After months of controversy surrounding the issue, Southport aldermen voted last Thursday to allow marinas to build 50-foot-tall dry storage buildings in the business district as long as the property has 40 or more boat slips.

Alderman Robert Tucker made the motion and was seconded by Jim Powell. It passed 5-1, with Karen Mosteller being the sole “nay” vote.

The unified development ordinance (UDO) will now have a subscript on its height requirement for the business zone. The footnote reads that marina dry storage buildings within the district may have a maximum height of 50 feet.

“I’d like to point out … the current ordinance does allow 40-foot dry stacks without any restrictions,” Tucker said, “so this is not a huge change. I don’t think.”

Although the amendment was proposed by Southport Marina, the text applies to all marinas in the business district that have 40 slips. A marina is defined by the UDO

See Southport, page 6A

as a waterfront structure that stores two or more boats and provides marina-like sales.

The aldermen visited the issue in June and July and postponed voting on it both times. One concern vocalized by the public in those months was that other businesses, such as hotels or restaurants, would also want to build to 50 feet on the waterfront, and these places could also meet the marina definition.

“How many canoes does it take for a piece of property to qualify as a marina?,” asked Southport resident Victoria Matthews at the public hearing in July.

After the hearing, Tucker proposed that a marina also has to have at least 40 slips to receive the height exemption, as a way to limit which types of properties qualify. The board approved the amendment with Tucker’s suggestion at the August meeting.

According to the ordinance amending the article, the aldermen found the text change consistent with the CAMA Land Use Plan, despite the planning board claiming otherwise.

“Fifty-foot high marina dry storage buildings will accommodate the need for more boat storage in the city,” the ordinance reads, “which will encourage tourism and related recreational activities, and they will provide safer and more direct access to the water.”

After the vote, the board passed a contract amendment to extend Southport Marina’s examination period of the former wastewater treatment plant site for three months. The marina agreed to purchase the land on West West Street from the city for $650,000 in February. The extension passed 5-1, with Mosteller opposed.

Mosteller, who has been openly against the text change, argued the height exemption was not necessary to sell the former wastewater treatment plant. She proposed that if the marina backed out because the amendment didn’t pass, the city could put the land on the open market and frame the terms of the sale to “maximize the benefits for the citizens.”

She argued that when the board accepted the marina’s offer in February, $650,000 “seemed like a lot of money,” because board members were concerned about the impact of Hurricane Florence, but the general fund budget showed the city was “on track” financially.

She also questioned the legality of the process. An original offer for the plant stated the sale was contingent upon receiving approval for the construction of a 50-foot building and the city would “cooperate.”

City attorney Mike Isenberg clarified that “cooperate” was not used in the final contract the city signed. Still, Mosteller referenced a conversation she had with David Owens, a professor in the UNC School of Government, in which he referred to “cooperate” as a “weasel word.”

“He said this seemed uncomfortably close to the line of the city promising to take regulatory action in return for the sale,” Mosteller said, “and the city should avoid even the appearance of doing that.”

Isenberg reiterated the aldermen would not be in breach of the contract if they voted down the proposal.

“The board’s not obligated to do anything,” he said.

Southport Marina is expected to close on the sale of the wastewater treatment plant Nov. 15 but can request one more extension of their examination period through Feb. 15.

Also on Thursday, the board unanimously reappointed Harold Spencer to the Southport ABC Board and Harley Lemons to the board of adjustment. There are still two open extraterritorial jurisdiction seats for people who live outside the city limits.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Pro Tempore Rick Pukenas said it’s “redundant” to require golf carts to receive an inspection from the city even after one has already been done by the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. He asked that the city looks into striking that policy from the golf cart ordinance.