Sue Hodgin sworn in

Sue Hodgin is sworn in as Planning Board member by Deputy City Clerk Tanya Shannon as  Board Chair Tish Hatem watches. (Photo by Gary Pethe)

 

The Southport Planning Board began grappling with regulation of short term rentals more than a year ago, then discussions all but halted when board meetings were moved to the online Zoom platform due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Tish Hatem, Planning Board Chair, says that even though meetings were on Zoom – without public comment sessions – the board still heard from many people regarding the issue.

And as the area moves toward a recovering 2021 tourist season, the issue is again foremost in the minds of many Southport residents, rental management companies, and city officials as evident when discussions began again during public comment time which was reinstated at the in-person April 15 meeting.

Seven individuals addressed board members and their comments echoed previous concerns, with some asserting that short term rentals, due to weekly turnover of high volume tourists, can distract from the friendly, neighborhood atmosphere of Southport.

“Pretty soon, there will be no long-term residents here,” said Tracy Beaulieu of West Nash Street. “I know other towns like ours where that has happened.”

She listed concerns about the changing character of Southport neighborhoods caused by short term rentals, including parking problems, properties being used for large gatherings, trash and litter, noise, and safety and security for permanent residents in the neighborhoods.

“Our charming town is being lost – it saddens me to see the onslaught of people affecting the wholeness of our neighborhoods,” Beaulieu concluded.

Most speakers noted tourists are welcome, but not to the disruption of the neighborhoods. Several individuals’ comments to the board targeted safety issues, lack of regulation, and inconsistent collection of occupancy and sales taxes.

“As a bed and breakfast owner, I have many regulations,” said Linda Pukenas, who described herself as a realtor, neighbor and taxpayer along with bed and breakfast operator. “We have to get permitted, approved by the city, have the health department inspect us, have commercial insurance and operate under a LLC,” she said. “This is very good for safety.” She asked that short term rentals be held to the same safety standards, and that payment and collection of taxes be equally enforced for those rental operations.

Karen Brake of Margaret Rudd and Associates asked the board that, as the discussion continues, “You consider what we provide as professional rental companies, what we do, what regulations we have, how we operate and the things we provide as professionals.” She stated that consideration is necessary to bring a balance to the discussion.

The City of Southport, according to Hatem, is also considering short term rental rules and regulations with respect to the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) land use plan. It states that part of the vision and mission of the city is to “protect our citizens by ensuring a safe, secure and tranquil quality of life with controlled and orderly growth.”

Maria Swenson of North Atlantic Avenue also quoted CAMA rules in her comments. She noted that preserving the city’s residential areas, preserving the existing urban form, and preserving existing residential neighborhoods were important elements of CAMA rules.

“Short term rentals do not have the same interest or commitment to our neighborhoods,” Swenson added.

At the February 1, 2020 Board of Aldermen retreat, it was decided that when the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) update was completed, Aldermen would prioritize additional planning needs which included short term vacation rental regulations, according to Hatem. She said that it is the job of the Planning Board to research the issue, including public comment, and make recommendations to the Board of Aldermen for consideration and adoption concerning short term rentals.

Osprey Landing

Representatives from Paramounte Engineering, on behalf of Bill Clark Homes, presented a plat sketch plan for Osprey Landing, a planned development off of Robert Ruark Drive. The 68-acre, 196-unit subdivision will offer lot sizes ranging from 50- to 65-feet in width. The project will have a dwelling density of 2.88 units per acre, according to City Planner Thomas Lloyd. Ordinance provisions allow a density of up to six dwellings per acre for a planned development of this type. A proposed 10.2 acres will be set aside for green space.

Lloyd reminded the board that the developer’s land use plan was approved in May 2020 under the previous version of the UDO, therefore the developer had “vested” rights that remain in effect for seven years from the time site plan approval is granted to the beginning the initial work on the multiphase development. The developer can choose to continue the approval process under the previous UDO.

After Planning Board review of the plat sketch plan the full, preliminary plat will be formally brought to the Board for review.

“It is important to note that the application remains largely unchanged from the land use plan that originally met criteria of the UDO for approval,” Lloyd said. “This is a necessary procedural step in the approval process.”

Other business

n Newly appointed Planning Board member Sue Hodgin was sworn in by Deputy City Clerk Tanya Shannon.

n Required statutory updates to the city’s UDO were approved by the board. The updates were necessary to comply with North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 160D. According to Wes MacLeod of Cape Fear Council of Governments, who consulted with the city on the modifications, the changes primarily align administrative details and terminology of local ordinances with Chapter 160D of the state’s new planning legislation. Th deadline for completing statutory updates is July 1.