Southport aldermen have reluctantly agreed to reduce the system development fee for Southport Marina’s new dry stack storage unit from $63,720 to $15,930.

Aldermen voted 5-1 at last Thursday’s regular meeting, with Aldermen Lowe Davis dissenting, to accept City Manager Gordon Hargrove’s recommendation to lower the marina’s fee for the water sprinkler and sewer connections.

Earlier this year, marina officials had appealed the $63,720 assessment, stating the city had misclassified the dry stack unit as a “wet slip” facility and that a calculation based on the city’s T2 table was wrong.

Hargrove told aldermen that during a Zoom meeting with McGill and Associates, the engineering team that prepared the city’s system development fee schedule, it was determined that a dry stack storage unit was not a good fit for any of the categories in Southport’s T2 table. Instead, they agreed the best fit for the unit would be the transportation hub classification, where development fees are based on the number of parking spots and occupants per vehicle.

It was determined that two occupants per vehicle would be equitable, and the combined water and sewer assessment for the unit would be $15,930 based on that new information.

“It seems like this is a gaping hole,” said Alderman John Allen. “If (the sprinkler) goes off, it’s going to have thousands of gallons a minute coming out.”

Alderman Davis asked Hargrove what would happen if the board tabled action until the city could speak with marina officials and perhaps negotiate for a higher fee.

“If we head down that road, it is a lawsuit,” said Hargrove.

City Attorney Mike Isenberg and Southport’s Development Services Director Thomas Lloyd were also involved in the discussion with engineers over the marina’s fee.

“We spent an hour with three engineers going over this,” said Isenberg. “All were in agreement that this was the most fair way and is what they recommended.”

Hargrove said the problem is that system development fees have only been around for about three years. He and city staff looked around the state to see how other governments are handling similar requests.

“We’re going to be the barometer of what others are going to do,” said Hargrove. “We’re blazing a path. Is it the right one? I think it is at the point we are right now.”

Alderman Lora Sharkey’s motion to accept the new fee based on McGill and Associates’ recommendation was seconded by Alderman John Allen and approved by 5-1 vote, with Alderman Davis voting no.

Osprey Landing action

Aldermen voted unanimously to formally approve the city’s development agreement for Osprey Landing. Developers will build out the project in five phases, obtain water and sewer connections from the county and then petition for annexation by the city once all lots are sold.

All property will be added to the city’s tax base once that happens, said Isenberg.

Osprey Landing is being built on 67 acres off Robert Ruark Drive and is currently in the city’s extraterritorial planning and zoning jurisdiction. It is zoned as a planned unit development that includes 196 lots and was approved for developer Vanguard Farms LLC in December 2018.

The agreement gives the city some oversight into the project, but many Robert Ruark Drive residents are upset that it will add to the traffic on their street.

“It’s not good for Southport, but that train left the station several years ago,” said Alderman Davis. “The site plans are out of our control. This becomes a learned lesson for us.”

Davis said the city amended its unified development ordinance to avoid the kinds of issues residents are facing with Osprey Landing. Davis explained why she was voting yes despite her objections. It will expand the city’s tax base, and Southport won’t have to pay for its water and sewer expansion, she said.

“This gives the city a chance to make the best of the situation,” said Davis.

Fine upheld

Aldermen voted 5-1, with Alderman Marc Spencer opposed, to uphold a $4,000 fine imposed on owners of a lot at 6099 Turtlewood Drive for clearing the property of trees before any zoning or building permits were issued.

An estimated 4,000 square feet of property owned by the Crumpler family were disturbed without a permit and city officials imposed the fine and a requirement that two replacement canopy trees were to be planted. The Crumplers asked the board in August for relief from the fine.

Permits were delayed by software glitches, two weeks by the county and one week by the city. Southport Development Services Director Thomas Lloyd told aldermen the contractor was warned not to cut any trees until permits were obtained.

“Knowing that area, it’s a tough fine for that location,” said Alderman Spencer.

Alderman Karen Mosteller added it was a clear violation and there must be consequences for removing trees without permits.

“We have to treat everyone the same,” she said.

Her motion to uphold the fine and tree replacement was seconded by Alderman Thomas Lombardi. Alderman John Allen asked Mosteller if she was willing to amend her motion to lower the fine to $3,000. Mosteller said she did not want to change her motion.

Alderman Davis said the city has an excellent tree protection ordinance that is part of the UDO.

“We do have a say in the city. We can say no to that kind of cold, clear-cutting,” said Davis.

“It’s interesting that someone can buy a property but not own it,” replied Spencer. “We step on property rights every day.”

Davis responded, “Would you want to do away with zoning entirely?”

Spencer cast the only vote against Mosteller’s motion.