On Monday, Sept. 25, the Town of Hope Mills held its Board of Commissioners Regular Meeting with several items on the agenda.
Public Hearings: Business Registration
The Board unanimously adopted the proposed Business Registration Ordinance that will require businesses to pay a $20 registration fee. No civilian opposed it.
Town Manager Melissa Adams explained that this ordinance would help keep track of businesses and help with initial fire inspections. New businesses will require a zoning sign-off. Town Attorney Dan Hartzog Jr. stated that this fee is not a replacement fee for a business license or taxes but that it is an annual fee set up from the date a business registers with the town.
Public Hearings: Pier/Dock Ordinance
Several citizens spoke to the Board about the proposed pier/dock ordinance. According to the findings of the Lake Advisory Committee, which was set up based on research, the ordinance presents problems that could make the town liable for accidents on personal property. Chair of the LAC, Jesse Bellflowers, brought to the Board’s attention that the ordinance, particularly Chapter 62, is a copy of Lake Waccamaw’s ordinance (which was drawn up for a recreational lake) and that the regulations could reduce value to property, cause liability to the town, and that some piers that are 20 years or older should be grandfathered in. LAC member Al Ferri also brought up the fact that the dam is a different style than that original one that was lost in 2003 because of poor maintenance. Owners paid lakefront property taxes for a dam that could be raised to lower the lake when needed. The new dam will not allow the lake to be lowered and will require heavy equipment.
This could cause potential for a lawsuit from the property owners.
Hope Mills resident Rex Johnson shared his concerns about the speediness and timing of the new ordinance. He stated that many citizens were not informed of the draft and reminded the BOC that Lake Waccamaw and Hope Mills Lake are considerably different in that the number of piers at Lake Waccamaw require more interaction because of the vast amount of piers compared to less than 20 piers on Hope Mills Lake. Therefore, he said, the new ordinance is insufficient.
The citizens agreed that the new ordinance is not in the best interest of the town of Hope Mills. It places the town in a “new position of insuring pier dock safety,” which has never been in effect for privately owned piers. Attorney Bruce Armstrong noted that since he moved to Hope Mills in 1984, “no major accidents or fatalities have occurred on the piers.”
Retired police officer Tonzie Collins concurred with Armstrong, stating that no accidents have occurred on the lake.
Mike Mitchell introduced the problem with logistics and said the new ordinance may cause problems with inspections. He also stated that it is not right for the BOC to have total discretion concerning piers when the covenant of lake owners allows piers to be built up to the tree line. He told the BOC that this could present a legal problem.
Rev. Grilley Mitchell advised the BOC that it “comes down to ‘What is the liability to the town?’”
Military wife and mother Erin Solomon told the BOC that she and her husband could not buy a home on the lake until they bought insurance for the pier. She told them that insurance covers for any accident and that this ordinance causes an undue burden on homeowners. She held up her hand and said, “The last time my husband was home, he was able to stay for five days. Three of those days were spent upgrading and repairing our pier.” Solomon told the BOC that it’s homeowners like her husband who are most concerned about the safety of the pier because of their children. “We want our kids to enjoy the lake and not worry about keeping up with taxes,” she said.
LAC member Rob MacLean asked the BOC to not rush the ordinance through and reminded them that the LAB worked for almost three months researching, investigating, and writing a document that, according to Town Attorney Hartzog, will stand in court.
Lisa Waring asked the BOC to let the ordinance be tabled, re-examined and looked at. “Please don’t pass it until the Lake Advisory Board revises it,” she requested.
Commissioner Jerry Legge praised the LAB for its integrity and requested that Town Attorney Hartzog meet with the LAC to “develop an ordinance to fit the Town of Hope Mills.”
Mayor Warner asked Town Manager Adams to appoint someone from the Inspections Department to also work with the LAC to devise an ordinance that will work.
The Pier/Docks Ordinance was NOT voted upon. The citizens who spoke were against it and the Board of Commissioners agreed to “table” it until further notice.