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Calabash business owners urge leniency in town rules

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

CALABASH—Local merchants don’t want new rules that are going to place restrictions on their traditional way of doing business.

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The latest round of comments came last week at the first meeting of a Unified Development Ordinance committee appointed by Calabash Mayor Anthony Clemmons, who headed the Feb. 19 meeting.

“Everybody is fine with Calabash the way it is,” said Dean Spatholt of Callahan’s of Calabash, speaking amid a roomful of local business and property owners.

If a hurricane came through and wiped out most of the businesses, “we couldn’t build back simply because of stormwater runoff,” Spatholt said.

He said the Grapevine Restaurant doesn’t meet parking requirements. So if the businesses are destroyed, “we could be adversely affected,” Spatholt said.

Clemmons said some things are based on state rules and the Southern Building Code.

“I need an attorney by my side,” he said. “I don’t know if you can waiver not meeting stormwater requirements. Legally, I’d have to do some homework on that.”

Spatholt continued, “It appears a majority of citizens approve of Calabash the way it is. It’s the responsibility of the board to allow them to build back instead of ruining their way of life.”

Town commissioner Forrest King, who serves on the mayor-appointed committee, said Calabash Deli is another business that is in “total noncompliance.”

“It’s a big asset to the town,” he said. “It’s a great business.”

King said there’s nothing they can do about state law.

“But we can sure as heck do something about town law,” he said.

Spatholt expressed concern businesses could lose their rooftop signs under the new rules.

“If [previous] town council members felt it was good enough to start with, why are we changing it?” he said.

Clemmons, citing a line from “The Music Man,” said, “You’ve got to know the territory. If you don’t know the territory, how can you write ordinances? You’ve got to rub elbows and get to know everybody.”

Rector Sisk, owner of Sunrise Pancake House, asked what had brought on the changes.

Clemmons said the town has two or three books that don’t correlate.

“Somehow the books had not been updated,” he said. “In some cases, they do not reflect the land use plan. Along came this buzzword from St. James to Southport to the county.”

Local apartment owner Don Hege charged the text in the UDO draft is “almost identical” to Southport’s, “word for word.”

“That’s the kind of stuff that’s going on in the county,” he said. “We’re not the county. We’re not Southport.”

Calabash, he said, needs to make its own changes and be its own town.

“We’ve heard the citizens loud and clear,” Clemmons said. “It’s a great thing.”

“We’ve bought property here and we don’t want the city to come in and dictate every single item of our lives and how we [manage] our property,” said committee member Janet Thomas, former town administrator for Calabash.

King said, “If you’ve got an investment, you’re going to police it yourself. You’re not going to put something in that’s going to hurt.”

Property owners, he said, don’t need to be dictated to about “every little aspect” from a crack in the driveway to building trim.

He said they’ve got to make sure regulations are being enforced by someone with common sense.

Those in attendance also expressed concern the UDO might be approved as it is.

“Let me quieten some fears,” Clemmons said. “Regardless of what this board does, another board may do something different.”

Newly appointed committee member Mary Keefe, a local business owner, said she doesn’t see throwing the work out the window.

She said there are rules on town books that haven’t been enforced for years.

“I personally do not see [the UDO] passing in its present form,” Clemmons said. “I see the board listening to citizens, taking your input and putting it in the context of changing. It’s my perception they’re open to discussion now.”

Committee members agreed to go through the UDO section-by-section to come up with some recommendations at another meeting set for Feb. 24.

“Once we’ve done the last page, then we will make a final recommendation to the board,” Clemmons said.

Looking out at those in attendance, he added, “But the most power is sitting right there. As you see, we’ve made a turn, and without you telling us we would not have made a turn. The citizens—I said that’s who we work for.”

King added, “It’s going to come down to the board, whether the board wants to listen to the majority of citizens or stick with their agenda.”