Calabash tables UDO for further consideration

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

CALABASH—A roomful of residents brought more questions about the town’s pending, controversial Unified Development Ordinance update, which commissioners tabled for further consideration Tuesday night.

Calabash Mayor Anthony Clemmons also appointed a five-person committee to address the UDO and any amendments that might need to be made in the near future.

At the start of the meeting, town commissioner Cecelia Herman requested that agenda items related to the UDO and its accompanying zoning map, including action to vote on them, be removed.

Herman said she wanted additional time since there was “misconception and misunderstanding” of the UDO that in recent weeks has drawn opposition from local merchants. She said she wanted to review minutes and statements made by citizens from the Jan. 27 public hearing “and conform them to the UDO.”

Clemmons at first said it wasn’t appropriate to request the change, since commissioners now have an agenda workshop one week before meetings.

Herman responded it was the first time she had heard of such a policy and also told Clemmons it was beneath his office “to be sitting here talking about rumor and innuendo, and you are out of order.”

Clemmons asked citizens to stand, noting “commissioners have got y’all riled up tonight. It’s not just merchants; it’s citizens.”

One man in attendance demanded commissioners go ahead and take a vote on the ordinance, “so we know how you feel.”

The first two hours of the monthly meeting were devoted to citizens speaking out about the UDO as well as their ongoing concerns about the high cost of sewer.

Local apartment owner Don Hege demanded that Herman and fellow commissioner John Melahn remove themselves from the UDO vote because they served on the town planning and zoning board when the updated ordinance was being fleshed out with Holland Consulting of Wilmington.

Hege also deemed the professionally produced update as “the worst example of copying of jobs I have ever seen. It looks like [the consultant] copied some documents and collected a lot of tax money.”

Fletcher Frink, owner of the local NAPA store, asked what would happen if signs in town were damaged or destroyed under the UDO.

Clemmons said if something were more than 50 percent destroyed, it would have to conform to the UDO.

Commissioner John Melahn said the sign rules are already part of the town’s current ordinance.

Commissioner Forrest King said the rules date back to the days when Calabash was united with Carolina Shores.

“A lot of that stuff should have been purged when we quit Carolina Shores,” he said, adding the town building inspector is “ready to get busy” enforcing those rules.

Holding up a copy of the UDO, Frink urged commissioners to “use it as a reference guide. Don’t use it as a rule.”

He said people behind it “are trying to justify their jobs.”

Clemmons later appointed Herman, King, town administrator Vincent Long, former town administrator Janet Thomas and local businessman Mike Abushakra to a committee to hash out information and citizen input regarding the UDO.

Clemmons will oversee the committee. He said he would leave it “open-ended” as to the length of time the committee will have to address the ordinance.

“My job is to keep the ball rolling,” he said.

Several residents also expressed concern about sewer and the county’s recent approval of a 10-year payback plan for Calabash and Sunset Beach.

Calabash Acres resident Alinda Meares reiterated residents can’t afford it and don’t want it unless it costs them nothing. Congressman Mike McIntyre, she said, recently said he isn’t sure what federal stimulus money, if any, would be available for the project.

“You might be jumping the gun,” Clemmons said. “We’re working toward getting the assessment fee as low as we can. If you don’t want it, I’m not going to push it."