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Islanders confront Advisory Planning Board over enforcement action

Hyde seal

Friday, Dec. 5. 6:51 p.m.
By Connie Leinbach
At a raucous meeting last night, islanders asked the Ocracoke Planning Advisory Board about recent actions they took to enforce the Ocracoke Development Ordinance.

About 20 residents attended the meeting in the Ocracoke Community Center where Daphne Bennink and Tom Pahl took issue with letters they received recently from Hyde County Building Inspector Jerry Hardison.
“There’s a lot of noncompliance all over the island, yet this board is concerned about two properties,” Bennink said Thursday night. “This reeks of something other than enforcing the ordinance. This is personal vendetta.”
Pahl, who spoke at length, said because he and B.J. Oelschlegel were on the Planning Board when it enacted the controversial travel trailer ordinance, they are being singled out.
“The message is: ‘don’t cross us,’” he said, adding that he’s willing to go to court over the citation.
The letters said that Pahl, who co-owns Ocracoke Restoration Company with his wife, Carol, and B.J. Oelschlegel, who co-owns Ocracoke Lightship Realty with Bennink, are in violation of a section of the ordinance dealing with residential properties as home businesses.
The Planning Board is in the process of reviewing the entire ODO, which addresses population density on the island.  At its Nov. 6 meeting, the board got to the section dealing with home-based businesses.
According to the group’s Nov. 6 minutes, section 36-183 (g), Board Member Jerry Midgett said the rule that “business owners must occupy commercial businesses of 400 sq. ft. or less in residential buildings” is not being enforced.
The board then passed Midgett’s motion that this be enforced. The minutes further say: “Corky (Pentz, board chair) thinks Inspector Hardison should contact the county attorney first.”
Hardison sent letters to Pahl (dated Nov. 17) and Oelschlegel saying they were in violation of this section by not living in these businesses.
Hardison also said Thursday night that he sent a third letter to someone else about a set-back violation but did not identify that person.
At its October meeting, the Planning Board meeting, the group unanimously agreed to eliminate the travel trailer ordinance saying the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rules adequately govern the use of travel trailers as residences.
Moreover, the Planning Board was adamant that the ODO’s rule limiting one travel trailer per 5,000 square-foot lot was unfair since property owners can erect a duplex on that size lot.  Thus, the entire ordinance should be revoked.
At the Nov. 3 Hyde County Commissioners’ meeting, Pahl advised against eliminating the travel trailer ordinance but the commissioners approved the Planning Board’s recommendation.
“I spoke at the (November commissioners’ meeting) and a week later I get a letter from Jerry Hardison,” Pahl said. “I think he was ordered to do this. It’s selective enforcement to two people who used to be on the (Planning) board.”
Midgett responded: “You knew it was a residential lot when you bought it.”
Midgett also wondered if the board was “ever going to enforce any of (the ODO).”  He suggested there be a list of what is being enforced and what isn’t and take out what’s not being enforced.
Pentz said Ocracoke needs an  enforcement officer, and that it is too much for Hardison to do both building inspections and enforce the ODO.
Pahl also said the board has “a high purpose of looking ahead 10 to 20 years for Ocracoke.”
Hyde County Manager Bill Rich, who attended last night’s meeting, said a lot of the ODO wording is unclear.  He had been chair of the Planning Board when the travel trailer ordinance was enacted.
Rich said even County Attorney Fred Holscher is not sure what the wording means and that he, Hardison and Holscher will review it before further action on the letters sent to Pahl and Oelschlegel.
“Is it just the owner or can anyone else live in the house?” Rich noted, adding that the original intent of the rule must be determined.  “If our attorney can’t figure out (the wording) we need to change it. We need to change it to what’s best for Ocracoke—to accommodate everyone on Ocracoke.”
Rich also said he will ask for a part-time enforcement officer next year.
Interested persons can read the disputed sections of the ODO online at the Hyde County website here:
Sec. 36-183. – Home occupations.
(a) Single-family and two-family residences may contain up to 400 square feet of floor area for business and or commercial use. This provision is intended to allow the limited production of saleable goods such as jewelry, pottery and art, sales of goods and limited professional services to the public from the main residence.

(f) Any and all aspects of the commercial activity shall be contained in the 400 square feet.
(g)   Any commercial entity that claims the 400 square-foot residential exemption shall be inhabited by the business owner.
Section 36-176 that deals with outdoor signs will be reviewed at a future meeting.
After the review of the entire ODO is made and changes recommended, it will be sent to the North Carolina School of Government for crafting into a final document. The entire community will then be able to review it and make comments before the county commissioners approve it, Pentz said.

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