Nags Head mulls options for a battered byway
Seagull Drive, a U-shaped road near the southern edge of Nags Head with one stretch located just yards from the ocean, has created a dilemma for town residents and officials.
For the Nags Head Board of Commissioners — which has passed a “resolution of intent” to close the road — the ongoing expense of maintaining a road repeatedly battered by the ocean has become burdensome and inefficient. For its residents, the prospect of closure sparks concerns that range from public safety issues to the loss of crucial rental income.
With both sides searching for solutions, the commissioners have scheduled a June 1 public hearing that may decide the fate of Seagull Drive.
The accessibility issue with the road has been festering for some time. "It's a problem that's been going on for ten-plus years," Nags Head Town Manager Cliff Ogburn told the Sentinel. "But it got a lot worse in 2009."
That's the year Hurricane Ida hit the East Coast, followed by a powerful nor'easter that devastated much of the North Carolina coast. Six damaged beachfront houses to the east of Seagull Drive were condemned by the town, prompting lawsuits by property owners Roc Sansotta and Matthew Toloczko. Those lawsuits were settled in April 2015 — with judgments for the property owners amounting to $1.5 million.
And the road, while damaged, was repeatedly cleared and repaired and remained "drivable," Ogburn said, "until the last three or four months,” when a persistent northeast wind exacerbated the problem.
In early March, the town sent letters to the property owners encouraging them to obtain easements through neighbors' property to their homes and notifying them it was beginning the process of considering officially "closing" the road.
During the public comment period at the April 6 Nags Head Commissioners meeting, several Seagull Drive residents lobbied to keep the road open and expressed concern about the impact of closing it.
Lucas Munn worried about what would happen to trash pickup and emergency services in the neighborhood. Teresa Jones explained that she relies on the rental income from her property. A statement read on behalf of two other residents noted that their rental agency will not allow them to rent the property due to the prospect of the road closure.
It was at the April 6 meeting that the Commissioners approved the resolution of intent to close the road. According to Town Attorney John Leidy, that is a necessary first step in the process of seeking closure, with notice to all affected property owners required to be sent at least 30 days prior to a public hearing to consider this action.
Speaking at public comment at the May 4 town meeting, Seagull Drive property owner Mike Jones thanked the town's public works department for its recent work "that is enabling us now to access our homes there." He added that he appreciates "the continued support for doing that through the end of the rental season until we make a final decision about Seagull Drive."
Also noting that Seagull Drive homeowners have not been able to come to an agreement on easements, Jones requested that all pertinent information be made available to the property owners prior to the June 1 hearing — including such options as establishing a Municipal Service District and creating an "easement by necessity."
On May 4, another Seagull property owner, Joe Pylypczuk, told the commissioners: "We need access to the road."
Reviewing other options that can be pursued to keep the road open while sharing the costs between the town and homeowners, Leidy explained that a "special assessment" is a cumbersome procedure that can allow the town to continue to provide public works maintenance on the road, while passing along a portion of the costs to the owners who benefit from the work. The owners would need to present a request to the town for the work, along with agreeing to pay for a specified part of the costs.
A Municipal Service District, on the other hand, is something that the town can decide to create on its own, without a request from the property owners. This would allow the town to charge an additional tax on properties in the special district to help fund the work provided by the
Leidy also explained that an easement by necessity, as mentioned by Jones, provides a means for the owner to claim an easement on the property of a neighbor where there is a special need for it. This is an option to be explored between the property owners, without any involvement required by the town.
Ogburn observed that one of the options reviewed by Leidy could be chosen by the board on June 1, as could closing the road. “Or the owners could come up with an idea we have not thought of," he added. "Another possibility is a time-specific closure, such as after the peak rental season."