TOPSAIL BEACH – The highly anticipated recommendation for a rezoning request that would allow development on the southern end of Topsail Island is likely a little more than two weeks away.
Island property owners and visitors to the Pender County beach town continued to voice their opposition Wednesday to rezoning “The Point,” nearly 150 undisturbed acres stretching from the ocean to New Topsail Inlet.
Raleigh software entrepreneur Todd Olson is under contract to buy the tract pending his request of the town to rezone the land from conservation to conditional use, which would allow him to pursue plans to build a family compound.
Olson was not at the Topsail Beach Planning Board’s meeting Wednesday that included a public hearing, during which 20 people spoke in objection to his request.
The land that has been owned by the McLeod family for decades is a sentimental spot for many familiar with the island.
Speakers at Wednesday’s hearing expressed their love of the property and reiterated concerns raised over the past several months about potential environmental impacts development may have on land both state and federal governments have deemed particularly vulnerable to coastal storms because of its location to an inlet.
The property is within a state-designated Inlet Hazard Area, one in which shorelines face a higher threat of erosion and flooding at inlets that can suddenly and dramatically shift. The land is also in a Coastal Barrier Resources System, or CBRS, zone.
Congress created the system in the early 1980s to discourage building on relatively undeveloped barrier islands by barring federal funding and financial assistance in hurricane-prone, biologically rich areas.
Charles Riggs, a Jacksonville-based land surveyor representing Olson, told planning board members Wednesday that infrastructure on the property, including water wells, septic systems and roads, will be privately maintained.
Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Corp. has indicated it will supply power to the site.
Olson’s development proposal has changed since he initially approached the town with his rezoning request last year, including a proposal to conserve a majority of the property.
A lawyer representing Olson said Wednesday that Olson is currently in negotiations with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust to place about 80% of the land — likely 115 or so acres — in a conservation easement in perpetuity.
That would restrict that portion of the land from being developed but allow construction within what officials call a “building envelope” of roughly 30 acres.
Plans submitted to the town call for seven homes, including a boat house Riggs said is being considered a dwelling, a fenced-in pool, road and waterfront accesses, and a six-slip private marina.
Riggs said the proposed development is a generational plan, one where Olson would initially have one house built with the prospect of adding the other six in the future.
The property would not be fenced off, Riggs said, but it will be gated.
Riggs said the houses would be single-story structures with low-profile roofs. The roofline of the homes may be at an elevation of 37 to 38 feet, he said, at least a couple of feet lower than those at Serenity Point, a townhome community sitting next to the property.
The homes cannot exceed 5,000 square feet, per building restrictions set forth in development within Inlet Hazard Areas.
The town’s planning staff last week sent Riggs a list of conditions for Olson to consider, including limiting the number of structures to those currently identified on the plan and granting a privately-maintained 30-foot easement for emergency vehicles to access the property.
Other conditions call for Olson to dedicate an existing parking lot at the south end to the town and about one acre adjacent to the lot, and have sprinkler systems installed in each house.
The town is not extending water service to the property, a move that would jeopardize Topsail Beach from receiving future federal funding because the property is in the CBRS.
The town-maintained parking lot is owned by the McLeod family, members of whom attended the public hearing.
Tom Terrell, an attorney representing the family, said the family has kindly and graciously allowed the public to freely access the land for six decades.
“This family has a unique voice,” he said. “They have a special interest that nobody in this room has. They have been willing taxpayers of this property. It is their property.”
He asked the planning board to recognize that the McLeod family has property rights and argued that denying the rezoning request would be a first step in a taking of the property.
The planning board is scheduled to meet May 24 and is expected to make its recommendation on the rezoning request. The board must make its decision by May 30.
The recommendation will then go before Topsail Beach commissioners, who will also hold a public hearing on the request.