Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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

Todd Olson speaks to Topsail planning board members after the meeting Monday. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

TOPSAIL BEACH — The clock has started on making a recommendation for the rezoning request of a serene piece of natural land in Topsail Beach.

The Topsail Beach Planning Board reviewed a proposal submitted by Todd Olson, Raleigh tech founder of Pendo, and has 65 days by the town’s ordinance to decide if it will approve or deny the application.

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

Plans for Olson’s family compound on The Point, the southernmost tip of Topsail Island, have come with pushback from locals and outcry to leave the land as is. Many oppose any kind of development.

A majority of the roughly 40 attendees at Monday’s meeting adorned “Conserve the Point” stickers. Advocates passed around information outside the Topsail Assembly Building for people to learn more about their concerns.

About an hour into the meeting, audience members were speaking out of turn and laughing in disgust. Town attorney Steve Coggins had to remind them to award surveyor Charles Riggs, presenting on behalf of Olson, the same respect they would expect as he took the mic.

Olson is proposing a conditional rezoning for 30 out of 150 acres, currently zoned conservation. His desire is to create a conditional zoning district, in the middle of the natural patch of land, to create seven houses, a swimming pool, gazebos, a maintenance garage, and a boat dock suitable for six vessels.

Access to The Point will remain open to the public, especially in the public land trust areas — from the water to the first line of vegetation.

The plan has been altered since it was first brought to residents’ attention in October. Cape Fear Council of Governments consultant Wes McCleod said at the meeting the proposal will likely see a few more iterations before reaching the board of commissioners for a final vote.

While no decision was made at the meeting, and two of the five planning board members were absent, members and Coggins questioned pieces of Olson’s plan.

“You can use private funds to develop anything you want,” Riggs said to the board.

Olson did not wish to publicly speak, rather sat in the front row listening to the chatter unfolding.

Todd Olson is proposing construction of his family compound in the middle of The Point. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

Size of the development

The 30 acres Olson is proposing for rezoning to accommodate multiple structures and seven homes, would equal the size of 23 football fields, Rivest pointed out.

The seven dwellings, estimated at around 4,000 square feet per building, are more than four times the size of homes at Serenity Point. The average size of one side of a duplex in the complex is around 600 square feet.

The single-story buildings are meant to mimic the height of Serenity Point, with a maximum of 41 feet tall.

“It’s not a modest, non-invasive ecologically supporting plan,” resident Roy Costa told PCD on a call last week.

Riggs confirmed Monday there is no timeline for when the first house would be built, but it’s planned to be phased over the next decades.

Costa launched an online petition opposing Olson’s development, which currently has 2,600 signatures.

The swimming pool planned for Olson’s development is 20-feet- by- 60-feet. For comparison, Serenity Point’s pool, which serves 54 homes, is about three times smaller.

“[The Point] is our little version of heaven,” resident Melissa Miller said at the meeting. “It’s something that’s bigger than one individual; no one who comes wants to possess, they just want to experience it. … To see a house where once you didn’t, I think would take away from the specialness of the area.”

Residents admire The Point for its serene, natural environment they fear will be harmed if any property is developed. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

Environmental impact

Seven residents spoke out during the public comment period, namely the same voices advocating to protect the property since last fall. Husband and wife John Alderson and Michele Rivest were the first to sign up.

The couple lives four houses down from The Point, on the Banks Channel side of the island. Their main concerns revolve around the environmental impact Olson’s development would have on the land, such as loss of habitat

Rivest cited letters submitted by the N.C. Wildlife Commission, which noted the numerous endangered or protected species, the piping plover, red knot, Kemps’ Ridley and Loggerhead turtles, that inhabit the property.

“The use of this area by a large number of habitat specific species is a strong indication of the importance of the area and how conservation of these habitats should be a priority. The allowance of natural processes, including shoreline and dune migration, should continue,” coastal coordinator Maria Dunn wrote to the town. “Therefore, we believe conservation measures should continue for the entire site.”

Dunn also recommended to minimize impacts by reducing the development footprint — impervious surface will take up 4.3% of the land — relocating the future structures farther away from critical habitat and adding conservation easements.

Olson told Port City Daily Monday after the meeting, in the last three weeks he’s had conversations with the N.C. Coastal Land Trust to conserve 119 of the 150 acres in perpetuity.

“We will likely sign an agreement prior to the town council voting on it that says, ‘Pending ownership of the property, we agree to do that,’” Olson said. “We’re fully comfortable committing legally in advance of owning the property.”

He is under contract to purchase the 150 acres from the McLeod family, who bought The Point the ‘60s. The McLeods developed neighboring Serenity Point in the ‘80s, featuring 27 duplexes located adjacent to The Point.

Riggs said the land is valued at $2.9 million and the McLeods have paid more than $250,000 in property taxes over the last decade.

Olson said he plans to donate private funds to the N.C. Coastal Land Trust to ensure it has the resources to inspect the property and maintain it.

He told PCD the reason he has requested an area of the land for rezoning, without pinpointing exactly where the structures will be built yet, to allow for flexibility in avoiding natural habitat.

“We’re continually engaging with experts and trying to make sure we have the flexibility to do what’s best for preserving the ecosystem down there,” Olson said. “Our intent is in line, I think, with what most residents want.”

Field Supervisor Pete Benjamin with the U.S. Department of the Interior also submitted a letter to the town, citing the Coastal Barrier Resources Act discouraging construction in high-risk areas. The property is located within a CBRA zone, meaning it’s exempt from receiving federal flood insurance. It also prohibits a broad range of other federal financial assistance, including loans, grants and disaster relief.

“I’ve talked with different agencies and received their feedback about the proposed development and their concerns about the environment,” Riggs said Monday during his presentation. “But they’re not saying it can’t be done.”

Riggs mentioned Olson still has to get state and federal permits approved before any construction can begin. Thus solutions or hindrance due to environmental concerns would come into play at that time. But permitting can’t occur until after the rezoning is approved.

Residents fear once rezoning is approved, the master plan would change to “work around” requirements for permitting.

One of the two proposed locations for Olson’s 6-boat marina is near the current pylons in the Banks Channel. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

Placement of boat dock

Alderson fears Olson’s proposed location for the boat dock would cause a safety hazard for the many vessels traveling the channel. He also expressed concern for public safety if a marina were to be built in one of the two options, near old pylons — tall wooden structures in the water that used to support a dock — directly within about 100 feet of the public access point.

Any construction on the edge of the ocean would negatively impact the dunes, Alderson surmised, ultimately leading to increased erosion.

Prior to the meeting, resident Shannon Crownover, who lives in Serenity Point told PCD she had concerns about the marina as well.

“The whole point of The Point is the fact that you can walk all the way around it in one loop and you don’t have to turn back,” Crownover said. “Can I still walk my dog or my fishing gear under or around and will that always be the case?”

The sound side of The Point already has limited beach front, and during high tide, the sand is almost entirely gone. With a constructed marina jutting out from the island, people are concerned they will not be able to access the entire 2.5-mile loop, or not easily at least.

Riggs explained the marina is planned to be elevated so as to not obstruct the public land trust area in any way. Legally, it must remain accessible to the public.

The proposed plan would include a 20-foot gravel driveway that would run in between two homes in Serenity Point. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

Driveway access

Olson’s plan proposes a 20-foot wide gravel driveway, with another 10 feet for underground infrastructure easements, from the Serenity Point neighborhood. It would run in between two houses, cut through the dunes and natural habitat, about half-a-mile. It will lead to the compound’s gate.

“Please do not allow this road to be built in this fragile ecosystem,” Alderson said to the board.

The roads will be able to accommodate emergency vehicles and would be less than 100 trips in a day. Therefore it would not trigger additional road improvements.

A public beach access lot, leased to the town for $30,000 annually, is also in Olson’s contract for purchase. It’s located at the end of Serenity Point, and its 20 or so spots are enforced during paid parking season. Olson plans to add six parking spaces to it and continue its lease to the town. The lot provides visitors to the island a way to access the property, also considered prime fishing grounds by locals.

The paid parking lot at the end of Serenity Point is part of the property under contract by Olson, who said he would continue to lease it to the town. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

Utilities

Another point of contention raised Monday was accessing infrastructure to the property. Coggins drilled Riggs on scenarios of providing public water and electricity.

Riggs said he has an email commitment from Jones Onslow Electric Co-op to provide electricity to the property, should it be developed. Coggins was concerned with the compliance of CRBA regulations and prohibiting federal dollars to be used there.

“[Jones Onslow] provides electric to thousands of homes within CRBA zones,” Riggs said.

Coggins asked if Olson would be willing to provide his own electricity, either through generators, solar or other means. Riggs said that wouldn’t be necessary.

Olson’s compound will be supported by septic systems and he plans to connect to the town’s water system.

Resident Costa pointed out during public comment that due to the uncertainty of the land area being in a flood zone, septic tanks could easily be compromised. If proven vulnerable, the contents could pollute surrounding land.

“To jeopardize the health, safety, well-being and financial stability of a whole community for the desires of any individual is totally unjustified,” he said.

About 40 residents attended Monday’s Topsail Planning Board meeting at the Topsail Assembly Building; seven spoke out during public comment. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

Next steps

Planning board members have asked Riggs to stake out the proposed area of development at The Point so they can visualize his plan in person.

The Topsail Planning Board will hold a public hearing at its next meeting, April 26, at 10 a.m. The board has until the May meeting to make a final recommendation to the board of commissioners, who will also hold a public hearing before taking a vote.


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