Sunday, November 27, 2022

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

Topsail Beach’s southernmost 150 acres, known as The Point, is one of the last untouched natural areas. Residents want to see it conserved as a Raleigh entrepreneur hopes to turn a portion of it into a family compound. (Courtesy/Wilton Wescott)

TOPSAIL BEACH — A proposal to build on an undeveloped portion of land in a small beach town was covered with multi-colored sticky notes Saturday.

Roughly 50 Post-Its scribbled with feedback for a planned development ranged from “NO development!” to “I appreciate your intentions but residents need more info.” Two or three stated “100% support” and “Best solution for The Point. People don’t realize The Point can be developed.” 

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

Post-iIs with varying feedback covered the multiple proposals on display at the Topsail Beach Assembly Building on Saturday. (Courtesy photo)

Others pointed to the destruction of habitat and most pushed for conserving 150 acres located on the southernmost tip of Topsail Beach, referred to by locals as “The Point.”

Topsail Beach residents are fighting to save the property a Raleigh man is under contract for to build his family compound on. A heated two-hour meeting Saturday welcomed more than 150 locals to express concerns about tech entrepreneur Todd Olson’s proposal to build multiple structures on a quarter of the acreage. Some attendees got loud, others left halfway through. 

The father of six wants to construct pervious access roads with eight single-family dwellings, various garages and maintenance buildings, swimming pools and decking, gazebos, a beach pavilion, beach access walkway, soundside cottage and a pier with nine boat lifts. He is purchasing the land from MacLeod family, who’s owned it for generations.

Originally presented as a pad for his eight-member family, Olson revealed at the meeting his best friend and former business partner, Eric Boduch, would own one of the houses as well. Olson told Port City Daily he considers Boduch family — the only non-blood member involved in the development process.

The Point is considered a “treasure” on Topsail Beach — a 2.5-mile portion of sand, dune and ocean, undisturbed and enjoyed by its less-than 500 residents and swell of visitors during tourist season. Much of the community does not want to see any development on the property, currently zoned conservation. Efforts have been made over the years to engage nonprofits in ensuring it stays that way. None have so far succeeded.

Saturday’s meeting was a required step in Olson’s process to eventually submit plans to the Topsail planning board. He approached the town a few months ago about adding a conditional rezoning to Topsail’s ordinances, in advance of his project. It passed with one dissenting vote and ultimately was approved by the council in September. The zoning requires a public hearing prior to submission.

The founder of the billion-dollar tech start-up Pendo told Port City Daily he accomplished the goal of the meeting: “To collect input — and I think we succeeded in that purpose.”

Some criticized him for not providing information about the project to residents sooner, but Olson said that could have also raised issues.

“I respect that, but I may have gotten different criticisms,” he said. “If I shared too soon or provided plans without all the details. The reality is, incomplete information, sharing too early can cause more confusion than help.”

The weekend meeting left many trepidatious and resulted in split views on how it all unfolded. Some said they felt slighted, such as Shannon Crownover, who accused Olson for not being authentic in his approach to gauging community’s interest.

Olson’s wife wanted attendees to break into “small work groups” and write on Post-Its their feedback, in an effort to keep the conversation productive.

Some people had one-on-ones with the developer after the meeting, such as resident Barry Moore. Yet, he called the meeting disingenuous. 

“It’s taking 140 acres and turning it into one guy’s playground,” he said of Olson’s plans. “He would be naïve to think the community wants him to do this.”

While many in the group stood in opposition, a few outliers showed support, one of whom wouldn’t go on the record with Port City Daily as he sits on town committees. 

“Some are calling this a David and Goliath struggle,” 20-year Topsail residents Roy and Nancy Costa told PCD. “Will the people be triumphant or will the big money family developer?”

Olson said he thought people left with a clearer picture of his vision and an overall “positive sentiment” from what existed prior.

However, the Costas said they felt “talked down to.”  

“This is troubling for a lot of us,” Roy Costa said on a call Tuesday. “The audience was upset with what they believed was his lack of honest answers.”

For instance, Roy said he and his wife were shocked to hear about Olson’s friend moving onto the property and feared it was a slippery slope.

“Basically, he said his business partner is family. Is his family all from Pendo? Is it all his executives, investors?” Costa asked rhetorically.

Olson has five children still living at home and attending Raleigh schools. His plan is to retire to Topsail.

“We’re down there at least one weekend every month; during the summer we’re there 60% of the time or more,” he told PCD. “We love the community and getting to know it. We do have relationships with our neighbors, positive ones.”

Olson owns a home on the island already — as does Boduch. The two spend time together when they’re in town.

“Honestly, it’s as much practical and it falls into the guise of family,” Olson said of his friend purchasing a home on the land.

Olson opened the meeting with a prepared presentation about his sprawling family site, but shielded the survey and sketch proposal from public view. He then called for “questions of clarification” — about 20 hands shot up. While Olson did call on individuals, attendees were frustrated they had yet to see a visual of the development to help inform their questions.

“How come you’re asking for feelings and clarifications when we have no idea on what you want to do?” Costa said. “As we’re going through the meeting, we’re finding more and more nuances and totally noncommittal plans.”

Roy was referring to what he perceived as Olson’s lack of organized thought to conserve the remaining 110 acres that weren’t being built upon.

Olson told Port City Daily last month he would be designing and constructing the compound in an unobtrusive way to “blend in” with the surrounding environment.

Residents learned Saturday that entailed a fenced-in, gated compound, with 4,000-square-foot homes and a roadway running through the adjacent Serenity Point neighborhood. Olson also revealed he would be building in the middle of the 150 acres.

“This is a town with single-story homes, mostly 1,500 square feet,” Roy said. “The homes are small, conservative. Really, the town prides itself on its heritage. People who have moved here and stay here want to preserve that.”

The Costas have been involved previously with conservation groups that made failed attempts to purchase the land and protect it in perpetuity. The untouched piece of nature has morphed over the years and is home to wildlife. According to the NC Coastal Federation, The Point is biologically rich, located within a coastal/storm wave flood zone, with over 1-mile of water frontage. Also within a Coastal Barrier Resources Act area, it contains roughly 30 acres of wetlands.

“We see it as one of the last natural wonders of our island,” the Costas wrote. “[Olson] wants to come in and create his own little paradise.”

Olson confirmed he will incorporate community feedback into his development, contingent upon town approval before it can move forward.

“All along we had planned on continuing to designate the majority of land as conservation,” he explained. “Insofar as we can provide more details into how that will be conserved, to ensure it is permanently conserved, would go a long way to ease a lot of people’s minds.”

Though he has been in preliminary talks with some environmental organizations, he would not name them and said he still had research to do to find the best path forward.

“The second big piece of feedback is around having some sort of deed restriction,” he said. “Some sort of language that would prevent future generations from significantly increasing the building footprint we are proposing.”

Olson said only about 1 of the 40 acres will be covered with impervious surface or structures.

“It’s our intent to not put this in a position to be overbuilt,” he added. “We have to figure out what that means, logistically.”

Resident Michele Rivest said she was “stunned by its scope and size,” adding she left the meeting with more questions than answers. “There is the sentiment that, ‘it could be worse,’ but that doesn’t seem valuable.” 

According to documents received by Port City Daily, a marketing tool to lure buyers to the land was devised nearly a decade ago. It shows the potential for 83 single-family lots — 59 of which would be in a gated community — if the property were rezoned. It included community amenities and multiple beach access points.

Moore said even with Olson’s plans to develop for only one family, it will forever change the “sacred piece of ground” many adore. When walking The Point, he described it as quiet and serene, without a home in sight. He compared Olson’s plans to building in the middle of a national park, such as Yosemite.

“We would all walk around here for the rest of our lives saying, ‘Why’d you do that?’” Moore said. “It’s a shame one group wants to negatively impact the area for everyone else.”

In Moore’s opinion, Olson didn’t seem as interested in hearing the possibility that residents don’t want it developed at all. 

“I wish he would have taken a vote,” Moore said. “Their plan is to implement their plan, whether we like it or not.”

Moore added incoming construction also will impact the value of homes nearby.

Olson will be submitting his proposal to the Topsail planning board in the next week or so. The development is not currently on a future agenda to approve its conditional rezoning of 37 acres for construction. Olson hopes it’s voted on in the next few months.

Residents want local government officials to proceed with due diligence before approving any plans.

“We could all take a deep breath and work with Mr. Olson,” Rivest said.

She surmised it could be a “win-win situation” if the town and Olson reached consensus and considered the best interest for all parties involved — residents and the property buyer. Her ideal vision would be for a public-private partnership, including conservancy groups and individual owners, joining to purchase the land to ensure it stays protected.

“If [Olson] is part of the partnership, he gets his portion of the 150 acres for development of his family compound,” she said. “And he could carve out a smaller section, which, ultimately, I hope he does.”

More than 150 residents were in attendance this weekend to hear about Todd Olson’s plans for a family compound on The Point in Topsail. (Courtesy photo)

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