SURF CITY — David Gilbride is running for one of three contested seats on Surf City Council, joining fellow newcomers Dwight Torres, Richard Vessov, Kathleen Sumner and incumbents Donald Helms and William “Buddy” Fowler. Councilwoman Nelva Albury is retiring from her seat.
Current sitting councilman Jeremy Shugarts is challenging Mayor Doug Medlin for the mayor’s seat. Town clerk Stephanie Hobbs pointed to two scenarios that could play out if Shugarts wins the mayoral race and vacates his council seat, as described in an article published by the UNC School of Government.
One, in an open meeting, a council member may make a motion to appoint an individual to fill the vacant seat. If the motion receives a majority of affirmative votes, that individual will fill the vacancy. If it does not, a new motion is in order.
Second, in an open meeting, board members would nominate citizens to fill the vacancy, then cast individual votes. The person with the majority of votes would fill the vacancy. If no person receives a majority, another vote between the front-runners would be in order.
Note: Candidate interviews are published largely without editing (besides minor typographical corrections) and without limits on length. All council candidates received the same questions, which appear in bold with answers in italics below.
Describe your background and platform.
I have a varied background, having managed officer and enlisted personnel in the Air Force, large and small organizations in a career spanning more than 40 years in the petroleum industry, and approximately one year of experience as a town manager. My platform focuses on the engineering and nourishment of our long-neglected beach, but also includes government accessibility, communication, growth, and efficient use of our resources.
Growth: How will you approach the balance of keeping Surf City a “small and quaint beach town,” which is how we have heard numerous residents and town leaders describe it, while properly planning for growth?
The “small and quaint beach town” is already a myth, with hundreds of housing units already approved for development and more on the way. Keeping what remains of the character of Surf City as we know it will require taking a long hard look at zoning, the capacity of our infrastructure, and our tendency to approve large scale developments (such as Waterside with 3200 units) without regard to the wishes of the residents and property owners.
What is your approach to beach nourishment, and how do you feel about the beach push last spring, a $300,000 operation some experts called ineffective in the long-term?
The engineering of the beach and beach nourishment are my top priority. While awareness of the need for this probably predates the 2005 Land Use Plan, it is in that plan that the mayor and council recognized the need for this project. Nevertheless, in the 15 years since the adoption of the plan they have done nothing. This is such a critical need that it simply must be done, must be maintained after it’s done, and will have the side benefit of actually making us eligible for FEMA assistance should we have another Florence. As far as the push — it was the opinion of our own consultant that pushing sand was a waste of time and money. Nevertheless, some oceanfront property owners feel that this temporary fix did, in fact, help them. I would like to review these claims with the expert and see if their opinion has been revised, or if data supports either position.
Development is spreading along the coast — apartment complexes, mixed-use developments, etc. How has the town handled such development? Would you change anything?
First off, given that our sewage treatment system is at capacity, I would favor a moratorium on building permits until the problem is resolved. Again, modifications to our mainland zoning are a must, and participation in regional planning sessions will be needed to curb exploding growth and development in places like Hampstead and Sneads Ferry whose growth will affect Surf City in many ways.
Hurricane Florence brought up issues with emergency planning, particularly communication with residents. Some have said communication had improved during Hurricane Dorian. What will you do to continue this improvement in future storms?
Communication in Dorian versus Florence was definitely improved – though Dorian could almost be viewed as an exercise or drill. During Florence the cell tower was lost, as was any internet service. I would continue to work with the Emergency Management Director to designate specific places for property owners to get official information, a specific website, a specific radio station, a specific TV station, etc. Right now the effectiveness of communication is diluted by the sheer number of sources available.
Some candidates at the PCD forum suggested the town was not communicating enough about its 25-year land-use plan. However, it is posted on the town’s website. What is your stance on this?
The issue is not the Land Use Plan. The issue is that a councilman, at the Pender Post forum, alluded to a 25-year plan which is frequently updated. Mayor Medlin, on his re-elect Facebook page, claims that there is a 5-year plan, a 10-year plan, and a 25-year plan. Who devised these plans? Where can one find one? Why have sitting Councilmen never been asked to participate in updating any of these plans? Why do we have Sunshine Laws? Either these plans don’t actually exist, or they are being formulated by special interests outside of the public eye.
When you have a growing town, you have to plan for it. What would be your plans for keeping infrastructure on pace with a growing population?
First of all, solve the problem with the spraying of sewer effluent. The 2,200 acres of Juniper Swamp purchased by the Council to accommodate the expanding needs for infrastructure have turned out to be inadequate. Only 120 acres is currently useable, so we have to either come up with a different technology, or buy more land. No one has been held accountable for this major mistake.
There is no problem with having a “plan”, but it should be developed with competent experts, and we might even consider hiring a planner – a position which has been vacant in Surf City since October of 2018.
Parking is becoming limited in Surf City. Would you consider a form of paid parking to help fund things like beach nourishment?
I would “consider” it, especially since growth in surrounding towns will increase the number of “day trippers” to our beaches. It would have to exclude the Surf City property owner, and would follow a study to determine if paid lots would force individuals to park on streets, block driveways, utilize businesses parking lots, etc … It merits careful study.
The Atkinson Road fire brought up some residents’ concerns about house setbacks and a limited availability of water. What would you do differently, if at all, to be better prepared for structure fires on the island? (i.e. Would you consider a fire boat?)
As I understand it there was no problem with water availability, and changing setbacks on the island now would be of little value. This wind-driven fire illustrated the need to ensure that future developments have multiple ingress and egress points, and streets wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles, as well as connectivity between developments. I would defer to the experts on what might be done differently, but clearly the same potential situation exists elsewhere on the island – particularly in the canal street area. While a Fire Boat sounds like a good idea on face value, aside from the cost – where do we keep it? How fast can it be mobilized? In the case of Atkinson Road the fire moved so swiftly a boat would not have been any use at all.