Monday, July 4, 2022

North Topsail proposed pool rules leave less room for interpretation

North Topsail Beach planning board is recommending stricter language in its pool ordinance to ensure no structures encroach on any dunes. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

NORTH TOPSAIL BEACH — After an under-construction swimming pool on the north end of North Topsail Beach drew concerns from local officials and residents, the planning board created stricter language for its ordinance at last week’s meeting. If approved through all appropriate channels, the town will also make the revisions reflective in its land use plan.

Planning director Deb Hill recommended the slight addition following a review of eight coastal towns similar in size and policy to North Topsail. The suggested changes make it clear the town prohibits any structures built on dunes: “The alteration, disturbance or encroachment of any dune, as defined by this ordinance, is prohibited.”

A new home under construction in Dolphin Shores is in the process of building a 312-square-foot, in-ground pool on what appeared to be a dune. Residents emailed Mayor Joann McDermon raising concerns about the construction and aldermen were worried about beach preservation. 

READ MORE: Could one pool change the rules for everyone in North Topsail?

As currently written, a structure cannot be built past the dune’s landward “toe,” or bottom outermost edge. However, according to town staff that part of the ordinance could be construed subjectively, as is the case with the pool at Porpoise Place, within the Dolphin Shores neighborhood. 

The Division of Coastal Management issued a permit based on their interpretation of the language, thus allowing the pool to encroach on a dune.

“We’re ensuring that a dune system is not disturbed under any circumstances or anyone’s interpretation,” Hill told Port City Daily of the new language.

Also proposed in the ordinance is a restriction of in-ground pools to 18 inches above the natural grade. 

The Town of North Topsail currently follows Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) guidelines in reference to the installation of swimming pools, which is allowed on the oceanfront, as long as they abide by the 60-foot ocean hazard setback.

Alderman Rick Grant requested a review of CAMA standards at the April 6 meeting, insinuating more stringent rules may need to be applied. CAMA legislation is intended to protect natural resources along coastal areas in North Carolina; 20 counties, including Onslow, are subject to its conditions.

“There’s a difference between what’s allowed by CAMA and what’s legal and what we should be taking a look at,” Grant said at the April meeting.

Aldermen advised the planning board to look at the regulations and make a recommendation on whether anything should be changed. The planning staff researched similar coastal communities’ rules and regulations regarding pools, hot tubs and spas and presented its findings to the board Thursday.

Hill reviewed Pine Knoll Shores, Wrightsville Beach, Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach, Sunset Beach, Bald Head Island, Surf City and Topsail Beach. She found all but Pine Knoll Shores and Topsail Beach require swimming pool restrictions consistent with CAMA guidelines. 

Pine Knoll Shores does not allow pools in the ocean-erodible setback. Neighboring Topsail Beach presents the most restrictive rules, disallowing pools built between a structure and the ocean, as well as prohibiting them in front or side yards.

Hill iterated these are the same rules the town has always followed, since her start in 2006, aside from a nine-year period. Between 2008 and 2017, the aldermen prohibited pools altogether within the CAMA setback, or 60 feet from the landward side of a primary dune. In May 2017, the board voted to amend the ordinance and allow pools within the CAMA setback.

Hill said the aldermen will likely hold a public hearing at its July 6 meeting, unless a special meeting is called prior, before any language is approved.

To ensure CAMA cannot override the town’s rules, the approved language will then be incorporated into North Topsail’s 2021 CAMA Land Use Plan.

“If there is an item in that CAMA Land Use Plan, unlike our zoning ordinance, there is no variance from it,” Hill explained to Port City Daily last month.

The Coastal Resource Commission must approve all changes to the town’s land use plan and provide the final stamp of approval.

“They’re bound by it,” Hill said. “To me, that’s the most we can do is to one: be transparent; two, be consistent; and three, put it in such language, everyone should be able to understand what is allowed and what isn’t.”

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