Southern Shores councilman comment disrupts meeting

Published 8:29 am Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sidelined by a brief loss of civility, Southern Shores Town Council members at the July 10 meeting adopted a capital infrastructure improvement plan for next fiscal year, established new parking and setback requirements for fire stations, filled several vacant planning board positions and sent two zoning text amendments back to the Planning Board for additional work.

Before discussion on new guidelines for nonconforming lots with structures began, Councilman Gary McDonald requested a closed session so that council could discuss some potential legal issues related to the proposed code changes.

Southern Shores has a number of structures that appear to be built on one large lot but are actually located on two small adjoining lots. The town is attempting to modify existing guidelines for its nonconforming lots. The first reading for the proposed changes in June was given a 3-2 approval, but the lack of a super majority set up the evening’s second vote.

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After a 47-minute closed session with Town Attorney Ben Gallop, council approved a motion by Jim Conners that ZTA 18-07 be tabled until staff and the town attorney could work out the appropriate wording for requiring two adjoining non-conforming lots with structures to be recombined onto one conforming lot if a structure was demolished or altered in a manner exceeding 50 percent of its value. The issue is expected to be brought back for a review in August, although the door was left open for council to call a special meeting in the event it could be handled sooner.

There was less agreement when council took up new lot coverage requirements.

After Mayor Tom Bennett opened the discussion with a statement that his house would be affected by the proposed change considered, something that had escaped his attention during previous discussions, Gallop advised that in the absence of any direct or substantial benefit to Bennett there did not appear to be any conflict of interest.

Among the proposed changes for consideration were removing gravel walkways, the outermost four feet of eaves, some pool area and up to 25 percent of open-slatted areas of some decks from the maximum 30 percent lot coverage calculations for single-family residential lots. Similar recommendations received a unanimous 4-0 vote of approval by planning board members in August before council denied them on a 3-2 vote in September. Council then voted 3-2 in February to send the issue back to the planning board for reconsideration with additional proposed language.

During almost 30 minutes of public comments, citizens spoke for and against the change with the majority against the changes and more than one request to send it back to the planning board for additional refinement. At the end of those comments McDonald moved the action not be approved since it had already been defeated.

What started as a typical pro and con discussion between Mayor Pro Tem Chris Nason, who called the recommendations a common sense compromise approach and offered a number of reason he favored the changes, and Councilman Fred Newberry, who said the changes would alter the town and referenced to a survey in which greater than 60 percent of the town favored leaving lot coverage calculations as they are.

The climate inside the Pitt Center took a sudden turn when McDonald, while speaking to Nason, said “The majority of the community is against this. I don’t know why it came back up. How much money do you need to make?”

Nason took immediate offense and called for a retraction. There were several outbursts from the public, and councilman Conners jumped into the turmoil with considerable vocal support for Nason, adding that the comment was uncalled for.

As Bennett regained control over the brief chaotic response that followed and several members of the public walked out, McDonald appeared unmoved by any calls for an apology and responded simply with another comment that “the truth hurts” without providing supporting evidence or explanation.

After a vote on McDonald’s motion on the zoning amendment failed to pass, a motion to send it back to the planning board for additional work was approved by council. Nason, still riled by McDonald’s comment, then said he wanted McDonald censured, which is basically an official strong or vehement expression of disapproval.

Although Bennett said he agreed that the comment was inappropriate, he did not vote in favor of censure and Newberry said he did not hear McDonald’s comment. With only Nason and Conners voting in favor of it, the motion to censure McDonald failed.

When questioned about his comments after the meeting McDonald said during a telephone interview that it was not a personal attack.

Although McDonald offered a number of reasons to vote against the issue, his only support for the comment was to explain that Nason is an architect and designing a bigger house means he could charge more money.

“He sees it from the business side and I see it from the community side,” said McDonald, adding that there was also some frustration in dealing with a topic that had already been defeated.

Appointments, plan passes

Other business for the evening included appointing David Neal and Andy Ward to regular planning board positions and voting to have Leo L. Holland and Michael Basilone fill alternate positions on the planning board. After a short public hearing, council approved an application submitted by the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department to amend sections of town code for fire station parking, signage and setback requirements.

A capital infrastructure improvement plan for fiscal 2019 passed on a unanimous 5-0 vote with little discussion.

No left turn
During staff reports Police Chief David M. Kole provided a detailed report from the June 23-24 “No Left Turn” experiment. Some of the information compiled within an hour before the evening meeting.

Kole said while others have drawn and published conclusion from the provided information he drew no conclusion in spite of reports that he has.

Kole went on to say that while the numbers are there for review, he explained that the mechanical counters only record vehicles moving 3 mph or faster. He pointed out also that contrary to reports that the intersection was confusing, it was a well set-up, profession operation with a clear intent on what was prohibited.

“The only confusion was from people watching their phones and GPS units and not the road, there was nothing confusing with the set-up,” Kole added.

Local responses were varied. While some residents were happy with the traffic flow, others were not. Cost of the exercise was between $6,800 and $7,000.

New fire station

In his report Town Manager Peter Rascoe advised that discussion with the fire department continue and a 2019 contract is expected soon as are a site plan for the new fire station.

Council members also heard public comments requesting a different meeting time and more than three minutes for public comment, a detailed explanation of the word bias, a suggestion that the state be contacted to help with summer traffic and that portable bathrooms be provided for travelers stuck in standstill traffic, and a call for town council members to put aside personal differences and work as a team for the good of Southern Shores.

Unless a special meeting is called, the next Southern Shores Town Council meeting will be 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7.