Council considers new alternative plan

MOREHEAD CITY — The city council appeared earlier this week to favor a plan still in the works that would continue to allow long-term storage of small, non-motorized watercraft at a downtown launch site – one that has recently become a point of contention with neighboring property owners.

The measure is an alternative to an earlier plan to ban overnight storage of boats at the South 11th Street launch site for sailboats, kayaks and canoes.

Adjacent landowners have complained to city officials about trespassing, encroachment and noise issues related to the public’s use of the site. Complaints have also focused on the long-term, open-air storage of sailboats and other small craft, which has been allowed for years and accommodated with canoe and kayak racks placed by the city at the site.

“All we ask is to make them take their boats home,” adjacent landowner Ann Lewis Garner told the News-Times in an interview Wednesday.

The board took no action Tuesday during its monthly meeting at the Municipal Building regarding the latest version of a proposed ordinance regulating use of the site. Instead, city manager Dave Whitlow said he will present to council members next week for consideration during the board’s December meeting a new draft based on suggestions made during the meeting Tuesday.

The new proposal will likely limit storage at the site to only kayaks, canoes, dinghies and single- or multi-hull sailboats no longer than 18 feet.

The measure is to include specific rules for use of the site, which are to be posted at the location, including hours of use – generally sunrise to sunset – and a provision stating that during a determined period, likely mid-January to mid-June, all boats must be removed from the site.

Also, boundaries separating the public areas from adjacent private property are to be more clearly defined by fencing and other forms of demarcation. And users of the launch and storage area would also likely be held responsible for “self-policing” the site and keeping it free of trash and debris.

Based on complaints about noise from windblown halyards slapping on masts, the rules will also likely include a provision that moving parts be secured to lessen the clatter some find objectionable.

During the meeting, Phil Lewis of Greenville, who owns nine nearby properties, including one immediately east of the public site, said the constant  “ding-ding-dings” of slapping halyards on catamarans at the site have made his land impossible to develop as home sites.

Mr. Whitlow asked the council members for direction on the specifics they would like to include in the proposed rules. The manager provided two documents representing dissimilar approaches to regulating the site, one Mr. Whitlow said was considerably more restrictive or regulated than the other.

Councilman Bill Taylor said he preferred a more “self-regulated” approach.

“It’s up to the sailing folks to be conscious of their neighbors. If they can’t do that, we’ll have to make some other decisions,” he said.

Council member Diane Warrender said the site is public property.

“We should be able to use it the best we can for our citizens as long as it does not infringe on the properties on either side,” she said.

Mr. Whitlow pressed the board on how to handle the matter of seemingly abandoned boats left at the site. The council responded that a time period should be defined – the winter months – during which boats must be removed from the site and no storage would be allowed.

“I don’t see that as a great infringement,” Ms. Warrender said, adding that the launch area would otherwise remain open, only with no overnight storage allowed during the prescribed period of time.

Councilman Demus Thompson suggested Jan. 15-March 15 as the period for closing the site to storage.

Mr. Whitlow also asked the board whether daily hours of operation for the site, such as sunrise-sunset, should be defined in the ordinance.

Ms. Warrender said no time frame should be defined because doing so would require some sort of enforcement, which would lead to added city expense. Others agreed.

“Responsible boaters should know the rules of boating,” Mr. Taylor said, referring to the issue that most hand-launched vessels lack running lights.

“You have to leave it up to the common sense of the one who owns and operates the boat,” Ms. Warrender said.

“We don’t need so many regulations; we just need to make sure that people are not infringing on other people’s rights.”

Councilman Harvey Walker said a self-regulated approach would keep city costs to a minimum. He said boaters should exercise “personal responsibility.”

Mr. Whitlow then asked about the potential for the site to become a gathering place at night. He said that would be a “nuisance factor,” having nothing to do with sailing.

Mr. Taylor said the 11th Street location was no different from any other street end. He said the site was distinct from a city park, which should have set hours for use.

Mr. Walker said he worried that the city would be forced to make arrests in cases where a boater returns later than expected from sailing.

“I just don’t want to be taking them down to Beaufort for coming in after dark,” he said.

Mr. Taylor said enforcement of rules pertaining to the site should be based solely on citizens’ complaints.

Mr. Whitlow said he had visited the site with a State Division of Coastal Management representative to discuss areas suitable for ground storage based on Coastal Area Management Act rules, which govern coastal counties. That visit led to a decision to remove the kayak racks to another part of the property.

“Then we would mark the site with fencing to delineate property lines and CAMA lines,” Mr. Whitlow said.

The new proposal will also include points included in a plan submitted by Gunnar Stumpe, a sailing enthusiast and user of the site who also lives nearby. Mr. Stumpe’s proposal was offered as a compromise to a proposed ordinance first presented in September that would have made it “unlawful to allow any boat, vessel, trailer or launching apparatus to remain on any town street end or alley way after sunset and before sunrise.”

Mr. Stumpe’s suggestions, which appeared well received by the board, include him continuing as a volunteer to maintain a contact list for owners of boats stored at the 11th Street site. He would also help monitor conditions and advise other users of the rules.

But Mrs. Garner said Mr. Stumpe’s suggestions and a policy of self-policing are not in the best interests of adjacent property owners.

“They’re going to let the fox take care of the henhouse with Mr. Stumpe,” Mrs. Garner said. “We have been thrown under the bus.”

She reiterated comments made during a previous meeting: that the Garner family has no desire to close the launch site, only to keep it clean and eliminate trespassing or storage of boats over her property line.

“We are not trying to stop anybody’s use of the end of that street. We went down there (to city hall) in good faith, trying to get them to clean up a junkyard, and all they’ve done is bend over backwards to accommodate what we were trying to clean up to begin with,” she said. “I do not like it that they are right on my property line and I don’t have any say-so about how close they can come to my property line. I don’t understand that a man can put his boat right on my property line.”

Mrs. Garner said she appreciates the council’s efforts to address her concerns. But she said the city should adopt a policy that ensures public water access at all street ends citywide. She said some property owners have placed barriers at the ends of streets and alleys that should be removed.

“What’s fair for one should be fair for all,” she said.

Contact Mark Hibbs at 252-726-7081, ext. 229; email; or follow on Twitter @markhibbs.

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