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Southern Shores removes 30-day minimum consideration requirement in response to emergency declaration

The Southern Shores Town Council gathered for a workshop meeting the morning of July 21 to hold a public hearing on temporary emergency zoning accommodations and consideration of stipulations set forth by the town ordinance regarding Planning Board action.

In May, the council had read and considered a letter from the president of the Outer Banks Restaurant Association, who had requested that the county along with all municipalities consider allowing temporary accommodations for businesses impacted by COVID-19.

At that time, the council had agreed to revise the town’s Declaration of a State Emergency to allow for reasonable temporary accommodations in their zoning regulations. After directing staff to draft a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA), the council members realized that the town ordinance required the Planning Board to have a minimum of 30 days to consider amendments, meaning that the consideration would sit for a month before the planning board could consider it.

This prevented the town from quickly addressing the request in a ZTA, which had been recommended by town attorney Ben Gallop.

To help alleviate the issue in the future, staff proposed to amend the Southern Shores town code by amending Section 36-416, Planning Board Action, as directed by council. “The proposed amendment removes the current requirements for planning board to have minimum of 30 days to consider zoning changes,” states planning director Wes Haskett.

Haskett relayed that staff had also added a new section, Section 36-177, to allow for the mayor to authorize the town manager (or his designee) to use his discretion to allow for reasonable temporary accommodations during a state of emergency. These accommodations cannot extend beyond the termination of the state of emergency or the culmination of the circumstances under the declaration, whichever were to come first.

The Planning Board went ahead and approved both of the proposed amendments on July 2 at their regular meeting.

Gallop addressed the board following Haskett’s overview: “To the questions that have come up with the 30-day requirement, first of all, this isn’t the first time it has come up.” Gallop noted there have been several times in the past few years where council has wanted to work faster than the ordinance has allowed.

Town manager Cliff Ogburn said that the 30-day requirement has been a part of the ordinance since at least 2004.

As far as Southern Shores is aware, no other town in Dare County stipulates the 30-day waiting period before an action can be made by a planning board on a ZTA. Gallop noted that this “significant limitation on how fast town council can act” was not a statutory requirement and could continue to cause hold-ups with future amendments.

Councilman Matt Neal was struck by the fact that the revision “sat dormant for 30 days” and was ultimately the one to send his motion of approval.

After a unanimous vote by Town Council to approve the changes, Ogburn said “now that it’s out, if another crazy event comes up, council can get it taken care of a lot faster.”

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