TOPSAIL BEACH — A Raleigh tech founder submitted a conditional rezoning application to a coastal Pender County town, despite pushback from locals. On Wednesday, the town’s planning board will review the application, which deviates from the original plan.
Todd Olson, CEO of Pendo, submitted to the town of Topsail Beach an application to rezone 16.9 acres of a nearly 150-acre tract at the southernmost tip of the island. The changes cut in half the original 37-acre plan Olson proposed to residents in October.
The application, submitted Dec. 21, notes Olson reduced the number of dwellings from eight to six, removed the boat house from plans altogether and removed the rezoning request within a public trust area along the Atlantic Ocean.
“We’re taking feedback from the town and making adjustments,” Olson told Port City Daily on a call Monday. “The goal is to partner with folks and find the best path forward.”
Olson added there will likely be revisions as time goes on, since he is still years away from building.
“We just want to make sure it’s not too much out of the gate,” Olson said. “Once we start living there, we’ll have a better appreciation of what we need or what we want.”
In the meantime Olson and his family plan to enjoy Topsail from their home on N. Anderson Boulevard, purchased in 2019. Whether he will sell that once the compound is constructed has yet to be decided, he said.
Olson is under contract to purchase 149.86 acres, land currently owned by the McLeod family, known as The Point. The family formed an LLC in 2008 to manage the land.
In 2019, the land was listed for sale for $7.9 million, and the town attempted to acquire it and ensure it remains undisturbed for the public to enjoy. The price tag was too hefty to place on taxpayers, and the Coastal Federation was investigating opportunities for the state to buy it; however, neither succeeded.
Buying the property is contingent upon Olson’s conditional rezoning being approved, a process that began in June.
Olson submitted a request to add conditional rezoning to the town’s ordinances, which was approved by commissioners in September. A month later, he notified neighboring residents of his intentions for the land.
Nearly 200 comments have been collected between a public meeting held last fall — a requirement prior to a planning board hearing — and online submissions from residents and visitors. The majority want The Point — an untouched piece of natural beach — to remain as is and are vocally opposing Olson’s plans.
Some, however, cite property rights for the McLeod family, as well as Olson’s family once a purchase goes through, as a reason to support plans. Also, others have compared his plans as being a preferable option to full-scale, high-density development of an apartment complex, for example. Out of 125 written comments from the Oct. 29 input meeting, only three offered “100% support.”
The entire acreage Olson plans to purchase is currently zoned conservation, allowing for beach access and pedestrian walkways. However, Olson wants to build a family compound of six dwellings, a swimming pool with cabana, maintenance building, a beach shelter, gazebo and uncovered deck, elevated wood walkway with beach access and septic system in the center of the 150-acre property.
He said he was surprised to learn after submitting his rezoning application that the land-use map for the area includes “limited residential” as a use in a conservation district.
“I think what we’re talking about qualifies as limited residential — half a dozen structures,” he said. “This seems very much in line with the original intent of the land.”
Town manager Doug Shipley clarified to PCD (after press) Olson was referencing the future land use map, which identifies potential uses for identified areas down the road; it does not override current zoning restrictions. The Point is zoned for conservation only at this time.
Olson is requesting a rezoning to planning residential development for single-family or two-family homes only (PRD-2). Within the district, volleyball or basketball courts and single-family dwellings are the only allowable uses by-right. However, a list of other uses allowed by permit or condition include home occupation, pickleball or tennis courts, RVs, solar energy systems, and swimming pools.
A fence will surround the 38-foot-tall residential buildings and the property will be accessed via a gated entrance for privacy. A driveway connected to the structures, as well as a 30-foot easement to cross property at Ocean Boulevard, are included in the master plan.
“We want to be within walking distance from the ocean, but we want to be far enough away from Serenity Point,” he said. “As I’ve said before, it will be so [residents] don’t see us and we don’t see them.”
However, Olson’s request would not restrict beach access to the public. Also, the construction of an elevated walkway and pier for nine boat lifts, will not limit pedestrian or boater use.
According to the application, and as stated by Olson in PCD’s prior reporting, the remaining 132.95 acres will be conserved. Only about 1 acre, of 6.1% of the 16.9 acres will be impervious surface, which makes up less than 1% of the total 149-acre tract.
“Everyone wants to conserve The Point,” Olson said. “We want to conserve The Point.”
Olson admitted he has not solidified conversations with organizations to follow through on legally preserving acreage since he does not formally own the land.
“Why invest energy on something we don’t own yet,” Olson said. “Given that, in our planning, by bringing the [size] down, hopefully demonstrates our intent long-term.”
Construction on the property, if approved, would be done in phases over several years. A portion of the 16 acres would possibly remain undeveloped for future generations to build on, Olson confirmed.
“Once we get things hopefully approved, then we’ll collaborate with landscape architects on a vision,” he said.
With a conditional rezoning, just added in the town’s ordinances in September at Olson’s request, the board can place stipulations on the master plan.
If approved, any major changes made would require additional planning board and commissioner approval before moving forward. An example of these revisions would be a change in the property’s use, increase or decrease in development density, increase in ground coverage for built properties, a change in site dimension by 10% or more, a reduction in approved open space or a change in access.
Neighbors first caught wind of Olson’s plan when they received a letter in early October from land surveyor Charles F. Riggs and Associates, notifying them of Olson’s intentions for the land. Since then, residents have created a Facebook group to keep interested parties abreast of the progress, attended the Oct. 29 public meeting and submitted their feedback to the town.
This Wednesday at 10 a.m., the planning board will review Olson’s submission, as well as provide an overview for the public on how the conditional rezoning process works, according to assistant town manager Christina Burke.
No vote will be taken, as the staff is still reviewing comments by outside state and federal agencies before preparing a recommendation for approval or denial. At its Feb. 22 meeting, the planning board will hear a formal presentation and could take action, though it’s not guaranteed, according to Shipley.
Following the planning board’s recommended vote, the board of commissioners will have the final say on whether to approve the conditional rezoning.
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