In Southern Shores, SAGA’s plan for mixed-use commercial and ‘luxury condos’ sparks a buffer battle

By on June 14, 2023

A parcel map of the 6195 N. Croatan Hwy property on which SAGA plans to build its multi-use project. (Photo: Dare County GIS)

SAGA Realty & Construction’s June 6 filing of a site plan application in the Town of Southern Shores for its roughly five-acre tract of land between Martin’s Point Road and Landing Trail in Southern Shores marks a new chapter in a lengthy and winding process—following nearly a year and a half of discussions and meetings.

The proposed site plan shows two buildings consisting of retail, office and restaurant commercial space, as well as 36 residential units that SAGA CEO Sumit Gupta has described as “luxury condos” to the town council. Plans also show 196 car parking spaces, three bicycle racks, a marina and 38 boat docking slips.

The main point of contention now appears to be how large of a buffer will be between the proposed SAGA development and the homes next to it, which are part of the planned unit development (PUD) called Southern Shores Landing.

Questions over a mistakenly zoned section of Southern Shores Landing led to months of discussion and attempts to maintain the residential buffer on the part of residents. But it will now fall into the hands of the Southern Shores Planning Board and Southern Shores Town Council as the site plan moves forward.

SAGA set up its real estate limited liability company “Ginguite, LLC” three months before buying the undeveloped land at 6195 N Croatan Highway in Southern Shores in that company’s name in June 2014. The property borders U.S. 158, a section of Southern Shores Landing and John Guite Creek (called Ginguite Creek on site plan maps), and it includes the Ginguite Creek Basin.

The company purchased the tract for $535,000, which was less than half its asking price of $1,260,000. The land is currently valued at $1,197,500, according to Dare County tax records.

 

Working toward development: SAGA and Planning Board disagree

In February 2022, SAGA submitted a zoning text amendment (ZTA) for a new conditional use, (which has since been changed to special use), to allow SAGA’s combined commercial and residential development to be built in the Town’s general commercial zoning district. Town regulations at that point only allowed commercial or residential developments in the “C” general commercial zoning district.

In meetings over the following months, discussions revealed one main area of contention between the Southern Shores Planning Board and SAGA: Lot coverage limitations.

The planning board recommended a lot coverage limit of 50%, which falls between the Town’s commercial lot coverage limit of 60% and its residential limit of 40%.

“I think it comes down to where I would disagree with is the lot coverage,” Gupta told council members during the ZTA public hearing on June 7, 2022. “I feel like this development shouldn’t be penalized for trading off commercial for residential.”

“If this [ZTA] is not approved, we’ll do all commercial, we’ll do a nice commercial development,” Gupta told council members. “If it is approved, I would love to bring some critically needed residential. And if I may add to that, there’s a major crisis of having workforce housing and multifamily rentals. That would not be our intention with this property. We are working on that in other places. This would be luxury condos.”

Also speaking during that June 2022 public hearing, Southern Shores Planning Board Chairperson Andy Ward reminded council members that the ZTA would regulate all such future developments.

“I want to stress it’s not about this site; it’s about the future of the town,” Ward said, noting that the recommended lot coverage limit increases to 55% with the use of pervious pavers for over 5% of the total lot coverage.

The Southern Shores Town Council unanimously voted 5-0 on June 7, 2022, to adopt the ZTA with the planning board’s recommendations, except to strike the proposed lot coverage limitations. That meant the development would fall under commercial lot coverage limits of 60%, except when permeable pavers are used for over 5% of the total lot coverage, in which case up to 67% lot coverage is allowed.

“This action resulted in an additional 27,000 square feet more hard structure than the applicant had publicly stated three times he would accept,” Ward said at the town council’s meeting last week on June 6. “This is a giveaway that I find really hard to accept.”

 

Neighborhood residents concerned over buffer

In the back-and-forth between SAGA and town leadership over plans for the site, it came to light that some of Southern Shores Landing was incorrectly zoned on town maps. One segment is listed as commercial, and one segment is listed as residential.

Southern Shores Town Manager Cliff Ogburn maintains that the Southern Shores Landing zoning should all be commercial. Southern Shores Landing resident Matthew Huband and several of his neighbors felt the zoning should have been all residential.

That matters when it comes to the buffer of vegetation required between SAGA’s property and the Southern Shores Landing residences. The Town requires a 50-foot buffer between commercial and residential properties, but no buffer between commercial properties.

Ogburn told the Voice in an email that the Town was unaware of “the mislabeled zoning district” until Huband filed an application this February to rezone his properties and six others from commercial to a high-density residential zoning designation. After staff reviewed the application, “we confirmed there was never any action by the Town Council, and that the entirety of Southern Shores Landing was zoned commercial,” Ogburn said, adding that there are no plans to change the zoning.

In another effort to maintain a 50-foot buffer, Huband introduced a ZTA to the planning board on May 15, 2023, in order to amend the town code as it relates to required setbacks and buffers between mixed-use group developments and PUDs. The planning board sent the ZTA to the town council with a recommendation for approval.

However, the council unanimously voted to deny the ZTA last week, following town staff’s recommendation that the special use permit process would be a better alternative to address such concerns.

During the town council’s June 6 public hearing for the ZTA, Huband stated that “We are not trying to stop building on that commercial lot that abuts our community but are asking for the 50-foot buffer that already exists between our properties,” Huband said. “At previous meetings, the town has expressed a desire to keep that buffer at 50 feet when and if SAGA files their site plan by placing conditions.”

Huband also stated that by SAGA “beating the clock” and submitting its site plan application on June 6 prior to the council meeting, “even if the council approves the ZTA for the 50-foot buffer, SAGA will not have to honor it.”

Huband said he learned in a recent planning board meeting that SAGA asked for a 50-foot buffer in the May 2022 town council meeting, with Ogburn confirming that the company last year had expressed a “willingness to observe a 50-foot setback.”

However, Gupta confirmed to the Voice that SAGA’s site plan application timing was directly related to the scheduled ZTA hearing that could potentially require a “large buffer.”

SAGA CEO Sumit Gupta addresses the Southern Shores Town Council last week.

“It was our understanding that if we submitted a complete site plan application to the Town by June 6th then the outcome of this vote would not impact our site plan application,” Gupta said in an email to the Voice. “We have been working on our proposed development plans for over a year now and did not want the rules to change suddenly.”

Gupta noted that proposed development plans meet and often exceed current requirements. While a 15-foot building setback is required, SAGA’s residential building is over 30 feet away from the neighboring property, and the proposed commercial building is even farther, he said. And while no buffer is required, a 15-foot landscape buffer is planned between the development and neighboring property, according to the site plan application.

During the June 6 ZTA public hearing, Ward called the back-and-forth on this development “a muddled-up mess,” and stated that “Our town’s leadership…all must commit to make sure that adequate buffers are achieved if and when a final site plan is presented for a special use permit.”

His remarks were met with applause from the audience.

Now, as the site application moves through the special permit process, Town staff and the planning board could recommend the town council place conditions on its approval, if they recommended it for approval, Ogburn explained to the Voice. Since Town just received the application, it remains to be seen what will happen as it moves through the process.

 



Comments

  • Dare co res

    The problem here is the county and towns have little to no foresight for preserving our beach community and understanding the value of smaller homes, bigger lots. SAGA is developing within the rules set by the towns and county. Hello? Vote all the local numbnuts out. The locals are the ones ruining the Outer banks. Their inbred greed is destroying it. The long-term affects of everyone chasing ROI with weekly rentals and jamming as many people as possible into a home is ruining, has ruined, the outer banks. Good ol kill devil hills and Ben Sproul trying very hard to have the most hotels and gas stations per capita than any other town in America. What a joke. That loser needs to go.

    Saturday, Jun 17 @ 5:32 pm
  • GT705

    Transplant and Buck C. really nailed it. In addition to a very thorough article, it is good to see some voices of reason once in awhile in the Comments that follow.

    Sunday, Jun 18 @ 8:51 am
  • Steven

    Ten foot setbacks are ridiculous. If it were reasonable, such as 30′, than we wouldn’t be in such a disgraceful mess.

    Other thing is, multi-family dwellings are not permitted, yet they are everywhere, all these 8 and up bedroom houses are proven to be multi-family dwellings.

    Monday, Jun 19 @ 7:33 am
  • Sean Mulligan

    In 1986 I moved to the Outer Banks of NC.A nice quiet beach town.It now looks like the Jersey shore and the recent beach nourishment in Southern Shores has ruined our surf breaks. Joni Mitchell wrote a song about it called Paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.

    Monday, Jun 19 @ 7:46 am