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Topsail Beach officials demand conservation guarantee

A dredge is shown at work in this aerial view of the south end of Topsail Beach, looking north from New Topsail Inlet.

Posted on November 13, 2023

The aspiring owners of nearly 150 acres of pristine beach and soundfront property at the southern tip of Topsail Island need to keep in writing an assurance that much of the land will be forever conserved, Topsail Beach commissioners warned.

During a nearly three-hour-long special called meeting Tuesday morning, some town commissioners suggested that Todd and Laura Olson’s rezoning request would not stand a chance if the couple did not agree in writing to place about 80% of the land under permanent conservation.

“Whatever the reason, if this condition is not there, I think this is dead,” Commissioner John Gunter said.

Last week, the Olsons submitted some proposed revisions to the town’s draft conditions, to which the Olsons would have to agree before commissioners vote on the couple’s request to rezone roughly a quarter of the property from its current conservation zone.

Among proposed revisions to those draft conditions, the Olsons would agree not to develop or disturb land outside of the proposed conditional zoning boundaries, rather than establish a permanent conservation easement, before they could receive a building permit.

The Olsons cited “some potential tax implications” as the reason for the proposed revision to the draft conditions. The couple has signed a letter of intent with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust to grant the organization a conservation easement for a minimum of 80% of the property, which would forever prevent development on more than 115 acres.

Commissioner Morton Blanchard said the tax implications were not the town’s problem.

“It’s hard to go forward with no guarantees,” he said. “I’ve got to vote on what’s best for this town and I can’t vote on faith.”

Blanchard said he was hoping that land outside of the proposed building footprint would be placed under a permanent conservation easement. If that doesn’t happen, “I think it will be a non-starter here,” he said.

Before a presentation was made updating the board on various studies on the property, a handful of Topsail Beach property owners spoke in favor of the proposed rezoning request, saying that the proposal to permanently conserve much of the land was the town’s best shot at ensuring against high-density development.

Still, most of the feedback commissioners received at the meeting, including written comments, were from those who oppose the rezoning request.

The spit at the south end of the island is known as The Point, privately owned land where undeveloped shores are popular to property owners and tourists alike.

The Olsons are under contract to buy the site pending the outcome of their rezoning request.

They want to build seven houses, a pool and pool house, decking for beach and sound accesses, and a small, private marina on the land.

Under the proposed conditions, the Olsons would not build beyond what would be included in a master development plan approved by the town. That would include any additional driving or parking surfaces, docks, above and below-ground storage tanks, and accessory structures.

“I understand taxes, but that’s not our responsibility,” Mayor Steve Smith said. “That was the real benefit this community saw for moving forward with this type of proposal.”

Olson representatives said they would submit additional information to the town by Nov. 17.


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