund balance for emergencies related to natural disasters. The exact amount in the GF unassigned fund balance for FY 2019-20 will be determined at the end of FY 2018-19, but an estimate should be available before then. In recent years, the balance has been in excess of $3 million.
OVERVIEW OF MAJOR REVENUES, EXPENSES
According to Budget Officer Rascoe’s figures, nearly 50 percent of the Town’s $6,220,846 in projected revenues comes from ad valorem taxes, and about 35 percent comes from occupancy, sales, and land-transfer taxes. The respective numbers are $3,081,460 and $2,165, 590.
The remaining projected revenues come from a combination of unrestricted intergovernmental revenues, such as utilities franchise and telecommunications taxes; restricted intergovernmental revenues, such as the Powell Bill allocation (state money that must be used on roads) and other grants; permits and fees; interest income, and miscellaneous profits and donations.
On the expense side of the ledger, costs to run the police department make up about 28 percent, and administration department expenses consume about 17 percent, of the projected $6,220,846.
Salaries constitute the largest line-item expense in both departments, as well as in the public works (total expenses of $532,469) and planning and code enforcement ($265,523) departments. Every Town employee is projected to receive a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase in his or her salary.
The Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept. is projected to cost the Town $869,934 in FY 2019-20: $545,914 in fire-protection services, pursuant to a new 10-year contract; $314,020 in debt service on the 25-year mortgage for the new $5.4 million fire station; and $10,000 for a fence to serve as a barrier between residences and the new station.
The budget for FY 2019-20 infrastructure projects is $662,340. This does not include street, bridge, waterway, and bulkhead maintenance and repairs. The projected total for all street, bridge, and canal expenses is $842,067.
No funds have been allocated for traffic reduction.
The Beacon will publish a more detailed analysis of the Town’s projected revenues and expenses, along with opinions expressed by the Mayor and Town Council and any changes made, after Tuesday’s work session. We also will analyze the proposed FY 2019-20 budget before the June 4 public hearing.
GOOD FRIDAY CLOSINGS
Dare County and Town of Southern Shores offices will be closed tomorrow, April 19, in observance of Good Friday. Public schools have been closed throughout the week for spring break.
North Carolina is one of only 12 states in the country that observe this religious holiday. The others—for those of you who are curious, as I am—are Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota, Texas, and Hawaii.
Easter is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox, which is March 20. This year, Good Friday coincides with the beginning of the Jewish observance of Passover.
The Beacon is unaware of any other Good Friday closings in Dare County. Trash collection in Southern Shores will be picked up as usual on Monday.
We hope you enjoy your weekend and any holiday that you may be observing. April is a beautiful month to be in Southern Shores.
The regular meeting of the Town Planning Board, originally scheduled for Monday, April 15, will be held instead Tuesday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center. The Board will continue its discussion of nonconforming lots and possible exceptions to Town Code sec. 36-132, which regulates such lots.
Nonconforming lots are tracts of land that do not conform to the minimum dimensions established by the Town of Southern Shores, including a minimum size of 20,000 square feet and a minimum width of 50 feet.
Town Code sec. 36-132, passed by the Town Council last September, sets forth when property owners who own a nonconforming lot adjacent to another lot that they own must combine the lots and when property owners may treat a nonconforming lot singly and either develop or sell it.
Pursuant to a Town Council directive, Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett has been working with Town Permit Officer Dabni Shelton and the Dare County Register of Deeds to identify all nonconforming lots in Southern Shores. Mr. Haskett is expected to present this lot inventory April 23 to the Planning Board, so that it can continue evaluating the impact of the new nonconforming lots ordinance.
For background, see The Beacon, 2/20/19.
TOWN TO HOLD FY 2019-20 BUDGET SESSION APRIL 23; EARLY VOTING IN CONGRESSIONAL PRIMARY ELECTION STARTS TODAY
The Town Council will have its first working session about the fiscal year 2019-20 budget at 9 a.m. on April 23, in the Pitts Center. Town Manager Peter Rascoe and Finance Officer Bonnie Swain will present preliminary figures for the Town’s revenues and expenses. The Town Council will adopt the new fiscal-year budget, which starts July 1, in June.
Another budget session is currently scheduled for 9 a.m. April 30 in the Pitts Center, but it will have to be changed because the Pitts Center is a polling place for voting in the special congressional primary election that day. The Beacon will update you on budget news as it is issued.
Early voting starts today in the April 30 special primary election, which will determine the Democrat and Republican candidates running for the unexpired term of the late Walter B. Jones in North Carolina’s third congressional district. Voting will take place in the Dare County Administration Building in Manteo, the Thomas A. Baum Senior Center in Kill Devil Hills, and the Fessenden Annex in Buxton, and continue through April 26.
For more about the 26 candidates who are running in the primary for the U.S. congressional seat—17 of whom are Republicans—please see The Beacon, 3/19/19.
ZONING APPEAL CHALLENGES SAGA ‘MINI-HOTEL’
A quasi-judicial hearing on the validity of the zoning permit issued by the Town to 134 Ocean Blvd. LLC for construction of a 12-bedroom luxury structure at 134 Ocean Blvd. will be held before the Town Board of Adjustment on Friday, April 26, at 1 p.m., in the Pitts Center. 134 Ocean Blvd. LLC is a corporation owned by the developer SAGA.
Homeowner Gwendolyn Snyder Smuts has appealed the zoning permit, contending that SAGA should not have been permitted to build its structure, which is hotel-like in design and function, in the Town’s RS-1 single-family-dwelling residential district.
The plans for the structure and grounds at 134 Ocean Blvd. call for 12 bedroom-bathroom suites, a 14-seat home theater, an elevator, a swimming pool with a swim-up bar, a hot tub, a tiki bar, a large game/recreation room with shuffleboard, and many more hotel-like amenities and gathering spaces. They also include 17 parking spaces and a septic system to service 24 people.
The Planning Board serves as the Board of Adjustment. For more about the zoning permit appeal, see nominihotels.com.
FLAT TOP TOUR APRIL 27 FEATURES 14 HISTORIC HOUSES
Fourteen historic homes will be on display April 27 for the 2019 Southern Shores flat-top cottage tour. The last flat top tour was held three years ago.
The flat-top cottage tour is self-guided and runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $7 each and will be available on the tour day at both 13 Skyline Road and 156 Wax Myrtle Trail. All proceeds benefit the Flat Top Preservation Fund of the Outer Banks Community Foundation.
Parking is available at and around 156 Wax Myrtle Trail, according to organizer Steve Gudas, who said that from this location six of the flat-top houses are in walking distance.
Ten of the houses on the tour are located on Ocean Boulevard; two are on Wax Myrtle Trail; and the others are on Skyline Road and Porpoise Run. Tour participants will be given a map and historical information about each house when they buy their tickets.
Restricting septic-service capacity in Southern Shores houses, whether they are used as private residences or vacation cottages, has never been viewed favorably by Town Attorney Ben Gallop. The risk of the Town getting sued if it enacts ZTA 19-01 PB’s septic-capacity limit of 14 persons is “substantial,” he said at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting.
(You will recall that the Town Council approved ZTA 19-01PB, 3-2, falling one vote short of its enactment on first reading. A second reading and vote on the measure will be held at the Council’s May 7 meeting. See The Beacon’s reports of 4/3/19 and 4/4/19.)
During the Town Council’s discussion of the proposed occupancy-limiting ZTA, Mr. Gallop said that he would rather defend the ordinance on its use provisions, than on its septic-capacity provision.
If the validity of the septic-capacity provision were challenged, it would likely be on the grounds that such a restriction violates the N.C. statute that prohibits towns from regulating the “number and types of rooms” in new single-family homes. (See yesterday’s blog about Senate Bill 25.)
The Dare County Health Dept., not the Town of Southern Shores, determines septic capacity. To calculate capacity, the health department routinely uses the number of bedrooms in a house, according to local builders: One bedroom usually equates to two people. You, therefore, could argue that the Town is actually imposing a bedroom restriction by enacting a septic-capacity limit.
The Beacon does not find this argument persuasive, but The Beacon is not a trial judge. Nor are we on the Town Planning Board.
In deliberating over ZTA 19-01PB, the Planning Board might have settled on a septic-capacity cap other than 14 persons, which clearly refers back to the Town’s seven-bedroom restriction. How about a number not divisible by two, such as 11, 13, or 15? It is not too late for the Town Council to change the number in the proposed amendment.
In January 2016, when the Town Council passed the 6,000-square-foot maximum house size ordinance, it also considered retaining the 14-person septic-capacity limit. Mr. Gallop discouraged Council members from doing so because of the “risk.”
Mayor Pro Tem Christopher Nason asked Mr. Gallop Tuesday if “septic is any more defensible now” than it was previously. Has anything changed in the past few years? “No,” the Town Attorney replied. Nothing.
Undeterred by the perceived risk of a lawsuit, Councilman Jim Conners defended his motion to approve ZTA 19-01PB’s septic-capacity provision, but not the use provisions, in part, by observing that Duck and Nags Head have septic-capacity limits, and neither town has been sued. (You will recall that Mr. Conners’s motion failed.)
Mr. Conners also argued that in differentiating single-family homes by their use, ZTA 19-01PB creates a “muddy mess.”
“A single-family home is a single-family home,” he said. If the Town adds the “vacation cottage” use to the permissible uses of structures in the Town’s residential districts, he continued, “It’s setting up a nightmare.”
Mr. Nason, who opposes a septic limit because of the risk, also invoked nightmare imagery at the Council meeting, referring to the implementation of ZTA 19-01PB’s use provisions, which he found “interesting,” as “a nightmare in transition.”
Nonetheless, the Mayor Pro Tem said he was not “scared off” by the use provisions because they would be better to “litigate or control.” He did acknowledge difficulties in enforcement, however, and said he thought the ordinance was “complicated.”
Councilman Gary McDonald, who was the Council’s chief proponent for approving ZTA 19-01PB, as written, focused on the advertising component of the new “vacation cottage’ use as being key to its success.
If a newly constructed vacation cottage is advertised as accommodating more than 14 overnight occupants, it is no longer a permitted use. The ordinance “limits how [vacation cottage owners] can advertise,” Mr. McDonald said.
The question of how the ordinance would be “triggered” also was considered during this discussion, principally by Mr. Gallop.
Clearly, if a zoning-permit applicant presents the Town with a health department permit for a 16-person septic system, the ordinance would be triggered, and the zoning permit would not be granted. But suppose an applicant secures a 14-person septic permit, how would the ordinance be triggered in the event of a violation—especially if an applicant does not advertise or advertises in an unlikely or untraceable forum?
Like most of the Town code enforcement that occurs now, it would likely be driven by neighbors’ complaints.
Early in Tuesday’s discussion, Town Manager Peter Rascoe brought up the issue of staff enforcement, plainly telling the Council, “We’re not the bedroom police.”
The Town can respond to noise complaints, advertising for more than 14 overnight occupants, and illegal parking, Mr. Rascoe said, but it won’t be “counting heads.”
If the Town Council wants staff to enforce the occupancy restriction, it will have to develop a policy of enforcement, Mr. Rascoe said.
Town Code sec. 1-6(d) covers the enforcement of the zoning chapter through the imposition of civil penalties. The Town will have to decide how many warnings it will give occupancy violators—through the owner’s agent or, perhaps, by contacting the owner through a registry system that it sets up—before it issues a citation.
How many violations would justify revocation of a zoning permit? Isn’t that the ultimate penalty?
THE FINAL VOTE
Although Town Council members appeared confused during Tuesday’s meeting about the proposed zoning text amendment, and there was some befuddlement about the content of the motions proposed and how members voted, the positions of the five elected officials emerged.
Councilmen McDonald and Fred Newberry squarely supported the septic-capacity limit and use provisions of ZTA 19-01PB. Councilman Conners opposed the use provisions, and Councilman Nason opposed the septic-capacity limit.
Mayor Tom Bennett staked out a middle-ground position with which Councilmen McDonald and Newberry may have agreed, but they did not say so. Mayor Bennett made it clear that he believes the Council has to “get something on the books . . . to prevent recurrence of these 12-bedroom homes.”
The Mayor was willing to support a flawed zoning text amendment that needs “tweaking.”
He also does not believe the litigation risk associated with the septic-capacity limit is substantial.
After the Council voted on ZTA 19-01PB, Mr. Rascoe brought up the question of how the Town should treat a dwelling that is used during the year as both a private residence and a vacation cottage. Piggybacking on this, Councilman Nason asked about Airbnb rentals and the status of residences that offer them.
Mr. Gallop replied that if any transient occupancy occurs in a single-family dwelling, it is a vacation cottage, unless its existing, pre-ordinance-enactment use allows it to be grandfathered in as a nonconforming private residence.
To be continued on May 7. Don’t forget: When the Council takes up ZTA 19-01PB at its next meeting, it can pass the ordinance by a simple-majority vote. A super-majority of four is not required.
REPAVING U.S. 158, SAVING YAUPON TRAIL TREE, AND STARTING A LIBRARY
I conclude this three-day report on the April 2 Town Council meeting with several tidbits of news shared by the Mayor and Town Council members and with a personal note. First up, the Mayor:
U.S. HWY. 158: Mayor Bennett reported on a meeting of the Albemarle Rural Planning Organization that he recently attended. The ARPO announced that a two-year-long U.S. Hwy. 158 repaving project will begin after the vacation season ends this year. According to the Mayor, it will extend from the Wright Brothers Memorial Bridge to the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge in Manteo.
“Down the road,” Mr. Bennett said, U.S. 158 also will undergo a “complete upgrade and modification” so that it becomes a “limited access highway,” with a median down the center and side-access roads feeding into it. The middle turn lane will be eliminated. No timetable has been set for this radical change.
YAUPON TRAIL TREE: The Mayor also reported that he has heard from four residents of Yaupon Trail who would like to have the large tree at the Yaupon Trail and South Dogwood Trail intersection removed because it blocks drivers’ sight lines.
When the Yaupon Trail rebuilding project began, Mr. Bennett said, a “number” of residents asked the Town to “save the tree.” Now they have opposition.
According to the Mayor, an arborist examined the tree and diagnosed it with “core rot,” but said “it could live indefinitely.”
The Mayor asked Town Council members to take a look at the iconic tree—I love it! You just have to drive slowly from Yaupon on to South Dogwood Trail—and give him feedback on what they think.
SOUTHERN SHORES LIBRARY: Councilman Conners has spearheaded an effort to establish a branch of the Dare County Library in Southern Shores, reportedly to be located on Juniper Trail near the Marketplace. Mr. Conners held an organizational meeting March 15 that he reported was attended by about 35 people.
Mr. Conners said a committee will be formed to research the possibility of establishing the branch library, which would be funded by Dare County. Please contact him if you are interested in this project.
50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE JULY 20, 1969 MOON LANDING
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: Councilman Nason brought back a special time in my life when he reported on upcoming activities of the Dare County Tourism Bureau, on which he sits as Southern Shores’ representative.
Mr. Nason promoted a special 50th-anniversary event that will be held at the newly improved Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center to mark the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s “one small step.”
I was vacationing in Kill Devil Hills with my family on July 20, 1969. That evening, my parents went to the Wright Brothers Memorial to watch the moon landing on television with two of their four children. Their 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter were thrilled to witness history where the first flight had occurred nearly 66 years earlier. But their two older daughters, including Ann, couldn’t be bothered with such tag-along-with-the-parents nonsense. We were at the beach, for goodness sake! We were out of school and free!
I have yet to live that mistake down.
Mr. Nason said photographs of the people who watched the moon landing at the Wright Brothers Memorial will be on display for the 50th-anniversary event. I can’t wait to see them. This time, I’ll be there.
(P.S. Sorry for the technological glitches. I posted this blog three times before it would connect with The Beacon’s Facebook page. Each time I posted it, subscribers received an email. My apologies.)
The Town Council voted, 3-2, Tuesday to approve a zoning measure that would limit the septic capacity in all houses in Southern Shores, and the overnight occupancy in all of the town’s “vacation cottages,” to 14 persons. The Council also held a public hearing on the merits of three beach-nourishment plan options recently included in a coastal-engineering consultant’s report, but took no action on these proposals.
“We’re going to discuss [beach nourishment] through the next few months, I’m sure,” Mayor Tom Bennett said, “and gain more knowledge and more information about it” before making a decision on whether to replenish beaches in 2022.
The Beacon reported yesterday on these outcomes from the Council’s April meeting and promised to give a more thorough report today. That plan has changed. I will be giving part of my full report today and continuing it tomorrow.
Tuesday’s vote on what is known as zoning text amendment (“ZTA”) 19-01PB fell one vote shy of the “super-majority” needed to pass it on first reading. A second reading—and another public hearing—of the ZTA will be held at the May 7 meeting of the Town Council. If three Council members vote then to pass the zoning ordinance amendment, it will become Town law.
If that happens, any time a homeowner decides to convert a private residence into a vacation rental or a vacation rental into a private residence, he or she will have to—or, at least, should—obtain a zoning permit from the Town. The fee for a zoning permit is $50.
The new septic-capacity and overnight-occupancy limitations will apply only to new construction, according to Town Attorney Ben Gallop. Existing houses that become nonconforming as a result of these zoning changes will be “grandfathered in,” he said.
Before the public hearing on beach nourishment, Town Manager Peter Rascoe described the beach-management plan submitted by Aptim Coastal Planning & Engineering of N.C., Inc. as a “means to protect and sustain . . . the current condition” of Southern Shores’ beaches.
The consultant’s plan is “not a reaction to an emergency,” Mr. Rascoe said, nor is “immediate action” required. “It is a plan for the future.”
Although the Town Manager informed the Town Council at its March meeting that Dare County needs a commitment from Southern Shores to undertake beach nourishment “as soon as possible,” if the Town is to receive an allocation from the county’s Beach Nourishment Fund, Mr. Rascoe did not refer Tuesday to a deadline.
A month ago, Mr. Rascoe told the Town Council that it had to decide in April whether it was going to “pull the trigger” on beach nourishment and request county funding. In his report Tuesday, the Town Manager said only that Dare County has indicated that by 2022, $7.5 million is “projected to be available for another new priority [nourishment] project.”
Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head all have ongoing—not new—beach-nourishment projects.
While the prospect of sand-replenishment along Southern Shores’ shoreline north of Pelican Watch, where nourishment has occurred and will be maintained, drew most of the crowd to Tuesday’s meeting, ZTA 19-01PB has more immediate impact for property owners, as well as vacationers. For that reason, I will focus on ZTA 19-01 PB and integrate into both parts of this report more background and analysis than I customarily do in meeting reports.
LARGE HIGH-OCCUPANCY HOUSES AFTER LOSING THE 7-BEDROOM RESTRICTION: LEGISLATIVE HISTORY
ZTA 19-01PB represents the culmination of about five months of effort by the Town Planning Board and the Town Council to confront the threat to Southern Shores’s low-density environment—and its character and quality of life—posed by the construction of large, high-occupancy residential structures, such as the two that SAGA Construction and Development is building at 98 and 134 Ocean Blvd.
SAGA’s building plans for these oceanfront sites came to light publicly last October after the Kill Devil Hills developer started the permitting process with the State and the Town. Opposition from Southern Shores property owners to SAGA’s proposed 12-bedroom, 17-parking-space, hotel-like structures was swift and adamant. The Beacon extensively covered the public protest in blogs posted in October and November.
Until June 2015, when legislation known as N.C. Senate Bill (SB) 25 became state law, the Town imposed a seven-bedroom restriction on single-family dwellings as one means to control the density of development in Southern Shores. SB 25, which was codified as new subsections of N.C. General Statutes (NCGS) sec. 160A-381, took away the ability of municipalities to regulate certain building design elements, including the “number and types of rooms.”
Southern Shores’ seven-bedroom limit, which had been in effect since October 2001, became invalid.
In January 2016, confronted by SAGA’s proposal to build a 16-bedroom wedding destination venue on the oceanfront, the Town Council enacted an ordinance to limit the size of single-family dwellings to 6,000 square feet. This was a compromise reached by a sharply divided Council. Three of the Council members had been in office only six weeks.
In the process of enacting the maximum-size ordinance, the Council eliminated from the Town Code a septic-capacity limit for single-family dwellings of 14 persons, which had been paired with the bedroom restriction.
Mayor Tom Bennett, who voted Tuesday with Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald in favor of ZTA 19-01PB, referred to “agonizing over” how to control house occupancy in Southern Shores since SB 25 became law.
“Tackling house size,” he said, “didn’t solve the problem.” And now, he observed, there are “12-bedroom homes being built in two places in Southern Shores.”
The Town’s objective, the Mayor continued, should be “to try to discourage or prevent any more 12-bedroom homes” from being built.
Revised NCGS sec. 160A-381 (i.e., SB 25) does not just tell towns what they cannot regulate. It also specifically cites those “design elements” that they may regulate. These include “height, bulk, orientation, or location of a structure on a lot” and buffers or screens to “minimize visual impacts” of structures; “mitigate the impacts of light and noise”; and/or protect neighbors’ privacy.
The statute also explicitly states that it has no effect on regulations governing the “permitted uses of land or structures.”
Use is a driving concept behind ZTA 19-01PB. According to Mr. Gallop, density of development is also an element that local zoning may regulate. Controlling occupancy is a way to control density.
The new zoning amendment would add to the Town Code’s permitted uses of land or structures in Southern Shores’s residential districts the use of “vacation cottage,” which it defines according to “transient occupancy.” The intent is to regulate cottages that are offered for rent or use by the day, week, or other period of less than 30 days.
The ZTA imposes the 14-person septic capacity and overnight occupancy maximums as conditions of the permitted use. Houses that are not used for transient occupancy are subject only to the septic-capacity cap. You may access ZTA 19-01PB here:
Currently, the only permitted use in the Town’s residential districts is a “detached single-family dwelling.” To know how the Town Code defines a single-family dwelling, you have to read the definition of “family” in Code sec. 36-57.
ZTA 18-10, which also was scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday, is largely based on the exemptions in NCGS sec. 160A-381.
ZTA 18-10 creates a single-family oceanfront overlay district—a smaller district within the larger RS-1 residential district—and regulates houses within that district according to building height, yard setbacks, landscaping buffers, and other permissible factors.
The Town Council introduced the concept of this zoning text amendment at its Nov. 7 special meeting on large houses; the Planning Board unanimously voted in January not to recommend it. You may access ZTA 18-10 here:
After the vote on ZTA 19-01PB Tuesday, Councilman McDonald made a motion to withdraw ZTA 18-10 and effectively cancel the public hearing. This motion was unanimously approved.
Councilman Jim Conners, who made the motion in November that led to the drafting of ZTA 18-10, expressed the hope Tuesday that the Council “can revisit” some of its elements. He said he thought it was a fair attempt to address the “impacts” of large high-occupancy houses.
The Town Planning Board authorized drafting ZTA 19-01PB, after holding several meetings to discuss how to prevent the construction of large, high-occupancy houses. It unanimously voted to recommend it.
At one time, the Board also approved, by a 3-2 vote, the drafting of a ZTA that would limit house size to 5,000 square feet, but it later voted, 3-2, to rescind this action. The rescission occurred because of a change in Board membership.
TOWN COUNCIL’S DISCUSSION OF THE ZONING TEXT AMENDMENT
After Tuesday’s public hearing on ZTA 19-01PB, Mayor Bennett quickly supported it by saying that he thought the amendment “addresses our issues pretty well.”
It may need “minor tweaks,” he noted, but it is “our [best] recourse.”
Before anyone made a motion to approve ZTA 19-01PB, however, Councilman Conners moved to adopt the septic-capacity provision of the amendment, but not the use provision. He sought to amend the ZTA by deleting any reference to “vacation cottage” or “transient occupancy.”
Had Mr. Conners’s motion been approved, rather than defeated, 4-1, ZTA 19-01PB, as amended, would have gone back to the Planning Board for its consideration, according to Mr. Gallop.
The discussion that ensued after Mr. Conners’s unexpected motion was confusing, even for those of us who know the legislative history.
To understand it, you have to understand the perceived risk associated with enacting a septic-capacity limitation. I will pick up there tomorrow.
The Town Council voted last night in favor of approving zoning changes designed to prevent the construction of large high-occupancy houses, but not by the “super-majority” needed for immediate passage. The Council will have a second reading of zoning text amendment (ZTA) 19-01PB, which received support last night from three Council members, at its May 7 meeting.
The Town Council also heard from 18 property owners during its public hearing on beach nourishment, but made no decision on the three replenishment options proposed by Aptim Coastal Planning & Engineering of N.C., Inc. (APTIM) that were the impetus for the hearing. Mayor Tom Bennett informed the large crowd at the Pitts Center that the Council would “take time to deliberate over the next few months.”
The Beacon will publish a full report on last night’s Town Council meeting tomorrow. Today’s blog is a summary of the key action that occurred.
The Town Council divided sharply in a lengthy discussion about ZTA 19-01PB, its consequences, and its enforcement. The proposed Town Code amendment restricts occupancy in all houses within the town’s residential districts by limiting the septic capacity to 14 overnight occupants and further caps the number of overnight occupants in “vacation cottages,” which the ZTA defines by “transient occupancy,” to 14.
Here is the text of ZTA 19-01PB, which the five-member Town Planning Board unanimously recommended:
Councilman Jim Conners supported the septic-capacity restriction in ZTA 19-01PB, but not the creation of a new permissible “use” within the residential districts of a vacation cottage.
“A single-family home is a single-family home,” Mr. Conners said, in support of a motion that he made to approve the ZTA, “without mention” of vacation cottage or transient occupancy. Mayor Bennett seconded Mr. Conners’s motion.
After Mr. Conners’s motion failed, 4-1, ZTA 19-01PB, as written, without amendment, was approved 3-2, with Mayor Bennett and Councilmen Gary McDonald and Fred Newberry voting in favor of it. Councilman Christopher Nason joined Mr. Conners in opposition.
A super-majority of four of the five Council members must approve a zoning text amendment for it to be enacted on first reading. On second reading, only a simple majority is required for passage. Therefore, if the same three Council members approve ZTA 19-01PB in May, it will become town law.
The only action the Town Council took on the prospect of nourishing the town’s shoreline north of Pelican Watch was to approve amending the fiscal year 2018-19 budget to authorize funding for a beach-profile survey by APTIM in June.
APTIM performed a baseline survey of Southern Shores beaches in 2017. The company “profiled” 22 shoreline locations, which are spaced 1,000 feet apart from each other.
According to APTIM vice president Kenneth Willson, who presented the results of the profile survey to the Town Council at its March 6, 2018 meeting, the survey showed that 1) the shoreline is “stable,” having lost only 0.4 feet between 2006 and 2017; and 2) the volume of sand in the system increased during the same time period.
The June survey will assess any changes that have occurred in the past two years.
Of the 18 people who spoke during the public hearing on APTIM’s proposals, 11 of them favored beach nourishment, generally, without addressing the consultant’s vulnerability assessment and beach management plan, which Mr. Willson submitted Dec. 21, 2018.
Of these 11 people, six have property on Seventh Avenue, which is not included in any of the beach-nourishment options proposed by APTIM, and three of them have property or an association with the Pelican Watch development at the southern end of Southern Shores near the Kitty Hawk Pier.
The historically vulnerable Pelican Watch oceanfront, whose topography is more like that of Kitty Hawk’s than the remainder of Southern Shores, is already in a nourishment plan and is scheduled for maintenance in 2022.
Of the remaining two proponents, one has property on Sixth Avenue; and the other said her oceanfront at Purple Martin Lane has narrowed significantly in the past 37 years.
Opponents and those more neutral in their assessment of beach nourishment spoke of a lack of coastal-engineering data to support a Southern Shores project; the high cost taxpayers would incur if the Town were to green-light a project; the lack of Town planning for simultaneously funding numerous big-ticket budget items, including the new fire station, continued infrastructure improvements, and possible replacement or renovation of the Town building complex; and the timing.
“We need to have more transparency on how much this is going to cost,” said Yvonne Duiker of Kingfisher Trail. Actual numbers.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more meeting details.
WE CAN’T HEAR YOU! AND WE’RE UNNECESSARILY CONFUSED!
I would like to conclude this blog report by encouraging the Town Council, the Town Attorney, the Town Manager, and anyone else associated with the Town to speak up and to enunciate during town meetings. Please stop mumbling. As a play director would say: Project so that the people in the back of the theater can hear you!
I think I speak for many of the people who attended last night’s meeting when I say that much of what was said, particularly by soft-spoken Town Council members, was lost. This is not the first time this has occurred. If you can’t speak so that your audience hears you, please get a microphone. And, Council members, when you vote on a measure, if you can’t say “yay” or “nay” loudly, then please raise your hand high and keep it up so that people will see it.
The only Council member who speaks so that he can be heard and understood is Councilman Jim Conners, and I thank him for that courtesy.
I also believe that last night’s meeting’s proceedings were more confusing than they should have been. The Town Council and Town staff need to advise people in the audience about what, specifically, is happening. At a minimum, the Mayor should give a recap of all motions that are made, who seconded them, what the votes were, and, if they weren’t unanimous, how each Council member voted.
Town Attorney Ben Gallop had a tall order last night in explaining ZTA 19-01PB and 19-01CUP, which, even if you’ve read them, as I have, are difficult to process.
So as not to lose property owners who would like to be informed, but don’t have the time, savvy, and/or inclination to navigate links on the Town website, or to sort through an 82-page agenda packet, I would like to suggest that the Town provide paper copies of the ZTAs when public hearings are held.
Yes, there would be an expense associated with printing paper copies, but it would be money well-spent.
And speaking of money well-spent, I wonder how many people in the audience know how much APTIM’s beach survey in June will cost the Town. At no time during the Town Council’s consideration of the FY 2018-19 budget amendment was the cost of the survey stated. It should have been.
Answer: $15,000. I’ve heard the figure before, and I looked it up in the agenda packet to confirm it.
But now I’m confused. At its March 6, 2018 meeting, the Town Council unanimously authorized paying APTIM $94,000 in FY 2018-19 for 1) a vulnerability assessment of oceanfront structures; 2) continued monitoring of beach profiles (in calendar year 2019); and 3) a determination of the minimum cross-section of sand volume that would be needed to reduce potential storm damage on the oceanfront.
No. 2 above is the same survey for which the Town Council just authorized paying $15,000, by withdrawing monies from the Town’s unassigned fund balance. But the Town Council approved allocating $34,000 for this survey in March 2018 and $60,000 for the vulnerability assessment and volume determination.
So, what became of the $94,000 that the Council approved? Did APTIM run over its projected costs? Did the Town pay $75,000 for nos. 1 and 3, leaving APTIM with only $19,000 to apply to the beach survey, for which it wants/needs $34,000?
Here again, an explanation is warranted. Property owners are entitled to know how much and for what the Town has paid APTIM so far and how much more it expects to pay. Property owners deserve an accounting.
This is a reminder that the Town Council will be holding its regular meeting today, during which three public hearings will occur, including two that address proposed zoning changes to restrict high-occupancy (large) houses in town.
The first hearing will concern beach nourishment and will be the first order of business after preliminary matters conclude. That means it will start about 5:40 p.m. The other hearings will take place after the staff reports and any old business. If you would like to speak, be sure to arrive early enough to sign one of the sign-up sheets that will be on a table near the door.
The Beacon is opposed to the Council authorizing beach nourishment in 2022 because the need for it does not currently exist. That does not mean that the town will not be ripe for beach nourishment some time after 2022. The evidence for making this commitment is simply not there now.
Please note: Pelican Watch is already in a beach-nourishment/maintenance plan. Tonight’s hearing has nothing to do with Pelican Watch. It has to do with replenishing a 15,500-linear-foot section of the Southern Shores shoreline that extends from 450 feet south of the Ocean Blvd.-Chicahauk Trail intersection north to Third Avenue.
Everyone who knows the Outer Banks knows that Southern Shores has the most stable dune system of all of the Dare County beach towns—except on the Pelican Watch oceanfront, which has been a hot spot since Frank Stick founded the development.
The 1962 Ash Wednesday storm destroyed the original Sea Ranch Hotel, which was built in 1952 on the Pelican Watch site. It’s a notoriously vulnerable stretch of oceanfront.
On a personal note, my parents bought and built on the Southern Shores shoreline 50 years ago in part because of the dune stability north of Kitty Hawk. Mr. Stick and his partners also had the foresight to plat deep oceanfront lots, so property owners could build their homes farther back from the ocean than was customarily done in the towns to the south of us.
The Beacon has written about beach nourishment several times since it first came up publicly at the Town Council’s Feb. 26 special planning session, most recently on March 31. Here are links to The Beacon’s articles:
The Beacon also has written extensively about the evolution within the Town Planning Board of zoning text amendments to prevent high-occupancy houses in Southern Shores’ residential districts. We have supported the septic-capacity limitation and opposed permitting high-density vacation cottages anywhere in town, regardless of the building-lot size. We have not taken a position on a key feature of these amendments, which is the addition of a “vacation cottage,” as defined in the ZTAs by “transient occupancy,” to the permissible uses currently authorized by the Town Code in the residential districts.
According to the Town Council’s meeting agenda, it will hold two hearings:
**The first will address ZTA 19-01, as amended by the Planning Board at its March 18 meeting, and 19-01CUP, which seek to restrict occupancy via a 14-person limit on septic capacity of all houses and a 14-person limit on the number of overnight occupants in “vacation cottages,” as defined by the amendments. ZTA 19-01CUP also includes an option for permitting high-density vacation cottages in town, provided they are built on a minimum lot size of 175,000 square feet, or about four acres.
The Planning Board has unanimously recommended that the Town Council approve ZTA 19-01, either before or after amendment, and reject ZTA 19-01CUP.
Here is the original ZTA 19-01, before an amendment extending its coverage to the RS-10 high-density residential district (Southern Shores Landing, Mallard Cove) was added:
***The Town Council agenda has a hearing on ZTA 18-10 scheduled to follow the hearing on ZTA 19-01 and ZTA 19-01CUP. ZTA 18-10 was first proposed by the Town Council at the Nov. 7, 2018 special meeting on high-occupancy large houses. It creates a single-family oceanfront overlay district and regulates houses within that district according to building height, yard setbacks, and other zoning factors. Here is ZTA 18-10:
The Town Planning Board voted unanimously not to recommend ZTA 18-10 to the Town Council, and the Town Council unanimously voted to postpone a hearing previously scheduled on ZTA 18-10. It is quite likely that the action taken by the Council on ZTA 19-01 and 19-01CUP will render a hearing on ZTA 18-10 superfluous.
THE TOWN PLANNING BOARD NEXT MEETS APRIL 15, AT 5:30 P.M., IN THE PITTSCENTER. So far, the only agenda item of which The Beacon is aware is a continued discussion of the nonconforming lots ordinance, Town Code sec. 36-132.
AN APRIL 18 HEARING BEFORE THE BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT ON THE VALIDITY OF THE ZONING PERMIT THAT THE TOWN ISSUED TO SAGA FOR 134 OCEAN BLVD. HAS BEEN POSTPONED. According to appellant-homeowner Gwendolyn Snyder-Smuts, the hearing has been tentatively rescheduled to April 26. We will provide final details when we receive them.
Why? Because the Southern Shores oceanfront doesn’t need it. It is that simple. The dune system on our shoreline is stable.
So why is the Southern Shores Town Council even considering an estimated $9-$13 million sand replenishment project for a large portion of our beaches in 2022? And why is it holding a public hearing on the matter at its 5:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday in the Pitts Center?
I offer several answers:
1. Coastal-engineering consultant Ken Willson, whom Town Manager Peter Rascoe refers to as the “Town Coastal Engineer” and with whom he works hand-in-glove, orchestrated Tuesday’s beach-nourishment bandwagon scenario through progressive surveys in 2017-18, which show the Southern Shores 3.7-mile shoreline is stable, but nonetheless confound non-coastal engineers, also known as elected officials.
The impetus for Tuesday’s public hearing is the “Beach Vulnerability Assessment and Management Plan” that the Town Council confusingly authorized Mr. Willson on March 6, 2018 to conduct and that he filed in final form in December.
Mr. Willson’s plan outlines three exorbitant beach-nourishment “options,” covering 15,500 linear feet of the shoreline, for the Town to consider—IF it decides to go that route. The Beacon elaborated upon these options in detail Feb. 28, 2019, when it reported on the Town Council’s Feb. 26 special planning session, and will not repeat them here. Mr. Rascoe has been touting these three options as the “Town Coastal Engineer’s” “recommendations” in the lengthy public-hearing “notices” that he has arranged to post online or circulate in the mail.
Did you read the postcard you received?
(Please note: The beach nourishment being discussed now has nothing to do with the Pelican Watch oceanfront, which is a long-standing and well-known hot spot. The replenishment done there in 2017 will be maintained.)
2. Dare County needs to know “as soon as possible,” in April, according to Mr. Rascoe, whether Southern Shores intends to partake of the Dare County Beach Nourishment Fund in summer 2022, when Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills will be doing their five-year beach-nourishment maintenance and Southern Shores will be doing the same at Pelican Watch. The County reportedly would kick in 50 percent of the costs. Because of this money, which comes from occupancy taxes, the Town Council is feeling artificial time pressure and acting rushed when it needn’t be.
3. The Town Council, collectively, is befuddled by Mr. Willson’s surveys and reports and has deferred to him since he became part of the Southern Shores “fabric” in 2017, going along with whatever he suggests. If you have any doubt of this, queue up the video for the March 6, 2018 Town Council meeting, when Mr. Willson presented his “baseline” beach assessment report, and listen to the Council’s 15-minute discussion after he was done. It’s painful. I empathize, but it’s still painful.
If I were to speculate, on the basis of the comments made by the Council a year ago, how many of the members had read and absorbed Mr. Willson’s baseline report, I would say zero to one.
You may consider this blog an editorial. Frankly, I have already asked a top-notch N.C. environmental attorney what a property owner can do to stop a town government from embarking on unnecessary beach nourishment. I’ve said NO! to mini-hotels. I can say NO! again. (Full disclosure: Thanks to my parents, I am an oceanfront property co-owner. I have no problem with paying my fair share of increased property taxes if they are warranted. But I’m not keen on supporting a bigger government without just cause.)
Once undertaken, as Mr. Willson told the Town Council at its special planning session, beach nourishment becomes “an exercise in adaptive management. . . . It is never seen as a one-time event.”
Translation: It is a mortgage that Southern Shores can never pay off.
I do not believe that the Town Council, collectively, has done its due diligence on Mr. Willson’s vulnerability assessment and proposed beach-nourishment options. Due diligence here demands the procurement of independent outside expert analysis and advice. It demands at least a second opinion.
No responsible board, public or private, should ever consider committing more than $5 million of anyone’s money—but, especially, taxpayers’ money—until it has intelligently and comprehensively evaluated the need for the project it is thinking of funding.
I also have to wonder if Council members have heard what Mr. Willson himself has said on several occasions about the stability and condition of our shoreline. For more than two years, his message consistently has been: Southern Shores is in great shape. No worries.
At the February session, he told the Council: “The dune system in Southern Shores is in pretty good shape.” It is “fairly intact,” providing protection against storms and erosion.
If Southern Shores were to jump on the beach-nourishment bandwagon now, he said, it would be doing so much earlier than any other Outer Banks town has—ergo, much earlier than necessary.
If the Town Council approves a beach-nourishment project Tuesday evening after hearing from citizens and taking a vote, I believe it will be chasing the money because the money is there. (See answer no. 2.) It will not be because a thoughtful and responsible evaluation led them to conclude that beach nourishment is a necessary public service that must be performed now. (See no. 3.)
HOW WE GOT HERE
When Ken Willson first burst on the Southern Shores scene, it was as a “project manager” for the Wilmington, N.C.-based CB&I/Coastal Planning & Engineering of N.C., Inc. He spoke at the Jan. 17, 2017 town meeting-public forum on beach nourishment about planning for an eventual replenishment project.
The Town Council, with Mr. Rascoe’s guidance, authorized Mr. Willson, who is now vice president of Aptim Coastal Planning & Engineering of N.C., Inc. (APTIM), to do a baseline assessment of the Southern Shores beaches in 2017. APTIM has cornered the market on conducting beach profile surveys and project planning for Outer Banks towns, including, most recently, Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills.
That, to my mind, makes him an interested, i.e., biased, party. He stands to gain financially from whatever the Town Council decides.
Mr. Willson presented his 2017 beach assessment to the Council at its March 2018 meeting, informing members that “the shoreline is looking fairly stable” and there is “no big rush” to “jump” on beach nourishment.
“I think time is in on your side,” he concluded.
The results of his company’s surveys of 22 beach profiles, which are locations along the Southern Shores shoreline that are spaced 1,000 feet apart from each other, showed 1) the shoreline is “stable,” having lost only 0.4 feet (that’s five inches) between 2006 and 2017; and 2) the volume of sand in the system had actually increased during the same time period.
“The shoreline is looking pretty stable,” he said. “We’re not seeing any hot spots right now. The long-term averages and the short-term averages [for shoreline changes] look to be pretty stable, pretty manageable.”
But, he continued . . . we do see some areas along the shoreline that have less sand volume than others, some houses that are closer to the stable line of vegetation than other houses. He, therefore, recommended to the Council that it authorize APTIM to conduct a “vulnerability assessment of the oceanfront structures” and to determine the “minimum cross-section of [sand] volume” that should be maintained to protect the shoreline from storm damage.
And, just so the Town Council would have the information it needs, he said, he would provide a “five-year plan” for “what a project would look like” when he conducted the vulnerability assessment and the volume determination.
Not that the Town needs to implement that five-year plan, you understand.
Please refer back to answer no. 1 above. And no. 3.
The plan part of his “Beach Vulnerability Assessment and Management Plan” is, in fact, that five-year plan that Mr. Willson told the Town Council just a year ago it need not rush to put into effect.
The APTIM manager submitted a draft of this assessment/plan to the Town Manager on Nov. 20, 2018, but Mr. Rascoe didn’t publish it on the Town website. The final report was submitted Dec. 21, 2018, on the Friday before the Christmas holidays.
A public presentation by Mr. Willson, with a Q&A, in January or February, would have been informative and helpful. It did not occur. At the same time, the Town Council might have sent the assessment/plan out for review to independent experts. To my knowledge, that did not occur either.
No mention has been made in public of any due diligence. (See no. 3.)
To my mind, the most informative, experienced (40 years), and judicious speaker at the 2017 forum was Spencer Rogers, a coastal engineer with North Carolina Sea Grant, which is a research and education program affiliated with N.C. State University.
Mr. Rogers has a master’s degree in coastal and oceanographic engineering (U. Fla.) and a bachelor’s degree in engineering (U. Va.) and serves on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Center for Marine Science.
I would like to know how Mr. Rogers would evaluate Mr. Willson’s Beach Vulnerability Assessment and Management Plan. In particular, I would like to know what he thinks about the assessment’s methodology, which uses what Mr. Willson told the Council is a “numerical model that basically simulates a storm event.”
You “input” your beach profiles and your storm characteristics, such as wave heights, wave period, and water level—in this case, using those of Hurricane Isabel, a 2003 storm—he explained in March 2018, and then you “get a feel for what your damage might be.”
In other words, you project potential damage by cooking numbers.
But we know the damage that Isabel did to Southern Shores, and we know that 15 years later, our shoreline is stable. No hot spots. In fact, the amount of sand in our dune system has increased since Isabel. Mr. Willson said so himself.
You don’t have to be a coastal engineer or a geologist to know that storms throw shorelines out of equilibrium, and it takes time for them to adjust. Erosion occurs, but so does accretion, which is the natural process of sand replenishment: Sediment returns to widen the eroded beach again.
Town Councilman Fred Newberry, who is the only elected official with property in Southern Shores’ ocean district, said as much at the March 5 meeting. His comment that the dry-sand area—which Mr. Rascoe likes to call the “public trust ocean beach”—“comes, and it goes” was spot on. Dramatic change can occur in a matter of days.
It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that only a handful of people from the community heard what Mr. Willson said at the Town Council’s Feb. 27 planning session. The session was held at 9 a.m. on a work weekday and publicized without any mention of the agenda.
The four Council members who attended the planning meeting discussed setting up a joint Town Council-Town staff committee, or other constituted committee, to do financial planning and prioritizing of big-ticket projects in town, including beach nourishment. Organizing a committee looks a lot like due diligence.
But that thoughtful response went out the window as soon as Mr. Rascoe advised them at their March 5 meeting that, if they wanted to obtain Dare County funding in 2022, they had to decide now whether to “pull the trigger” on beach nourishment.
I am feeling railroaded.
A FINAL NOTE: The Town Council also will be holding public hearings Tuesday on all of the proposed zoning text amendments designed to curtail high-occupancy houses in the residential districts. The hearing on beach nourishment will be held within 10 minutes after the call to order, before any staff reports. The hearings on ZTA 18-10, 19-01, and 19-01CUP will be held during the “new business” portion of the meeting.