Boardwalk Extension On Hold; CRC Will Not Hear Variance Request At April Meeting

Boardwalk Extension On Hold; CRC Will Not Hear Variance Request At April Meeting Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 25 March 2015 04:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Town of Carolina Beach did not file a variance request with the State Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) by the March 18th, deadline to seek permission to extend their existing wooden oceanfront boardwalk 875' feet to the north. The Town withdrew their previous request in October 2014 when it became apparent the CRC Commission was not favorable to approving the variance during their October 22nd meeting Wilmington.
Assistant Town Manager Ed Parvin explained in January the Town would return to the CRC at their April 29th and 30th meeting.
At that time Parvin said the request would be pretty much the same as last time, perhaps with some minor adjustments. He said the overall issue was a desire by the CRC Commission for the Town to continue to address concerns of oceanfront residential property owners that voiced opposition to the construction of the extension in front of their homes.
The Carolina Beach Town Council received public input at their July 8th, meeting regarding the plan to build the 875' extension to the existing oceanfront wooden boardwalk in the downtown district. A project to replace the existing wooden walkway along the oceanfront is nearing completion and a grand opening ceremony is scheduled for March 31st at 2PM.
When asked about the delay project coordinator Jerry Haire explained Monday March 23rd, "The deadline was last week but the decision was made not to submit at this time."
When asked why the decision was made not to file the variance request with the CRC and how the Town would pursue a variance in the future for the extension, Town Manager Michael Cramer explained, "There is no more information.  We will not make the deadline for the April CRC meeting.  At this time we are still open to other meetings but no decision has been made."
Mayor Dan Wilcox explained on Tuesday March 24th, "It was decided that Town staff have a lot on their plate with multiple infrastructure projects and other issues and to wait on the variance since there is no rush. The project wouldn't start until next fall anyway."
Wilcox said the Town can file for a variance at another CRC meeting later this summer and, "Council will revisit the item and discuss" the project prior to filing that request.

History of the Process:
In late February 2014, the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) approved the majority of a variance requested
by the Town of Carolina Beach to renovate their existing oceanfront wooden Boardwalk originally built in 1989. The CRC voted to approve the renovation of the existing boardwalk to include doubling the width of the boardwalk lane from 8 Ft. to 16 Ft., renovating the landscaped coves, adding wind sails for shading, benches, seating areas, swings, improvements to the sound stage gazebo including a new roof over the sound stage, and improved beach access points.
The project cost was estimated at approximately $1,603,000 part of which will be funded through a $250,000 Water Resources grant from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources that requires a $250,000 match from the Town and a $603,000 CAMA grant from the State Division of Coastal Management. Last summer the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners approved a grant to the town of $500,000 towards the project.
The project replaces the existing wooden boardwalk within a setback area governed by coastal development regulations. Part of the project would extend the existing boardwalk along the beachfront 875' feet north to Pelican Lane and the Town was set to obtain a variance from the rules governing development in that area from the Coastal Resources Commission at their July 30th,  2014 meeting. That request was later moved to the CRC's October 22nd, 2014 meeting.
The Town had to prove that strict application of the rules created a hardship for the project.
Phase one of the project was approved under a CAMA Minor Development permit in September 2013. That phase includes replacement of crossover beach accesses, viewing platform improvements, and excavation of non-dune landscaped coves westward of the existing Boardwalk and redistribution of the sand from those areas to enhance dune low spots eastward of the existing Boardwalk.
A portion of phase 2 of the project proposed under a CAMA Minor Development permit was approved by the CRC on the Town's petition for a variance. Specifically, a variance was granted for the demolition of the existing Boardwalk and crossovers, widening of the existing
Boardwalk, and installation of five new public beach accesses, the addition of a roof on a viewing platform, installation of showers at the Harper Avenue access, and installation of a splash pad/water park facility. The Town applied for a CAMA Minor Permit in May of 2014 to extend the Boardwalk 875' feet north from Harper Avenue to Pelican Lane. That permit was denied on June 2, 2014. The design proposed in that permit was identical to that approved for the new southern section of the Boardwalk by the CRC in February at 16' wide with three new 10' wide public accesses, three rebuilt existing private accesses, and five ninety-six square foot bump outs for benches and swings. A lattice trellis was proposed at the Pelican Lane access.
The proposed area for the extension is located in the Town's Central Business District (CBD). There are a total of five property owners adjacent to the proposed extension. There are three hotels, a 76-unit condo complex and a two story single-family residence.
The Town filed their variance request for the extension with the CRC 2014 and claimed the extension, "Creates a unique opportunity for the general public without other means of access to view and access the ocean and dune ecosystem from a variety of locations. With in increased demand for access to the beach and ocean from elderly and handicapped individuals, the northern extension will allow elderly and handicapped individuals convenient beach access as well as the ability to view the dune ecosystem. An undue hardship to the public would be created from strict application of the development rules, standards, or orders issued by the Commission. Specifically, handicapped individuals would be denied a convenient and safe means of accessing the beach and/or viewing the ocean and dune ecosystem. Furthermore, general public's access to the ocean and view
the dune ecosystem would be impaired. A lack of safe access, as provided by the proposed Boardwalk could result in damage to the dune ecosystems by those creating their own means of access to the beach."
During the October 22, meeting of the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), the Town of Carolina Beach withdrew their request for a variance to construct the extension to the existing boardwalk.
Mayor Dan Wilcox said the Town withdrew its request due to questions posed by the Coastal Resources Commission during their review of the request. It became apparent after the CRC voted on the required findings of fact the variance request would likely not be approved. The CRC board asked the Town if they would like to withdraw the request because if it were turned down the Town could not come back at a later date.
The questions covered a range of topics including vegetation, policing the area, benefit of parallel structures along the oceanfront and other topics.
Wilcox said the meeting at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Wilmington was well attended by residents including those opposed to the project.
He said the Town would have to return to the CRC at a later date after addressing questions and further discussions with area property owners.
Cathy Cockrell Lane commented on a Facebook post October 22, on the Island Gazette's Facebook page. Lane explained, "There is nothing noble in the withdrawal. The CRC was on the verge of voting against the variance and told TCB (Town of Carolina Beach) as much. The CRC did make an offer TCB should have taken - you can build the extension past the new hotel only. So rather that take that option, they chose to withdraw the variance request and spend more taxpayer money to give it another go. Sometime you just have to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em!"
Project Manager Jerry Haire explained on October 28th, "We indicated in the stipulated facts (no. 18 in the packet) that the Town would be willing to construct the boardwalk at 8’ rather than 16’ wide if the commission deemed it necessary. This was discussed at the meeting but in the end the commission did not vote in favor on the first 3 required findings. Prior to the motion on the 4th finding the chair asked if we would like to continue or withdraw because a denial meant we could not come back at a later date. There was discussion of only extending along the hotel property frontage but this didn’t gain traction so we withdrew."
Wilcox said both projects were bid separately so withdrawing the variance request for the boardwalk extension did not stop the current renovations to the older existing boardwalk.

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