BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
COURTHOUSE – The city council today may help a dozen property owners deal with sand encroachment by declaring a health and safety emergency in the residential community, a step that follows a request by the Sandbridge Beach Civic League for help.
Ideas under consideration might let homeowners have sand removed from properties and returned to the beach while avoiding costly permits or approval process-driven delays. Homeowners also hope to deal with sand more consistently through a more flexible permit.
Concerns include sand that might allow beachgoers to walk directly into pools and items partially buried in sand that might pose a danger should someone step on them or fall.
City staff found that twelve property owners may qualify for a resolution the council is scheduled to consider during its regular meeting this evening at City Hall. Twenty-three property owners, many of them represented by rental agencies, applied to the city, but 11 of the applicants were rejected.
“Sand is clearly a nuisance on most of these properties,” City Manager Dave Hansen wrote in a letter to the council on Friday, June 17. “However, the inconvenience did not rise to the level of an emergency.”
Hansen wrote that the latter owners can still apply for a permit from the wetlands board to remove and grade sand. The planning department is “working to make this process easier and less costly,” Hansen added.
The city council was briefed on the plan by City Attorney Mark Stiles and Deputy City Manager Tom Leahy on Tuesday, June 7.
“The sand we place out there doesn’t stay where we place it,” the city attorney said, noting that the city could help homeowners put the sand back on the beach.
City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, credited the city staff for working with homeowners and the civic league. She said she expects there will be support to help the community.
Discussion follows fines levied against homeowners for moving and grading sand.
Some properties owners have dealt with encroaching sand, according to a city presentation on the issue, while others have not. A city staff visit to Sandbridge showed sand overtaking bulkheads and fencing, in some cases leaving fences surrounding pools useless and exposing old materials in ways that might harm beachgoers.
“Up until recently, people had been moving the sand,” said David Whitley, president of RBC Homes and one of a number of Sandbridge residents and property-owners who attended thc city council meeting on Tuesday, June 7.
Whitley said he was fined this past year, but the issue in Sandbridge grew in April after two property owners were fined by the wetlands board for moving sand.
“Just because we have a lot of sand in places it shouldn’t be, does not mean there is too much sand overall,” said Jim Lang, an environmental lawyer with Pender & Coward who is representing homeowners.
City action could give homeowners the ability to conduct “routine grooming,” or move sand back to the beach without being prosecuted, he wrote in an email Wednesday, June 8.
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