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  • Writer's pictureKim McGahey

Coastal Common Sense

The Topsail Beach Town Commissioners think they have dodged a bullet with the withdrawal of the Olsen family development application for The Point parcel of land at the south end of Topsail Beach. However, on the contrary, they may very well have paved the way for a larger more offensive future development.

The Olsen application was an extremely low density request for a zoning change on this 150 acre private land at the very south end of Topsail Island. The applicant was asking for a permit to build a maximum of 8 single family houses on the parcel, over an extended time period. They had agreed to many zoning and environmental conditions, some unreasonable, made by the Town commissioners in order to procure the permit. But in the end, the demands of the Town became too arduous, time consuming and expensive for the applicant to comply with. Thus their recent withdrawal of their development application.

This 150 acre parcel of land is privately owned, but has been mistakenly seen as public land and used freely by locals and visitors for decades creating the false impression that the land was open to the public. As the years of unhindered access to the land passed, people became accustomed to using the pristine parcel without interference and considered it their own.

And for good reason, as this parcel is one of the few remaining large tracts of undeveloped private land on the Carolina coast. The lightly vegetated dunes, home to coyotes and foxes, tower over miles of pristine coastline adjacent to the Topsail Sound Inlet. Waves break slowly along the deserted shore after being knocked down by several hundred yards of sand reefs approaching the dunes. And the sunsets to the West over the Inlet offer incomparable firey beauty every evening.

The wild Atlantic storms and currents through the years have relocated sand from the North end of Topsail Island and deposited that treasure along this sparse beach creating a coastline that continues to grow bigger every year. The parcel has expanded annually with just the wind and the tides as its master. No wonder fishermen and families have used this quiet slice of oceanfront heaven as their own for decades.

No place on the North Carolina coast is any more beautiful.

The approval strategy by the Town was to make the application process difficult and restrictive in order to keep any building on the parcel as low key as possible; and then approve the permit so a low density known commodity would be developed on the site. But much to their surprise, the applicant threw in the towel under the Town's heavy planning and zoning burden. Something about all the well laid plans of mice and men comes to mind.

Now the Town Commissioners have a conundrum. Since they have laid out their numerous, some say unreasonable, conditions for development approval on the site, they have cleared the runway for a future development application from a big, professional development company with full-time legal counsel, in-house architectural engineers and environmental impact study (EIS) staff that will likely be asking for a much larger, higher density and more offensive permit for the site.

This would be a future applicant that has the resources to outlast any conditions the Town might place in their way. The Commissioners may live to regret not approving the minimal impact permit for 8 houses and be forced to approve some monstrous future 80 house development that would ruin the natural setting of the site and preclude any future use and enjoyment by the public.

The Town still has a choice. They can wait for the big city blues to come calling with an unsightly high density project, or go back to the Olsens and make a deal for their low density family camp. The fate of this heavenly coastal parcel and the future of Topsail Beach rests with this timely decision.

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