My history with the Outer Banks dates back more than 55 years to when my family first vacationed in Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills.
Born in Washington, D.C., I grew up in Bethesda, Md. A neighbor’s tip that my family should visit Nags Head, N.C., rather than the Maryland shore, for our annual beach vacation changed my life forever. I fell in love.
My late father, a physician-scientist, whom some of you may know as Dr. Al, had grown up on a farm outside Chicago and believed in investing in land. He scouted property in the Outer Banks during our mid- to late-1960s vacations, and in 1969, he and my mother bought an oceanfront lot in Southern Shores for $10,000.
Locals had told Dad that if they were going to buy property on the beach, they would buy in Southern Shores, which was being developed gradually, one parcel at a time. Kitty Hawk Land Co. gave my parents just 24 hours to decide if they would buy the lot they were offered, sight unseen. They said yes.
First cottage on pilings
In 1971, Mom and Dad built the first house on pilings on the Southern Shores oceanfront, amid Frank Stick’s flat tops. The burnt-red cottage at 174 Ocean Blvd. still stands near Miss Edith Pipkin’s historic Pink Perfection, a beach box among so many larger “raised” tops. My three siblings and I now co-own and rent it. We all feel a strong bond to the cottage and to Southern Shores, whose growth and development we witnessed first-hand.
As a teenager, I fell in love with the lush, thick maritime forest of Southern Shores, which was then only sparsely developed, and vowed to live in it “when I grew up.” It seemed like an alluring other-worldly sanctuary where a writer could get lost in creative inspiration.
For 20 years I viewed Southern Shores as my home away from home, as well as my vacation retreat. My family gathered at our cottage for vacations, holidays, and reunions with my Midwestern relatives, who enjoyed making road trips to the Outer Banks.
Because of my love for the Outer Banks, I attended college (journalism/English major) and law school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and spent two summers as a student working in local restaurants. After I finished my formal education, I launched a career in law and journalism in Baltimore—I sought to advocate for others and also express myself—but I always had in mind relocating permanently to Southern Shores.
Before I returned to Maryland after law school—because of a great job offer—I took and passed the North Carolina bar exam, just in case I wanted to practice law in the Outer Banks. I was already inclined toward resolving conflicts through mediation, not the adversarial process, but I wanted to keep my options open.
While I enjoy the critical-thinking process and engaging in rational debate and argument, I learned through 10 years of work experience that I preferred journalism to law practice.
The move to Southern Shores
My opportunity to move to Southern Shores arose in 1991 when I became the book-review editor for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. I went on to become an op-ed columnist for The Pilot and to cover many Outer Banks issues and events in my columns. Computers, the Internet, and telecommuting enabled me to fulfill my dream.
I became a full-time Southern Shores resident in 1994 and embraced homeownership on Hickory Trail in the woods four years later. In 1996, my parents retired here, and the family visits with my siblings and their families and the Midwestern relatives multiplied.
I went on to write two books and many articles while sitting at my desk in the sunroom of my Hickory Trail home, looking out over the woods. I also edited other people’s work, in particular, book manuscripts and legal articles. For a time, I was a U.S. Supreme Court columnist for a Hampton Roads weekly.
I had an extremely varied free-lance editing and writing business and immensely enjoyed running it in the sanctuary I had always wanted.
I lived on Hickory Trail for about a dozen years before the northbound cut-through traffic started to intrude. I had spoken out in favor of the Mid-Currituck County Bridge in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the intrusive traffic was on N.C. 12 and had not yet spread to residential roads. I never imagined the gridlock that would develop.
While I have long written editorial commentary—sometimes relying upon my legal knowledge—I did not become involved in Southern Shores politics until 2014, after the death of my father, for whom I cared during his later years.
Since April, I have lived on North Dogwood Trail, near my 97-year-old mother, whose care, like that of my father, has been my joy, my privilege, and my top priority for many years now.
MY TOWN INVOLVEMENT—PRESERVING THE VISION
For the past seven years, I have attended dozens of town meetings—held by the Town Council, the Planning Board, and town committees, as well as sit-downs with the Town Manager and other staff members—and have participated in public discussions about many meaningful issues confronting our town and its decision-makers.
The most important among them, I believe, are those that challenge our vision of Southern Shores, which is stated in the current town land-use plan (p. 8) as:
- “The Town of Southern Shores (TOSS) is a quiet seaside residential community comprised primarily of small low density neighborhoods consisting of single family homes primarily on large lots (i.e., at least 20,000 sq. ft.) interspersed with recreational facilities (e.g., marinas, tennis facilities, athletic fields, and parks), beach accesses, walkways and open spaces.
- “These neighborhoods are served by picturesque local roads (rather than wide through streets) along the beach, in the dunes or in the sound-side maritime forest.
- “The scale and architecture of new development and re-development is compatible with existing homes. The community is served by a small commercial district, located on the southern edge of town, which focuses on convenience shopping and services.
- “The desired plan for the future is to maintain the existing community appearance and form.”
The language that I italicized in the TOSS “Vision Statement,” above, guides my advocacy when I speak before the Council.
Three years ago I launched a campaign against proposed oceanfront development that was grossly out of character for Southern Shores and opposed by every property owner who spoke in a Town Council meeting or hearing to address it. Unfortunately, a majority on the Town Council was not willing to take quick action to prevent it.
You may recall when our “seaside residential community” was awash in “No! Mini-Hotels” yard signs. Those signs may have embarrassed the Mayor, but they showed unity in vision among both resident and non-resident property owners. To me, they were a glorious sight.
No! Mini-Hotels campaign
In late summer 2018 SAGA Construction Co. proposed demolishing two flat tops on the Southern Shores oceanfront and building two structures that each had (and I quote from the website, http://www.nominihotels.com):
“12 master-bedroom/bathroom suites; 17 parking spaces; a tiki bar; a large swimming pool with a swim-up bar, as well as a kiddie pool; a hot tub; a 14-person home theater; a large recreation room with a pool table, shuffleboard, and arcade games; an elevator, and a host of other amenities typical of ‘event’ houses and hotels . . ..”
When the Town Council showed no inclination to take preventive action, I organized a grass-roots movement against these “mini-hotels.” My campaign led to the town-wide sea of yard signs, but also to important litigation by two property owners that is still on-going against the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ). The property owners challenged the CAMA permits that the NCDEQ issued to two SAGA investor groups/limited liability companies to build on the oceanfront as inconsistent with the TOSS land-use plan.
The “No! Mini-Hotels” movement also accelerated a change in the Town Code of Ordinances to restrict overnight occupancy and septic capacity in vacation cottages to 14 people. Going forward, there will be no more event houses in Southern Shores.
“Low density” development has no real meaning if high-occupancy dwellings are permitted to be built.
“CAMA” is the N.C. Coastal Area Management Act, a State statute that was enacted in 1974 to protect the North Carolina coastline. Local land-use plans are part of the protective statutory scheme. Before the NCDEQ can issue a CAMA permit to an oceanfront property owner, enabling the owner to build, the State agency must ensure that the development is “consistent” with the local land-use plan.
Two Southern Shores landowners, whose property is in close proximity to the contested “mini-hotels,” were authorized by the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission to challenge the CAMA permit. (This was quite a victory, in itself.)
One of the property owners also contested the zoning permit issued by the Town of Southern Shores, in a separate action, claiming that the SAGA-investor dwelling at 134 Ocean Blvd. is not a single-family home, as required by the residential district in which it is located, and the building plans clearly showed that it would not be.
This property owner lost her zoning appeal before the TOSS Board of Adjustment, which ruled, 3-2, that the dwelling at 134 Ocean Blvd., despite its many hotel-like features, is a single-family home, and not a commercial property, as she had argued. After appealing the Board’s decision to Dare County Superior Court, the property owner decided that the cost to continue this litigation was more than she could bear, and she dismissed her action.
Please see www.nominihotels.com for more background on the No! Mini-Hotels movement and for the latest status on the litigation, which is in the Wake County Superior Court in Raleigh.
The Southern Shores Beacon
Some of you may know me as the writer and editor of The Southern Shores Beacon, a news and opinion blog that I started in April 2018.
Not every resident can attend meetings or view videotapes of meetings, in order to be kept up to date on Southern Shores business, and a quick-read summary of “what is going on” is not available on the Town website or in the Town newsletter. I wanted to fill the information gap.
I also strongly believed, and still do, that the public deserves a press watchdog to ensure accountability in local government decision-making, officials’ behavior, and the processes by which officials govern.
The Beacon has always been a forum for straight-news reporting—such as recent stories about the proposed Marshalls construction project at the Marketplace—and for editorial commentary, such as columns I wrote about the actual need for beach nourishment along the 3.1-mile coastline of Southern Shores.
While public response from Town Hall has improved since Cliff Ogburn was hired in 2020 as the Town Manager, I still believe that the Town Council needs to be more open and transparent about its decision-making, and public information needs to be better disseminated.
Because of The Beacon, which also has a Facebook page, I have developed a rapport with many residents in town—and even some nonresidents who depend on me for news—whom I would never have been able to meet otherwise. I enjoy serving a useful purpose for the greater community in a home that I have loved for a lifetime.
I invite you to read the archives of The Beacon at http://www.southernshoresbeacon.com to learn more about the issues with which I am well-versed and some of the positions I have taken. (I cover some of them in “Our Town.”) If you have any questions about my candidacy, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. COVID-19 may prevent us from meeting, but it cannot stop us from communicating.
Thank you so much.