Duck holds marathon council meeting

Published 11:27 am Saturday, December 30, 2023

During a prolonged December 6 meeting, two new Duck Town Council members were sworn in and during the next five hours, a fill and grading special use permit was authorized, a building height loophole was eliminated, contracting for Duck Trail improvements authorized, a lifeguard services contract was extended, there were reports and public comments on housing and beach equipment rentals, $45,000 approved for repairs to a town-owned rental home, and a 2024 meeting schedule with a different meeting times was put in place.

The evening began with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence, as usual, and town manager Drew Havens then coordinated the swearing in of each council member in alphabetical order for their two-year term by town clerk Lori Ackerman.

With Brenda Chasen, Don Kingston, Kevin Lingard, Monica Thibodeau and Sandy Whitman in place, Kingston was the only nomination for mayor, as was Thibodeau for mayor pro tempore and both were quickly elected.

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Among the first business items considered by council was a Sanderling Homes Association, Inc. request to allow fill, grading and bulkhead activities needed to stabilize a neighborhood-owned pond adjoining Oyster Catcher Lane that is experiencing annual erosion of about one foot each year. The pond covers about an acre in size and serves as a stormwater management facility in the middle of 21 residences.

According to George Wood, Environmental Professionals president, a living shoreline was considered but will not fit the area without encroaching on private property. The environmental design for the shoreline is for stabilization and designed to ensure runoff goes into the pond and not back toward any homes. He pointed out also that only those trees that are in the pond and cannot be saved are to be removed.

Council approved the application with a 5-0 vote.

A vacation rental home at 145 Buffell Head Road was to be removed but after a closer look, council agreed it should stay.

The Town of Duck acquired the single-family home earlier this year to provide long-term access to the beach for beach nourishment and other maintenance. Haven explained that the original plan was to demolish the house after the 2023 rental season, but it was later determined that access was possible with minor modifications and it was not necessary to remove the house. He went on to say the house was found to be structurally and mechanically sound and that a vacant lot could invite requests for a beach access which is not part of the plan. It also has a positive income flow.

After a discussion on some needed window, bathroom fixture and flooring repairs, council voted 5-0 to keep the rental house, approved up to $45,000 for the needed repairs, and authorized the town manager to choose which rental company to use for the upcoming rental season.

Beach rental equipment was also a topic.

During public comments, three different beach equipment vendors offered concerns about provisions in a proposed ordinance change. Most said a licensing fee was way too high and all agreed that since lack of sand and space is always a problem, it’s always a land grab early in the morning. There were also concerns with tent and umbrellas guideline changes.

Looking at how commercial beach equipment vendors are registered and permitted, senior planner Sandy Cross gave an overview of the related ordinances. That led to a lengthy discussion on location of tents, prohibiting guy wires, safety regulations for beach equipment, vendor fees, and how to enforce any of it.

Eventually, council approved a series of changes for rental vendors and private individuals that includes definitions, times for tents and umbrellas to be on the beach, and eliminated several exceptions. Council then advised staff to come back at the January 6 meeting with recommendations for enforcement and fees.

After adopting a flood damage prevention ordinance in May 2020, it was later discovered that building heights were being measured differently in some regulated flood zones. With minimal comment, council amended the building height definition as the most appropriate solution to fairly address how building height is measured in Coastal High Hazard Area flood zones.

Another public comment came from Donna Creef, government affairs director for Outer Banks Association of Realtors, who offered her assistance on any future housing issues and discussions.

A few minutes later, Malcolm Fearing gave a presentation to council on the need for workforce housing. According to Fearing, between 2010 and July 1, 2022, the county population grew by 4,037 people, an average of 28 people a month moving into Dare County. He then advised a UNC study indicates 3,000 more housing units are needed here at an estimated $1 billion cost.

Council also looked at a housing occupancy issue.

In response to complaints that some vacation rental homes are “over occupied” staff found instances where properties were advertising more occupants and/or beds than permitted. According to UNC Chapel Hill intern Ashlynn Basnight, over-occupancy occurred by more people allowed than the stated occupancy or by advertising more beds than permitted.

A check of those properties Basnight was able to research – about 3 percent of the 2,600 rental properties in town – revealed the overstated occupancy ranged from 1 to 18 with the average of 3.1 over the allowed occupancy.

A major over-occupancy concern is that those septic systems are being overtaxed, which can lead to early failure. Excess water use, increased traffic, groundwater levels and water quality, inadequate parking are all areas of concern.

Adding to what Basnight said, Cross pointed out that while some Realtors are concerned, others are not. She said also that not all homes are over-occupied, but more research is needed.

Another report came from Jonathan Dail of Johnson, Mizelle, Straub, & Consolvo, LLP, who gave a presentation on the town’s fiscal year 2022-2023 audit report. During his report, Dail advised that Duck received an unmodified opinion which indicates that everything is in order with general accepted accounting procedures.

With the new year about to start, a 2024 council meeting schedule was approved with a new meeting time (except for the annual retreat) of 1 p.m.

During the schedule discussion, Kingston advised that parking could be an issue and a plan needs to be in place for the summer months.

Council meeting dates for 2024 include:

January 3
January 17 (mid-month meeting/strategic planning session)
February 7
February 21 and 22 (retreat)
March 6
March 20 (mid-month meeting)
April 3
April 17 (mid-month meeting)
May 1
May 15 (mid-month meeting)
June 5
June 19 (mid-month meeting)
July 3
July 17 (mid-month meeting)
August 7
August 21 (mid-month meeting)
September 4
September 18 (mid-month meeting)
October 2
October 16 (mid-month meeting)
November 6
November 20 (mid-month meeting)
December 4
December 18 (mid-month meeting)

Other business for the evening, council:

–authorized a $161,575 contract with Hatchell Concrete, Inc. for Duck Trail improvements at the Ocean Crest neighborhood and a retaining wall replacement near Plover Drive with a completion date before March 31.
– after a review of expenses from Duck Surf Rescue Director Mirek Dabrowski, approved an extension of the contract between the town and Sandski, LLC for lifeguard services with the final price for services to be discussed at the January 3 meeting.
– passed a consent agenda with November 1 meeting minutes, a resolution declaring certain property surplus to be sold at auction, and a budget amendment.
– passed a resolution honoring and thanking former council member Rob Mooney for his two terms on council and served on town-related committees.
– passed a resolution thanking Randy Morton for his service to the Town of Duck as a former Planning Board member and as an interim town council member.
– discussed and approval of a fiscal year 2024-2025 budget calendar.
– appointed: Chasen to the Government Access Channel Committee, Whitman as the council liaison to the Planning Board, Lingard to the Albemarle RPO Rural Transportation Advisory Committee, authorized  Kingston and Thibodeau to continue as town check signatories, and approved Thibodeau to continue as the Duck representative on the Dare County Tourism Board.