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

8/11/21: REVISED MARKETPLACE PROPOSAL BEFORE PLANNING BOARD MONDAY, ALONG WITH NEW TOWN SIGN ORDINANCE, POTENTIAL REGULATIONS FOR PRODUCE STANDS IN COMMERCIAL DISTRICT.

Aston’s redevelopment of the Marketplace calls for the demolition of all retail space to the left of CVS/pharmacy, above, up to and including Coastal Rehab. Photo courtesy of Caroline Walker/OBX Today.

Marketplace owner Aston Properties timely filed with the Town a revised site plan for its proposed “modification” of the Southern Shores shopping center, which includes the construction of a 24,000-square-foot Marshalls department store, and is scheduled to be heard on its amended application by the Planning Board Monday, at 5:30 pm., in the Pitts Center.

The meeting will be live-streamed on the Southern Shores You Tube website at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores. People who attend the meeting in person must wear face masks.

The Marketplace project, which involves the demolition of a wing of shops to the west of the CVS/pharmacy, the construction of a 6,000-square-foot space next to the proposed Marshalls, and the addition of 27 parking spaces in a reconfigured lot, will lead off the Planning Board’s agenda, which is unusually heavy for August.

For background on Aston’s Marketplace redevelopment, see The Beacon, 7/20/21.

You may access pdf documents in support of the Charlotte developer’s amended site plan application here:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/7svzoebjxbzuy0w/AAD9HgVGNQFFj50XRhKAKnywa?dl=0

Aston has purportedly responded to concerns expressed by the Town about a minimum requirement for pervious pavement; landscaping and the preservation of open space; efficient stormwater runoff; and sufficient septic system capacity.

Fortunately, all of the topics on the Planning Board’s agenda Monday have what we consider public appeal and should make for an interesting session.

In addition to evaluating Aston’s amended site plan, the Planning Board will consider a zoning text amendment (ZTA 21-08) that rewrites the Town’s sign ordinance (Town Code sec. 36-165) to bring it into conformity with a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case on the First Amendment and signage and discuss possible requirements for produce stands that operate in the Town’s general commercial district.

For the text of ZTA 21-08, which was suggested by consultant CodeWright as part of its revision of the Southern Shores Town Code, see: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ZTA-21-08-Signage-1.pdf.

For Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett’s staff report on ZTA 21-08, which recommends the new sign ordinance, see https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/PB-StaffReportZTA-21-08-1.pdf.

For an analysis by Town Attorney Ben Gallop of the legal impact of the Supreme Court case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576, U.S. 155 (2015), on local signage regulations, see https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Reed-Case-Comments-1.pdf. (This link also provides commentary by CodeWright.)

The Beacon will expound upon both Aston’s amended application and the proposed new sign ordinance in a subsequent blog post.  Stay tuned.

The written materials for the Planning Board’s meeting indicate that, in considering the introduction and regulation of produce stands in Southern Shores, the Board will be looking at requirements and definitions imposed upon “produce stands,” or, alternatively, “outdoor stands, accessory to shopping centers,” that are in effect in Kitty Hawk and Nags Head. For these town-specific guidelines, see: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Produce-Stand-Requirements-1.pdf.

The Southern Shores Town Code does not currently address outdoor produce stands and their regulation.

We have fond memories dating back to the early 1970s of a man who used to bring fresh vegetables to Southern Shores residents and vacationers in a horse-drawn wagon. He would walk beside his horse along Ocean Boulevard, calling out “fresh corn,” “vegetables,” and the like. At the time the only grocery store on the beach was Wink’s in Kitty Hawk, where visitors could buy on credit and pay their bills upon departure.

There will be two public-comment periods during the Planning Board meeting, one before the Board’s discussion of business and one afterward.

The Planning Board serves in an advisory capacity to the Town Council. Its decisions on site plan applications and zoning text amendments are not final.

RESULTS OF TOWN PAVEMENT CONDITIONS STUDY ARE IN

The morning after the Planning Board’s meeting, the Town Council will hold a workshop to consider the results of the pavement conditions study it commissioned and how those results will be integrated into the Town’s capital improvement plan.

The workshop will be held at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center. It, too, will be live-streamed on the Town’s You Tube website, and all in-person attendees must wear face masks.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, ©8/11/21

8/8/21: OBX AT THE ‘SATURATION’ POINT: PLEASE LET US KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS ON ‘SUSTAINABLE’ TOURISM AND TODAY’S TRAFFIC.

A collision on the eastbound span of the Wright Memorial Bridge can further frustrate vacationers arriving for their summer OBX time.

Your roving Beacon reporter will not be in Southern Shores today. Please let us know what kind of day you have, on the roads and elsewhere.

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn did not change his mind about canceling today’s left-turn prohibition at U.S. Hwy. 158 and South Dogwood Trail, telling homeowners who contacted him, and then contacted us, that he would restore the prohibition next Sunday if the traffic today warrants it.

On a different subject . . . Southern Shores Mayor Tom Bennett and members of the Town Council reported at their meeting last Tuesday about a special program they had attended at Jennette’s Pier concerning “sustainable” tourism.

“We’re at our saturation point” on the Outer Banks, Mayor Bennett said, succinctly stating what many of us year-rounders have been feeling this summer, as we head up or down the road on any day of the week and run into traffic backups.

The section of the so-called bypass from the site of the former Kmart, south to the YMCA, has been especially congested. So has the road to and from Duck.

Town Councilman Leo Holland said that if he were a vacationer, encountering bumper-to-bumper traffic upon arrival to, and departure from the Outer Banks, and then while staying here on any day, he would consider vacationing elsewhere. We can empathize with that view.    

It did not take a glance into a crystal ball during the past 25 years to foresee that with the pace and density of development in the Currituck County Outer Banks and with the redevelopment in towns to the south of Southern Shores that replaced modest family motels and cottages with “mini-hotels” and other high-density housing that a “saturation point” would arrive one day. (Which is not to say that Southern Shores, which adhered to a policy of gradual growth in its development rollout, has not contributed to the saturation.)

Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken the European vacation and other distant vacations away from American tourists, has accelerated the arrival of that day, and next summer, as Mr. Holland suggested, the traffic congestion will abate a little.

But the U.S. public-health scenario is not responsible for the increase in Airbnb and VRBO rentals, which add more people to resident single-family households, and encourage new buyers to purchase year-round houses and convert them to Airbnbs.

While we all can identify causes for the saturation, we would prefer to hear from our government officials, especially at the county level, what “solutions” they may have. A report to town residents from the Southern Shores Town Council about the ideas they heard at the “sustainable tourism” meeting would be much appreciated.

One idea that we believe deserves serious consideration—and at one time (decades ago) was implemented half-heartedly—is public transportation, including shuttle buses that ferry tourists from bus stops to destinations they commonly visit, such as the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the Nags Head Woods Preserve, and Jockey’s Ridge.

Any type of shuttle that allows vacationers to leave their vehicles at their vacation residences when they go out would be welcome. Minibuses or trolleys could take them to restaurants, to the outlet mall, to Roanoke and Hatteras islands for a day trip, or to “The Lost Colony” production, as just a few examples.

We believe Dare County, and the individual beach towns, need to engage in what is essentially urban planning to reduce the crush of “saturation.”

Your thoughts? 

We welcome your comments on the Beacon blog and Facebook page. Thank you and have a great day.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/8/21

8/4/21: TOWN COUNCIL OKs CANCELING LAST TWO SUNDAY LEFT-TURN BANS; ASTON PROPETIES HAS YET TO FILE REVISED SITE PLAN FOR MARKETPLACE PROJECT; Plus a Beach Nourishment Update.

This photo was submitted to The Beacon earlier this summer by a reader who lives on Wax Myrtle Trail.

The Town Council gave Town Manager Cliff Ogburn permission at its meeting last night to cancel the two remaining Sunday left-turn bans at the U.S. Hwy. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection after he presented traffic-volume data for late June and July that he said suggested the Town is not getting much “bang for the buck” on Sundays.

The Council also authorized Mr. Ogburn to install local-traffic-only barricades on Juniper Trail in Chicahauk and on Ocean Boulevard, at the Duck Road split, bringing the number of such barricades in use during the weekends to 10.

To arrive at his conclusion about Sunday, Mr. Ogburn used Wednesday as a typical day and compared Wednesday traffic-count data with Sunday traffic-count data.

For one Saturday/Sunday and Wednesday period in late June, he reported, 439 more vehicles cut through Wednesday on the residential roads than did on Sunday. In mid-July, only 26 more vehicles cut through on Sunday than did on Wednesday.

In a blog dated Wed., June 23, we wrote: “As of today, you can add Wednesday to the days when summer vacationer traffic cuts through Southern Shores on South Dogwood Trail.”

Was that the Wednesday when the volume of cut-through traffic on Wednesday exceeded the Sunday volume? If so, it was not a typical Wednesday. Beach conditions were poor, and Corolla was holding a two-day Under the Oaks Art Festival.

If it was the following Wednesday, June 30, it marked the beginning of a long July 4 weekend.

To give meaning to statistics that Mr. Ogburn called the “Sunday difference” in his data, context is definitely needed. The weather is always a factor in the traffic load.

We do not support the suspension of the left-turn ban on Sunday, and we expressed our opinion during public comments at the meeting. We also spoke afterward with Mr. Ogburn, who said he would make a “game-time decision.”

The cost of setting up and taking down the barrels blocking the left-turn lane on U.S. 158 is $3900 for the weekend, according to Mr. Ogburn. Please see our commentary at the end of this post for more about the cancellation.

Mr. Ogburn spoke at length last night about the Town’s traffic management this summer, and we asked him after the meeting about the use of gates to prevent cut-through traffic.

We will take up his presentation and his response to our question about gating later in this blog. First, we would like to cover other news.

(You may view the Town Council meeting videotape at (47) Southern Shores Town Council Meeting-August 3, 2021 – YouTube)

MARKETPLACE UPDATE: Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett reported that Aston Properties, which owns the Marketplace and last month appeared before the Planning Board to discuss preliminary site redevelopment plans that would result in the demolition of a wing of the shopping center and the construction of a 24,000-square-foot Marshalls department store, has not yet filed a revised site plan with the Town.

(See The Beacon, 7/20/21, for background.) 

The Planning Board voiced significant concerns in its July 19 meeting about increased stormwater runoff into the canal behind the Marketplace as a result of the proposed construction and quizzed L. Karen Partee, Aston’s vice president of construction and development, about the company’s use of pervious pavement in the parking lot, which would be reconfigured to add 27 spaces.

Aston’s proposed redevelopment, which also includes the construction of a 6,000-square-foot retail space next to the Marshalls store, would cover at least 10,000 more square feet of ground area.

The Southern Shores Town Code permits a maximum 67 percent lot coverage of a “group development” in the commercial district, provided it dedicates more than 5 percent of the total lot coverage to permeable pavement. If it does not, then the maximum allowable lot coverage is 60 percent. (Code sec. 36-207.)

This ordinance was changed in 2016 at the request of Aston Properties, when it sought, and received, a conditional use permit (CUP) to redevelop the Marketplace with two drive-through businesses.

Five years ago, the Town Council approved a CUP, which the Planning Board unanimously recommended, that allowed Aston to have drive-through lanes at an expanded CVS/pharmacy and at Starbucks—both of which would be relocated.

Aston’s plan was to build a 7,210-square-foot four-tenant building, with a drive-through Starbucks, another restaurant, and two new retail spaces 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.

The Town Council not only changed the commercial maximum lot coverage ordinance to accommodate Aston—by a 3-2 vote, with former Council members Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald objecting—it allowed drive-through businesses in Southern Shores for the first time.

According to the minutes of a Jan. 5, 2016 Town Council meeting about the three zoning text amendments (ZTAs) Aston sought for its redevelopment, Ms. Partee reportedly stated that “CVS/pharmacy and Starbucks are actively looking for another location if the changes [can]not be accommodated.”

The 2016 redevelopment was also supposed to update the look of the Marketplace and make other changes in order to keep the then-current tenants.

Aston’s CUP expired after two years. In 2018, when we did some research on what happened to the drive-through redevelopment plan, we learned only that a problem subsequently had arisen with the septic system at the Marketplace. We have not had time recently to follow this up.

Mr. Haskett said at last night’s meeting that Aston has “up until the week before the [Planning Board’s Aug. 16] meeting” to file its revised site plan and be scheduled on the Board’s meeting agenda.

Currently on the Board’s Aug. 16 agenda, Mr. Haskett said, is the consideration of “potential requirements” for produce stands in the commercial district and action on proposed Zoning Text Amendment 21-08, which rewrites the Town’s ordinance on signage. (See Code sec. 36-165.)

The Beacon will publish a preview of the Planning Board meeting next week.

BEACH NOURISHMENT UPDATE: Although he spent most of his detailed report to the Town Council on his lead-off topic of traffic management, Mr. Ogburn also announced that the construction documents for the 2022 beach nourishment project are ready, and will be on the Town website sometime today, and that a “pre-bid notice” went out last month.

The Town is holding a mandatory pre-bid meeting with dredging contractors on Aug. 12 and expects to award the construction contract on Sept. 7, he said.

Mr. Ogburn last night displayed an illustration showing that the “landward limit” of the sand fill project will be “all berms,” he said: No oceanfront property owner’s steps or beach walkovers will be affected.

Property owners will be able to see from the construction documents exactly what will occur at their individual properties, he said.

According to the Town Manager, a separate contract will be awarded for the installation of two rows of sand fences on the Town’s beaches from Fourth Avenue to the Southern Shores-Kitty Hawk line.

TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT TO DATE AND GOING FORWARD

Mr. Ogburn was very thorough in reviewing the traffic-mitigation measures that he has taken thus far and how they appear to have affected traffic flow on different cut-through streets, according to the number of vehicles that traveled along them.

The Town Manager effectively used a PowerPoint presentation, which began with photographs of vehicles idling bumper-to-bumper along residential roads. He asked the Town Council and other Southern Shores residents who do not experience daylong weekend congestion to imagine how they would feel if they did.

In addition to placing physical impediments along the South Dogwood-East Dogwood route, Mr. Ogburn said, he has been participating in a program called Partner with Waze for Cities that allows him to edit maps of Southern Shores on the weekends to show anyone who uses the Waze app that the cut-through streets are closed.

The vehicle-count data showed that the left-turn ban combined with local-traffic-only signs and barricades along the cut-through route have helped some of the people some of the time.

The vehicle counts show that residents on Hickory Trail, between East Dogwood and Hillcrest Drive, never get a break, but residents on Hillcrest Drive, Sea Oats Trail, and Wax Myrtle Trail—depending on the block—sometimes do.

Asked by Mayor Tom Bennett whether he thought the local-traffic-only barricades had improved conditions for residents, Mr. Ogburn replied, “It depends on who you ask.”

(The Beacon cited and discussed some of this data in a 7/15/21 blog.)

The Mayor also pointed out that he had not been in favor of the experiment with chains along the East Dogwood Trail median to prevent northbound vacationers from turning left on to Hillcrest Drive, Sea Oats Trail, and Wax Myrtle Trail because of the adverse impact on residents.

Mr. Ogburn said if he were to implement a similar mitigation scheme again, he would prepare better for it, both in terms of alerting residents and in terms of the equipment being used. The chains he used this time were made of plastic, not metal.

The Mayor said he would be in favor of a “combination of measures” to redirect traffic away from the residential roads, provided it had a “minimal effect” on residents.

Mr. Ogburn thoughtfully spoke of “trying to balance the burden” on residents, saying that the traffic, like water, has to go somewhere, when it is blocked. One resident’s decrease in traffic is another resident’s increase. He implicitly encouraged cooperation and understanding among all residents, if the Town is going to continue to “route traffic.”

The Town Manager also emphasized that drivers cannot be ticketed for “going around” the local-traffic-only barricades. People cannot be cited, he said, “simply because they have an out-of-state license plate,” despite what he has heard from discontented residents.

“Locals are getting frustrated by people going around the barricades,” Mr. Ogburn acknowledged.

The intent of the barricades, however, he said, is to deter a percentage of the northbound drivers from using a residential road. The Town knew many would be noncompliant.

Mr. Ogburn presented a proposal by “a citizen” that calls for blocking all travel at the Duck Road intersections of Sea Oats Trail, Eleventh Avenue, Hillcrest Drive, and Hickory Trail, so that everyone driving north on the cut-through route would have to use East Dogwood Trail to reconnect with Hwy. 12.  

The “no-exit” approach, as we call it, would employ “temporary cul de sacs” along Duck Road, Mr. Ogburn explained.

It did not garner any support from the Town Council, whose members offered no other ideas for traffic mitigation, when asked by the Town Manager.

In public comment, a resident of Circle Drive drew attention to the backup of cut-through traffic from the eastside Hickory Trail stop sign on Duck Road to Hickory’s intersection with Ocean Boulevard and then south.

(This backup is caused by northbound vacationers seeking to get around a short section of Duck Road by staying straight on Ocean Boulevard at the cell tower. Hence, the installation of the local-traffic-only barricade there, starting this weekend.)

Lionel Richard of Circle Drive also commented about speeding on this section of Ocean Boulevard, which is used by many pedestrians and has several blind curves. He said it would be “nice to see some police presence” on the road.      

The Beacon applauds Mr. Ogburn’s empathetic approach, his intervention with Waze, his use of local-traffic-only signs and barricades along the cut-through route, and his experiment with chains along the East Dogwood Trail median to prevent northbound vacationers from turning left on to the side streets.  

We also are encouraged that he will lead the Town Council in planning this fall for traffic mitigation measures next summer.

After the meeting, we asked Mr. Ogburn if gating certain streets to restrict access to residents and their guests was an option that he was considering in the future.

The Town Manager said he was concerned about the legality of excluding nonresidents from the Town’s roads, explaining that he had researched the question and had not gleaned a reliable or consistent answer from legal sources. No North Carolina case law exists on the matter as to whether such exclusion would be constitutional.

Mr. Ogburn concluded his traffic report by bringing up the Town’s application to the Dare County Tourism Bureau for a Tourism Impact Grant that would enable it to hire the company, StreetLight Data, to gather more information about the 11,000 vehicles that drive through Southern Shores on a summer weekend.

Principally by using drivers’ smartphones as sensors, StreetLight, he said, can “tell us where the cars are coming from, where they’re going, and how they’re getting there.” (See www.streetlightdata.com.)

A $50,000 grant from the Tourism Bureau, which the Town would not be required to match, would cover an arrangement with StreetLight, as well as other traffic-control expenses, Mr. Ogburn said.

CANCELING LEFT-TURN BAN ON SUNDAY

We based our objection to cancellation of the last two Sunday left-turn bans on our own observations and the testimonials and videotapes of Beacon readers of heavy traffic on Sunday afternoons on South and East Dogwood trails, starting around 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. We agree that Sunday morning cut-through traffic is usually relatively light.

We believe the Town’s vehicle-count data are limited in that they only express the total number of vehicles for the day on a given section of a street; they do not break down the vehicle count by the time of day and, thus, can miss traffic jams. Nor, as we noted above, do they provide context.

We also believe that Wednesday is a poor day of comparison. As Airbnb rentals increase, more northbound vacationers are arriving on Wednesday. That is what we have heard from readers who live on or near Duck Road, and what we have observed.

Finally, we believe it is discouraging when the Town retracts a promise about traffic mitigation upon which residents have relied. The next two Sundays fall on high-season weekends.

We have found in all of our dealings with the Town Manager that he listens to residents’ opinions and carefully deliberates upon his decisions. If he changes his mind about the Sunday turn prohibitions, we will let you know.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, ©8/4/21

8/3/21: ATTENDEES OF TODAY’S TOWN COUNCIL MEETING MUST WEAR FACE MASKS.

All people who attend the 5:30 p.m. meeting today of the Southern Shores Town Council must wear face masks, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status, according to a directive issued by the Town this morning.

As The Beacon reported last week, Dare County is considered a county of “high” transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In light of an uptick in COVID-19 cases nationwide–many of them of the more contagious Delta variant–the CDC issued on July 27 new guidance in which it advised all people, whether they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or not, to wear face masks in public indoor settings in counties of “high” or “substantial” transmission.

The CDC also has evaluated Currituck County as a county of high transmission.

(See The Beacon, 7/28/21, for background.)

We would advise you to bring an umbrella and raincoat, as well. The weather forecast calls for showers and thunderstorms.

The meeting will be held in the Pitts Center and live-streamed at https://www.youtube.com/ user/TownofSouthernShores. A videotape will be available for viewing on You Tube later.

For a preview of the agenda, see The Beacon, 7/29/21.

THE BEACON, 8/3/21

8/1/21: NORTHERN DARE LIBRARY COMMITTEE LARGELY ‘BACK TO SQUARE ONE.’

The Kitty Hawk Elementary School is Dare County’s principal presence in Southern Shores.

The Exploratory Committee for a Potential Branch Library in Northern Dare met Friday in Southern Shores to discuss “regrouping” and “moving forward again” with its project, according to committee members, who agreed they had a lot of “momentum” last year before the coronavirus pandemic up-ended both the committee’s and Dare County’s business agendas.

Said committee member Lilias Morrison, who has been the public face and spokesperson for the library, there was a “perceived broad base of support two years ago . . . not so now.

“We’ve lost the momentum that we had,” she added. 

Currently, Ms. Morrison said, the branch library, which would be centrally located in Southern Shores, but serve the Duck-Southern Shores-Kitty Hawk legislative district–District 3–does not “appear to have a majority of Dare County commissioners in favor” of it.

Commissioner Steve House, who lives in Southern Shores, represents District 3, and Commissioner Ervin Bateman, a Kitty Hawk resident, serves at-large. Districts 1 (Roanoke Island/Dare County Mainland) and 2 (Nags Head/Colington/Kill Devil Hills) each have two commissioners, and District 4, which is Hatteras Island, has one.

Early last year, after meeting with commissioners, the library committee had reason to believe that the project would be in Dare County’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget. But then the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the Dare County Board of Commissioners (DCBOC), as well as all Dare beach towns, tightened their fiscal belts.

In anticipation of a loss of revenue because of the pandemic—a loss that actually boomeranged into a banner year of unprecedented sales, occupancy, land-transfer, and other tax revenues—the DCBOC passed an FY 2020-21 General Fund budget of $107 million, with no property tax increase or reduction in services.

This June the DCBOC approved a FY 2021-22 General Fund budget well in excess of $112 million that also had no property tax increase or reduction in services.

We did not pore over the Dare County budget, which is online, item-by-item, but we did note that the allocation for the Dare County library system is about $1.1 million, less than 1 percent of the General Fund expenses.

There currently are three libraries in the system: They are located in Manteo, Kill Devil Hills, and Hatteras.

The Northern Dare library committee last year sought a commitment from DCBOC of $150,000 to $200,000 for refurbishment of a building on Juniper Trail in Southern Shores that TowneBank has agreed to rent for $1/year to house the library, and $150,000 to $200,000 per year for the next five years in operating costs.

At Friday’s meeting, Ms. Morrison spoke of the northern beaches, especially Duck and Southern Shores, as being “under-served” by Dare County’s “life services,” including recreational services.

The so-called “northern” division of the Dare County Parks & Recreation Dept. is in Kill Devil Hills. (There is a county-run dog park in Kitty Hawk, however.) The two other county Parks & Recreation divisions are the Roanoke Island/Mainland Division, which is in Manteo, and the Hatteras Island Division in Buxton.

We support a library or other educational center in Northern Dare that would serve as what committee member Loretta Michael referred to as a “vibrant meeting place and gathering place,” not just “a place to check out books.”

Committee members have a broad vision for the library: Ms. Morrison Friday touted “continuing education and the idea of lifelong learning,” while Town Councilman Jim Conners, who serves as the committee’s advisory member, spoke of research facilities and computer access for people who currently lack it. 

We can envision a library/community center providing meeting space for groups; WiFi, copy, and fax services for the public; preschool and other children’s educational programs; local history displays and collections; continuing studies classes and lectures; as well as a collection of books and other reading materials.

As the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, and Kitty Hawk have grown in population, so has residents’ desire for quality-of-life amenities that are public and closer to home.   

The library committee has done a lot of work in terms of assessing the public interest in a library/community center, bringing the project into focus, and promoting it at the county level, but in many respects it is starting over.

We would like to know what you think. We welcome your comments.

REMEMBER: The Southern Shores Town Council meets Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. For a preview of the meeting, see The Beacon, 7/29/21.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/1/21

7/31/21: TRAFFIC LOG FOR SATURDAY, JULY 31.

Hi, folks:

I’m getting personal messages and emails from residents about today’s cut-thru traffic. For that reason, I am publishing this post so that folks can share their comments with others and document traffic conditions.

After spending my morning writing the update on new COVID-19 cases in Dare County, I hit the street with my dog and saw what I’ve seen throughout the summer when the left-turn ban at U.S. Hwy. 158 and South Dogwood Trail and the local-traffic-only barriers have been in effect, to wit:

The flow of traffic traveling north on South Dogwood Trail and turning right on East Dogwood Trail is steady and constant, albeit of a lower volume than I see when the left turn at U.S. Hwy. 158 is permissible.

The overwhelming majority of northbound drivers do not stop at the stop sign at South Dogwood-East Dogwood, and many pick up speed on East Dogwood as they race across the Dick White Bridge. Some are already speeding when they careen through the stop sign.

The overwhelming majority then turn left on Hickory Trail, despite the local-traffic-only barrier, and even, sometimes, when a vehicle is coming from the opposite direction.

I received reports last weekend of a fender bender at the East Dogwood-Hickory intersection caused by a driver trying to turn left at Hickory Trail into oncoming traffic, then backing up and colliding with the vehicle behind him/her. I saw a narrow aversion of a head-on collision earlier today when a northbound driver turned left into an oncoming car and barely managed to skim past it.

Oncoming traffic on Hickory Trail is not clearly visible to drivers stopped at the eastbound East Dogwood Trail stop sign. I know. I’ve made that turn hundreds of times in the past 23 years, and I always stop and take it slowly. Sometimes oncoming drivers will take both lanes of the road, casually assuming that that they have the road to themselves–or having just given a wide berth to a dog walker.

Please feel free to add to today’s conversation. Enjoy your weekend.

Ann, 7/31/21

7/31/21: DARE REPORTS 103 NEW COVID-19 CASES IN JUST PAST THREE DAYS, 20 MORE THAN ITS LAST WEEKLY TOTAL.

In a striking departure from a practice it initiated in mid-May to report new COVID-19 cases on a weekly, rather than a daily basis, the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services yesterday reported 103 new COVID-19 cases in just the past three days.

Of those 103, 65 (63 percent) are Dare County residents, and 38 (37 percent) are nonresidents.

These percentages are similar to those derived from the July 20-July 27 new case total of 83 that the DCDHHS reported in its weekly update on Tuesday. Fifty-one, or 61 percent, of Tuesday’s new cases were Dare County residents, and 32, or 39 percent, were nonresidents.   

(See The Beacon, 7/28/21.)

Since Tuesday’s update, another Dare County resident has been hospitalized for the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to the DCDHHS COVID-19 dashboard, bringing the total to two persons. A nonresident also has been transferred from Dare County and hospitalized.

On 7/28/21, we reported that, after four consecutive weeks of COVID-19 case increases, Dare County is now in the “high” red category of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s level of community transmission of COVID-19.

According to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, Currituck County is also an area of high community transmission of the disease.

Although a genomic sequencing analysis has yet to confirm that the highly contagious and more severe Delta variant of COVID-19 is in Dare County—at least, not as reported—the DCDHHS has long maintained that it is “prevalent.”

“Epidemiological data,” according to the DCDHHS’s July reports, indicate that both the State of North Carolina and Dare County are at the beginning of a “surge” in COVID-19 infections, driven by the Delta variant.

The N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services reported more than 3,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday (3,268) and Friday (3,199), according to The Raleigh News and Observer—higher daily case totals than have been recorded in months.

The NCDHHS updates its COVID-19 metrics dashboard Monday through Friday.   

We reported earlier this week that 51—or 61 percent—of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Dare County during the week of July 20-27 were between the ages of 25 and 49; and all but 13 (16 percent) were under the age of 50. Only three were age 65 or older.

Yesterday’s age-data breakdown differs markedly from this analysis, in that only 47 percent—48 of the 103—of the new cases were of people between the ages of 25 and 49, and 26 of them, or 25 percent, were age 50 or older. Nine of the 103 cases were people age 65 or older. Of those, only two were Dare County residents.

The DCDHHS has released a 7 ½-minute video in which DCDHHS Director Sheila Davies talks with local teenagers about the COVID-19 vaccine. See (41) Dare County COVID 19 Update July 28, 2021 – YouTube

CDC RESPONSE TO NATIONWIDE CASE SURGE 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky yesterday squarely blamed unvaccinated people who have refused to wear face masks for the recent uncontrolled spread of the Delta variant throughout the country, according to The News & Observer.

“Our guidance in May said that fully vaccinated people could take off their masks safely, and that unvaccinated people should continue to wear them,” Dr. Walensky said in a telephone interview with Michael Wilner, the Senior National Security and White House Correspondent for McClatchy, which owns the Raleigh newspaper.

“Unfortunately, that’s not how it played out. Unvaccinated people took off their masks as well. And that’s what led us to where we are today.”

About 80 percent of the counties nationwide that have the most disease, Dr. Walensky told the McClatchy reporter, have less than 40 percent of their residents vaccinated.

With new scientific data suggesting that vaccinated people can spread COVID-19 as easily as those who have not been vaccinated, the CDC last week advised fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors in public places if they are in a community, such as Dare County, with a high or “substantial” rate of viral transmission.

In light of this change in guidance, Dr. Walensky stressed in her interview with Mr. Wilner that the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are still working at “90-percent protection against symptomatic disease.”

This means, she said, that “if you know 10 people who’ve been vaccinated, one of them may be a breakthrough case.”

It has long been reported that the breakthrough case would experience milder symptoms than an infected unvaccinated person would.

According to a recent study in “The England Journal of Medicine” cited by Dr. Walensky that was based on Israeli trial data, a number of vaccinated people who experienced breakthrough cases actually had suffered from “long COVID,” which is characterized by symptoms that last for weeks or months and can come and go.

We believe it is safe to say that data about breakthrough cases are still emerging.

The CDC is continuously examining data from clinical trials worldwide, from vaccine manufacturers, and from the United States’ international partners and is likely to change its guidance again as the science evolves.

Dr. Walensky declined to predict in her interview how long Americans will be advised to wear masks going forward.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 7/31/21