Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Topsail commissioners extend timeline on Point rezoning

Topsail Beach commissioners approved extending the timeline to vote on the Point rezoning to allow the Olsons time to hire engineers to evaluate the property. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

TOPSAIL BEACH — Despite a large outcry from the public and at least one commissioner, the town of Topsail Beach will have to wait a bit longer to learn the fate of the Point.

READ MORE: ‘We’re not developers’: Olsons agree to more investment to quell concerns on Point rezoning

Initially, a public hearing on the conditional rezoning of roughly 150 acres in southern Topsail was scheduled for Sept. 13, with a vote to take place the following month. The Topsail Beach Board of Commissioners were to vote Wednesday on a proposed revised schedule for the process.

In order to gather all the necessary information, Laura and Todd Olson asked for everything to be shifted, with an ultimate vote to be conducted some time in December. Based on conditions imposed by the commissioners, requesting additional information on the impacts of building in the fragile ecosystem would take more time, Laura explained. She told the board the earliest she could contract with a coastal engineer would be roughly a month, plus another eight weeks for the person to actually perform necessary work.

In the end, the two parties came to a compromise.

“We just need to align on exactly what the ask is,” Laura said at the meeting. “We want to make sure we’re doing the right work.”

Commissioner John Gunter was opposed to any delays, instead suggesting an expedited schedule.

“If we’re talking about anything other than next week, we’re talking too far out,” he said. “I had earlier thought we could go to November, but after we saw the barrage that came at us this morning from the public to say, ‘Get this done,’ I think we need to work on a very tight timeline.”

The process has been ongoing October 2022.

Assistant town manager Christina Burke said typically a proposed plan makes it through the planning board and commissioners in three to five months, but she noted Topsail really doesn’t get many requests so “it’s difficult to say.”

Most residents who spoke or submitted comments to the town about the delay emphasized the Olsons have had “more than enough time” to put together the needed information. They also said the delay was an undue burden on town staff and taxpayer dollars spent debating the issue.

Gunter added the burden is on the Olsons to complete the due diligence on whether water is available on the property, if septic tanks are possible, and what kind of building could take place there, if any.

“We’re not responsible for putting them in a place where everything’s going to work out,” he said.

No one disagreed with that fact. 

The Olsons will still have to undergo studies and permitting processes to build, even if the town agrees to the conditional rezoning. During that period, factors, such as hydrology and soil quality, as well as environmental health for water and septic, would be addressed.

Commissioner Frank Braxton urged the board to still ask for at least an engineering report.

“The study is setting the stage to make a decision,” he said. “Right now, we’re blind. I’m trying to look further than just building.”

“I’m struggling with how we’ve gotten this far before we’ve had this discussion,” Gunter responded, which was greeted with shouts of “Amen” from the crowd.

Commissioner Tim Zizack agreed knowing the impacts to the environment and surrounding properties in Serenity Point is vital before making a decision.

The board unanimously approved pushing the timeline back with a workshop scheduled for early next month to sort out the details.

“I’m very pleased the timeline has been extended so the Olsons can work toward meeting the conditions the town has set forth for various studies requested,” Renee McCullen told Port City Daily on a call Thursday.

McCullen is one of three property owners under contract to sell land to the Olsons. McCullen owns one third of the property, bought in 1989.

The Oppegaards own the other third in a trust for their family and two McLeod brothers own the other third. Over the last five years, the town has collected $42,451 in property taxes on the land.

“I would assume the property value will increase with development so, yes, the Topsail Beach taxes would increase,” Burke told PCD. “I couldn’t tell by how much.”

Topsail Beach’s current tax rate is 40 cents per $100 valuation, so taxes would be dependent on the value of what the Olsons build. Right now, they’re proposing a phased approach to include seven dwellings, a pool, a boat dock, accessory buildings for maintenance and storage, and a boardwalk to the ocean.

The land owners have been mum during the conditional rezoning process, which began last summer. Yet, McCullen provided a statement to PCD on behalf of them all:

“We all have so much love for Topsail Beach’s south end. Our roots and connections to this island run deep. This is why we’re trying to be responsible stewards of this land. In the time this property has been on the market, we’ve declined multiple offers because the potential buyers wanted to develop as much of the acreage as they could, similar to what was done with the Serenity Point development.”

The McLeods, owners of the land dating back to the ‘60s, sold a portion — not included in the 150 acres the Olsons intend to purchase — to developers to build the 27-duplex neighborhood in the late 1980s. The request for that development was also controversial at the time.

“The Olsons’ offer is unique and one we don’t expect to encounter again if this conditional zoning isn’t approved,” McCullen said.

Cape Fear Commercial — broker on the property — released a brochure listing the details of the land’s sale in August 2019. It included potential uses and showed a conceptual design for up to 83 lots, each about 75-feet wide. The property was listed at $7.95 million, equal to $72,273 per acre.

Neither the McCullens nor the Olsons have shared the number they are under contract for.

“Their offer is the right choice for us because Laura and Todd guarantee a majority of the property will be preserved forever in its natural state,” McCullen said.

Laura indicated to PCD last month the couple would likely not go through with the land purchase if the rezoning is denied.

After the September workshop, the board of commissioners will figure out the remaining schedule for voting on the rezoning. At this time no date has been set.

Conserve the Point president Roy Costa wrote in a newsletter Thursday: “Although these delays are not what we wanted, it may give us time to engage our own experts and to expand our grassroots opposition.”

Conserve the Point is a 501(c)3 dedicated to preserving the entire Point in perpetuity. If the rezoning falls through, the nonprofit has said it would raise money from residents and donors to buy the land and put it in a conservation easement.


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