TOPSAIL BEACH — As an application to develop The Point in Topsail Beach moves into the next phase, locals are already preparing to swoop in if the deal gets dropped.
Following the planning board’s denial in May, Todd Olson’s conditional rezoning submission for building a family compound on the undeveloped southernmost tip of the island hangs in the balance.
Residents — full- and part-time — along with visitors came together as an informal group to protect The Point and urge the town to keep it conserved. What started as a dozen individuals has skyrocketed to more than 5,000 supporters of an online petition.
Last month, the group formalized its efforts into a 501(c)3 nonprofit with nine board members and four executive officers.
The ultimate goal is to enter into a public/private partnership to purchase the 150 acres currently under contract by Olson and place the entire area in a conservation easement in perpetuity.
When the 150-acre property, owned by the McLeod family for generations, went on the market in 2019, it was listed for $7.9 million. Olson has not publicly said what amount he is looking to buy the land for, but Pender County property records show it valued at almost $3 million.
“If the opportunity comes up,” Conserve the Point president Roy Costa told Port City Daily. “we’re working with our grassroots effort and donors to purchase the land. We want it to stay the same for the health and protection of our own community, but there are a lot of unknowns.”
As an official nonprofit, Costa said the group can start collecting tax-deductible donations. Since Friday, Conserve the Point has received more than $5,000.
Money collected right now will be used toward promoting outreach, raising awareness about the development, creating signs and T-shirts and covering some minor administrative costs.
“As things progress, particularly if the application is denied and the property is available, we will continue to work with private, state and federal funds for a capital campaign to purchase the property,” Costa said.
Costa said he’s already been in talks with some people willing to donate “significant amounts” toward the effort.
“But we haven’t gotten to that stage,” he said.
Costa and his wife Nancy Patton have been involved in prior efforts to conserve the land. In 2019, the Town of Topsail Beach attempted to acquire it but decided the cost was too much of a burden on taxpayers. The North Carolina Coastal Federation also tried to raise funds but was unsuccessful.
“There are people out there that want to conserve the land and have the financial abilities to do so,” Costa said. “That’s the piece that’s been missing in past attempts.”
He and Patton are two of a dozen people to speak out repeatedly at meetings in opposition to Olson’s proposed development and plan to continue their efforts with the commissioners.
“We want to make sure the town board will see what the planning board has seen and recognize it’s a very bad idea,” Costa said.
He spoke at Wednesday’s meeting when commissioners discussed the applicant’s desire to “slow down the process.” There was some confusion as commissioners thought Olson wanted to change his plans.
“We feel the applicant has had ample time to present the plan,” Costa told commissioners, reminding them four versions were presented. “In those four, there has been no substantial modification to address land use concerns by residents.”
Costa said if Olson is not ready to continue with the process, he should withdraw his plans and resubmit when he is.
Commissioner John Gunter and Tim Zizack agreed.
“All of us have clearly observed the burden it is to worry about this and listen to people about it,” Gunter said. “ If they’re now saying they’re not ready, let them withdraw.”
Surveyor Charles Riggs, who has been representing Olson during public meetings, clarified he was present at the meeting simply to gather information.
“It was my understanding that the board would give potential conditions to the plan,” he said. “Any changes would be based off what commissioners were requesting. The concept you’ve seen is what we’re moving forward with.”
The four modifications made have been to accommodate town staff or planning board requests, Riggs added. The same would apply moving forward with commissioners.
Town planner Stephanie Moore said she spoke with Olson’s wife, Laura, currently in discussions with environmental agencies. The plan could be tweaked following their conversations.
Patton read a statement on behalf of resident Karen Danmyer, detailing the town’s flood damage control ordinance, iterating the commissioners’ obligation. The Point is in a VE flood zone, an inlet hazard zone, and has been deemed unsuitable for development by state and federal agencies.
“The ordinance states it’s the town’s responsibility to control any alteration of natural flood plains, stream channels and natural protective barriers,” Patton read, “and to minimize the expenditure to control flood projects.”
She said the town needs to “abide by its duty” to safeguard the town, as outlined in its codes.
The commissioners agreed to set a public hearing on the conditional rezoning for Sept. 13; they will hold a workshop to discuss the proposed conditions prior.
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