Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Pendo founder withdraws rezoning application to build family compound on The Point

The conditional rezoning application for a portion of The Point in Topsail has been withdrawn by Todd and Laura Olson. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

TOPSAIL BEACH — A contentious year of back-and-forth debate over a piece of land in Topsail Beach deemed a “treasure” by many has come to a close.

READ MORE: Conditional rezoning of Topsail’s ‘The Point’ a ‘non-starter’ without conservation plan

Topsail Beach Town Manager Doug Shipley confirmed Todd and Laura Olson’s application for a conditional rezoning of up to 20 acres of the 150-acre plot known as The Point was officially withdrawn Monday afternoon. Shipley could not share more details but confirmed the Topsail Beach Planning Board has plans to meet Wednesday, 10 a.m., and staff will address an update on the application.

Two years ago, the couple went under contract to buy 150 acres, currently co-owned by three families, at the southernmost tip of Topsail.

Known as The Point, the land consists of 2.5 miles of undisturbed sand, dunes and ocean and has been enjoyed by its less-than 500 residents and swell of visitors during tourist season. The property is currently zoned conservation and efforts have been made over the years to engage nonprofits in ensuring it stays that way. None have so far succeeded.

The Olsons fought for a conditional rezoning to be added to Topsail Beach regulations and sought it to build seven houses, plus accessory structures, including a boat house, gazebo and dock on roughly 10 to 20 acres of the property. The remaining 120-plus acres was to be conserved.

They submitted to the planning board a conditional rezoning application late December 2022 and have been working with the board of commissioners across a handful of meetings to meet a growing list of conditions. The planning board denied the rezoning in March, but commissioners have the ultimate say and were scheduled to vote on its decision in December.

After four work sessions to find a compromise on how the Olsons could move forward to build its family compound, the family has reached an impasse. The Olsons wrote in a statement to PCD Tuesday it has suspended its plans for The Point.

“We are extremely disappointed to get to this point after two years, but we do not believe that a successful outcome is possible based on the current process,” the statement noted. “This process wasn’t additive to our lives, like we hoped it would be — it was dilutive. We invested the time, money, and energy to find a solution to protecting an area of the world we love. But solving problems requires collaboration, which the Town appears to have been unwilling to do. We have no choice but to withdraw our application.”

Commissioners made myriad requests in the last few months, one of the most recent was for a conservation easement to be put into place on the undeveloped property. The Olsons said during the Nov. 7 public meeting, due to tax implications, they weren’t sure it was appropriate. However, they assured leaders they still had plans to preserve the property. Commissioners took issue with this point, calling it a “non-starter” without the easement guarantee.

“We signed a Letter of Intent with the NC Coastal Land Trust to establish a conservation easement on at least 80% of the land. We took feedback from both residents and Town officials and updated our plans and drawings to reduce the impact on the land to less than 4% impervious surfaces. We have listened, iterated, and stayed patient through a very tedious and lengthy process that unfortunately still remains far from complete two years later,” the family wrote Tuesday.

Laura Olson told Port City Daily earlier this month her commitment to environmental stewardship has been “unwavering.” It’s been part of the plan since the beginning, and Olson engaged environmental professionals earlier this spring for the best way to proceed. Her site plans and architecture design revolve around the most environmentally acceptable locations.

“It would be a pretty bold thing for us to be publicly saying we would have a plan around conservation and then not do it,” she said. “It’s our character and our reputation.”

The Olsons have doled out thousands of dollars to engage professionals in environmental studies, architectural design, and soil samples to help assuage fears of many who oppose the build. Residents have spoken out throughout the process, including members of Conserve the Point, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that formed earlier this year to stop the development.

In Tuesday’s statement, the family added they arrived at the decision to cease movement on their plans for two reasons. One came from a perceived reluctancy from commissioners to meet with the family one-on-one, despite repeated requests “to come up with solutions together,” the Olsons wrote. Instead, the family said they were passed over to town staff or the external planning consultant.

“Meanwhile, we understand the Commissioners directly conversed with members of the community who opposed our plans,” the Olsons wrote in a statement. “This one-sided behavior has led to confusion and an unending set of proposed conditions.”

They also expressed concern over mixed messaging throughout the process, including when town leaders requested quick decisions be made on otherwise complicated matters.

“For example, suggesting a two-week deadline to determine the 50-year impact of our plan on the surrounding wetlands was unrealistic,” the statement said. “While the intent of conditional zoning is to provide guardrails for development, we often felt pulled between making these decisions quickly and alone or ceding full control to a group of elected officials. Neither of these options is good for the Town.”

Laura Olson told Port City Daily in July the couple likely wouldn’t go through with the purchase if the rezoning failed. Tuesday, the family noted three possible scenarios for the Point moving forward: a permanent conservancy by the community or town, a larger scale development, or a low impact private development, such as what the Olsons were proposing.

“This property has spent the better part of 18 years for sale — plenty of time for the Town or community to develop a conservation plan. That hasn’t happened,” the statement noted. “It seems increasingly likely that a developer with deeper pockets and more experience will successfully develop this land, and in doing so, permanently alter the state of The Point.

According to Conserve the Point, the nonprofit is ready to step in and launch a public-private partnership for its purchase.

“So that all future generations of people and wildlife will continue to enjoy and experience The Point as it is today,” the group wrote in a press release Tuesday. 

The nonprofit plans to work collaboratively with the town, conservation groups and other organizations to save the land in perpetuity.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to conserve one of the last undeveloped tracts of land on a North Carolina coastal barrier island and protect the wildlife habitat for the endangered birds and species who call this island their home,” Conserve the Point president Roy Costa said.

Catch up on previous coverage of The Point:

Topsail commissioners extend timeline on Point rezoning

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

Topsail residents form nonprofit, prep to purchase The Point if development fails

Planning board recommends denial of Point rezoning, though residents say ‘fight is not over’

The Point rezoning faces last big hurdle before Topsail planning board vote

Topsail planning board has 65 days to mull Pendo CEO’s rezoning request for The Point

Raleigh tech giant ups development acreage for ‘The Point’ in resubmitted application

Pendo founder submits revised plans for The Point with half the acreage

A ‘David and Goliath struggle’ ensues: Topsail residents grapple with potential development of The Point

One man’s vision to build a family compound on part of 150 acres has Topsail residents decrying its development


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