2017 YEAR IN REVIEW: Part One

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

NEW HANOVER CTY – Each  year  the  Island  Gazette publishes highlights of top stories  from  throughout  the  year.  2017  was  a  busy  year  with  a variety of news stories landing on the front page. We’re going to refresh your memory on some of those important headlines. The following is Part One of a two-part look at stories in 2017:

After 20 Years The Pleasure Island Chowder Cook Off Has Officially Come To An End

(Pictured above: The 2016 Pleasure Island Chowder Cook-Off. ) The Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday March 14th, that the 2017 Chowder Cook-Off has been canceled due to lack of participation from area restaurants and after 20 years the event has, “Officially come to an end.”

CAROLINA BEACH – The Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce announced March 14th, that after 20 years the Chowder Cook-Off has “officially come to an end” due to lack of participation from area restaurants, high price of seafood, and the complexities of organizing outdoor food events.

Greg R. Reynolds, President of the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday that, “We went to 32 restaurants and only got four that were interested and then they started backing out for various reasons.”

Reynolds said the number of restaurants participating in the event had declined in recent years and with the deadline to enter approaching with no restaurants committed to participating, the decision was made to cancel the event.

In an announcement issued by the Chamber on Tuesday Reynolds explained, “It is with a sense of pride, remembrance and sorrow that after twenty great years, the Pleasure Island Chowder Cook-Off has officially come to an end.  Unfortunately, our signature spring event became a victim of the high price of seafood, lack of restaurant participation along with the complexities of outdoor food events.”

Reynolds explained, “The Chowder Cook-Off was all about delicious food, good music and fun for the entire family at this family-oriented event. Chefs from southeast North Carolina’s finest restaurants prepared the region’s best chowder recipes – seafood or otherwise.  Folks sampled a taste of Cape Fear during this friendly chowder competition held at Carolina Beach Lake Park in Carolina Beach every April. Children enjoyed the park’s playground and Kidz Zone with face painting, a giant inflatable slide, laser tag and more. There was always great music playing all day and a few adult beverages enjoyed along with the great Chowder. The Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors will be meeting shortly with the assistance of the local restaurant community to determine a future culinary-based event(s) to showcase the area restaurants and food purveyors.”

He explained, “Not to despair, to kick off the 2017 Season, the first ever Spring Pleasure Island Seafood Blues and Jazz Festival will be held at the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area on Sunday April 23rd with 12 great bands on two stages with plenty of seafood, face-painting, laser-tag, crafters, artists, beer, wine and fun for all ages.  This inaugural Spring event will feature headliners Jonny Lang and Samantha Fish along with ten other bands overlooking the banks of the mighty Cape Fear River in Kure Beach, NC.”

Carolina Beach Man Sentenced To 125-162 Months For Firing At Officers

Police arrested 21-year-old Thomas Henry Coulson on Monday October 3rd, 2016 after responding to a call about shots fired in a residential area of Carolina Beach. According to police Coulson fired upon three officers hitting the duty equipment of one officer. (Pictured above: Law enforcement preparing to apprehend a suspected shooter in Carolina Beach on Monday October 3rd.)  On Monday June 26th, 2017, Coulson pled guilty in Pender County Superior Court to the charges.

CAROLINA BEACH – Carolina Beach Police arrested 21 year old Thomas Henry Coulson who fired a rifle at police officers in the area of Searay Lane and Pinfish Lane on Monday afternoon, October 3rd, 2016. On Monday June 26th, 2017, Coulson pled guilty in Pender County Superior Court to three counts of Attempted First Degree Murder, three counts of Assault with a Firearm on a Law Enforcement Officer, two counts of Discharging a Weapon into an Occupied Dwelling, and Attempted Discharging a Firearm into an Occupied Conveyance in Motion. The Honorable Joshua Willey sentenced Mr. Coulson to 125-162 months in the Department of Adult Corrections.

Police were called shortly after 2:00pm on October 3rd, 2016 with reports of gun shots in that area. Officers reported they heard shots fired from a rifle.

Carolina Beach Police, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department, Kure Beach Police and ultimately the FBI, DEA, and other agencies began searching the area with the aid of the Wilmington Police Department’s SABLE Helicopter searching the area from above. At around 3:25 the sound of gun shots could be heard in the area as officers apprehended the suspect.

Following the incident, Carolina Beach Police Chief Chris Spivey stated during a press conference, “Shortly after officers arrived on scene, a white male armed with a rifle began firing at officers, striking one of the Carolina Beach police officer’s duty equipment and uniform. The shooter was identified as 21 year old Thomas Henry Coulson. New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, FBI, ATF, Wilmington Police Department, NC State Highway Patrol, NC DMV, NC State Parks and Ft. Fisher Police responded to assist. Vehicle traffic and school buses were rerouted while the scene was active. Mr. Coulson fled the residence on foot and was apprehended by law enforcement officials within a short distance from the scene. The suspected firearm was recovered. There were no reports of any civilian or law enforcement injuries. At this time, crime scene investigators are still working in the area. Mr. Coulson is in custody and there is no reason to believe there is a present danger. No other suspects were implicated. Criminal charges are pending further investigation.”

The suspect was taken into custody at 1613 Searay Lane and was said to have started shooting at 1611 Searay Lane.

Carolina Beach Elementary School was locked down for over an hour during the incident. Children who were picked up by parents were allowed to leave. Students that road the school bus were taken to Anderson Elementary School. Students at Murray Middle School and Ashley High School were held over while law enforcement investigated the area.

Carolina Beach Police Chief Chris Spivey said during a press conference the suspect used a “military assault style rifle, possibly an AK-47 style rifle”.

During a press conference District Attorney Ben David said, ‘We are very grateful no one was seriously hurt. We also should be very mindful that officers have a very dangerous and difficult job and when they are fired upon we are going to hold people fully accountable under the law.”

Carolina Beach Police Chief Chris Spivey said, “On an emotional level, it was marked with the highest experience of fear for human life I’ve ever had.”

According to the District Attorney’s Office, on October 3, 2016, at approximately 2 p.m., Sergeant Larry Ward (Carolina Beach Police Department), Officer Nicholas Tice (Carolina Beach Police Department), and Officer Greg Brown (Kure Beach Police Department) responded to 1610 Sea Ray Lane Unit #1 after a report of the home being struck by gunfire. When they arrived they met with the homeowner who showed them the bullet holes in his home. All three officers were standing in the car port underneath the home, when they heard a loud bang which they recognized to be gunfire coming from the home across the street. Officer Tice reported immediately seeing a piece of black metal shoot up in front of his face, before falling to the ground. Unknown to Officer Tice at the time, a bullet had struck his key-ring holder located on the front right-side of his duty belt. The bullet had snapped the key-ring in half, before ricocheting through the officer’s holster and entering and exiting his uniform pants and shorts. Fortunately, the bullet did not penetrate Officer Tice’s skin and he did not sustain any injuries. Sgt Ward began to take cover and saw this defendant across the street carrying an assault weapon which they later determined was a WASR 10 assault rifle. Sgt Ward then saw the defendant aim the gun at him and begin to fire multiple rounds at the officers and then ran around a single wide trailer located at 1611 Sea Ray lane to the rear of the residence. Sgt. Ward immediately alerted the 911 dispatcher, and reported that he and other officers were receiving gunfire, and that he and his fellow officers were taking cover. After the defendant ran around the trailer to the rear of the residence at 1611 Sea Ray, officers began to take more fire. Sgt Ward was continuously informing dispatch of the conditions that were unfolding in regards to the possible location of the defendant and requested for additional county units to establish a perimeter and that WPD’s SABLE helicopter be dispatched to the scene. After receiving additional rounds of gunfire, Sgt Ward saw the defendant come out from behind the trailer at 1611 Sea Ray and run into an open shed to the south east corner of the residence.

Coulson ran out of ammo and fled on foot towards Pinfish Lane. Detective Sgt. J.S. King (Kure Beach Police Department) spotted Coulson entering the driveway of 1612 Pinfish Lane. Coulson ran beside a red pickup truck parked in the driveway, and bent down and tossed the weapon underneath the truck. Sgt. Anthony Bacon with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, a member of the ERT team, encountered the defendant when he was walking past 1611 Pinfish lane. Sgt Bacon pointed his weapon at the defendant and told him to get on the ground. At that point, Sgt. Bacon could see the defendant didn’t have the assault rifle but said the defendant appeared to be agitated and aggressive.

The defendant continued to ignore Sgt. Bacons demands to get on the ground and reached into his pocket with his right hand while turning slightly away from Sgt Bacon. At that point the defendant retrieved an item from his pocket which he raised at Sgt Bacon like he was holding a weapon and ran away from Sgt Bacon. Deputy Bates encountered the defendant in front of 1611 Pin fish lane and gave him commands to get on the ground. The defendant stood in a shooting stance and pushed his hands out in front of himself as if he was holding a gun and preparing to shoot, and he instructed law enforcement to shoot him. When Coulson performed this shooting action, law enforcement noticed a red object in his hand that was clearly not a firearm. This item was later confirmed to be an inhaler.

Coulson ignored commands from law enforcement to surrender, and was eventually tackled to the ground. Despite being “resistive and combative,” Coulson was taken into custody behind 1613 Pinfish Lane. When Coulson made his first court appearance following the incident he was asked if  he wanted to address the court and said, “I’ve been trying to say for like three months this is not me. This is really my neighbor across the street. He’s crazy and does scam [expletive] That’s what he does. Every time I say it you guys always the same three lawyers” and, “Then it gets out of court we don’t deal with it and then happens randomly again within four months later.”

At that point the judge advised Coulson, “Talk to your attorney about that, sir.”

Coulson was initially charged with three felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and three felony counts of attempted first degree murder. His bond was set at $25 million dollars.

Neighbor Bill Foster told local news station WECT that he lives across the street and it appeared Coulson was playing target practice with area homes saying that Coulson was always on edge and very emotionally disconnected. Foster told WECT he hid in a closet to seek cover.

Police Arrest Woman In Baby Adoption Scam

Carolina Beach Police arrested 37 year-old Wendy Mae George of Carolina Beach on February 22nd, and charged her with four counts of Obtaining Property by False Pretense after multiple people from numerous states called the Police Department to report an adoption scam.

According to Detective Sonny Russell, George posted on various social media and adoption web sites that she was pregnant and searching for a family to adopt the child.

He said two adoption agencies and twelve families in multiple states contacted the Police Department and District Attorney’s Office saying she had offered a child for adoption.
Victims were located in Ohio, Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, California and New York.

Russell said some victims paid George substantial sums of money for living expenses during the pregnancy including money for rent, life expenses, food and cell phone bills to stay in communication.
Such arrangements are not uncommon when planning to adopt a newborn but in this case, multiple people paid George money for expenses and some went through the process of hiring
attorneys to write up legal documents naming George as the biological mother.

Russell said Monday March 6th, “There could be other victims that did not give her money and if reported, she could be charged with Attempting to Obtain Property by False Pretense.”
He said George was charged with four felony counts of Obtaining Property by False Pretense and more charges were likely as the investigation continued.

Russell said George was arrested at a beach front condo that was provided by one of the victims. Prior to residing at that location, George lived at 1012 Old Dow Road in a residence paid for by another victim. Prior to that she was staying at the Courtyard Marriott on Eastwood Road in Wilmington in a room paid for by another separate victim.

He said George convinced some victims to provide transportation by Uber drivers when going shopping at places like Walmart or meeting other appointments.

In a post on Craigslist.com in early February, George used the last name “Jenkins” and posted, “Hello I am not sure it this is the best way to go about this but I’m not sure what else to do. I am having a girl and I am due in March. I have given this a lot of thought and I have decided to place the baby for adoption. You would need to get an attorney for the legal part and be able to help with pregnancy related expenses until the baby is born and for a month afterwards.”

George was placed in the New Hanover County Detention Center under a $520,000.00 secure bond.

At the time George was on probation stemming from drug charges in 2014. She previously fled North Carolina and was later extradited from Utah to return to North Carolina.

George was arrested in 2012 in Carolina Beach for numerous counts of Obtaining Property by False Pretense. She was later convicted of those charges. She accepted money from people traveling from other states to rent vacation rentals in Carolina Beach that she didn’t own or that didn’t even exist. At the time she was using the name Wendy George Rickman. Then in 2014, George was convicted of renting a condo in Carolina Beach to another couple when the condo didn’t even exist.

In 2009 George was identified by members of an online surrogacy and egg donor community www.surromomsonline.com Members documented George offering to be a surrogate for $10,000 plus other expenses while in a separate email to another member, they said she claimed to be five months pregnant and searching for someone to adopt the child.

Bear Sighted In Carolina Beach Sunday Morning

A black bear cub sighted on the north end of Carolina Beach Sunday May 14th. (Photo: Donna Johnston via Facebook). The bear was also sighted swimming in Myrtle Grove Sound later the same day. Carolina Beach Police received calls from area residents and were advised by State Wildlife officials the bear would likely move along on its own.

Residents reported seeing a black bear cub walking down Canal Drive Sunday morning May 14th. Carolina Beach Police Detective Scott Hettinger explained, “Yes. North Carolina Wildlife has been notified however the bear was not seen long and officers were unable to find it since the initial calls.  NC Wildlife advised it would return to its home on its own. It was last seen in the 200 block of Canal Drive” Sunday morning.

According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, “Bears live in many North Carolina counties, and they are not usually dangerous unless humans feed or provoke them. Enjoy this rare chance, but from a distance. The bear in your backyard may be dispersing through your neighborhood or searching for a mate. It will not stay in a settled area unless it finds a reliable food source.”
According to NC Wildlife if you see a bear:
• Try to stay calm.
• If you are one of the lucky people to have encountered the bear, observe it at a safe distance and appreciate the opportunity to see one of North Carolina’s largest native mammals.
• Don’t run away.  Make the bear aware of your presence speaking in an assertive voice, clap your hands, wave your arms above your
head to try to make yourself look bigger and make a lot of noise.
• Back up and slowly walk away.
• Keep children nearby.
• Keep pets locked up.
• Don’t approach a bear.
• Never surround or corner a bear.
• If you happen to meet a bear at close range, back away slowly and make lots of noise.
• Never feed bears or any wild animals, even if they look hungry or tame.
• Take extra precautions not to feed bears accidentally —bears are attracted to garbage, food scraps, pet food
and many other forms of human food. Keep such foods locked away from bears in strong, safe places.
• Bears that wander into a residential area are sometimes frightened by dogs or residents and climb trees. Keep people away from the scene and the bear will come down and leave when it no longer feels threatened (often after dark).

Beach Ranger Resigns: Police Now Writing Tickets For Dog Violations

The Town of Carolina Beach hired a Beach Ranger to enforce ordinances governing when dogs are allowed on the beach front. The new ranger started May 1st. Town Manager Michael Cramer informed Council the Ranger quit following a meeting on June 1st. The Police Department began writing citations for violations on the beach. 

JUNE 7th – The Carolina Beach Town Council agreed earlier this year to hire someone to write $250 tickets to people who bring their dogs to the beach at the wrong time of the day.

The Town hired a Beach Ranger to enforce that ordinance and write tickets. In June, that beach ranger quit after a conversation with supervisors where he reportedly told the Town Manager he felt his role was to be a beach-greeter rather than an enforcer.

Town Manager Michael Cramer explained to the Council, “On Thursday June 1st at the Budget Workshop we had a very spirited discussion about our enforcement efforts related to the Beach Ranger. Over the Memorial Day Weekend the Beach Ranger issued 2 civil citation for dogs on the beach and 16 warnings for glass and dogs. We discussed the lack of citation with the Beach Ranger and re-explained our expectations. On Thursday following the council workshop the Beach Ranger quit.”

David Gale started work with the Town as Beach Ranger on May 1st, 2017.

Cramer explained, “He expressed that he was not interested in being a rule enforcer and only wanted to be beach greeter. This was not the right fit for him and not what we were looking for.”
Cramer explained, “This morning Fire, Police, Parks and Recreation and I reviewed the job description and duties and discussed the positives and negatives of beach activities over the past several weeks. We have determined that the job description and advertisement was appropriate and focused on enforcement of town ordinances. The individual hired had a law enforcement and code enforcement background, which were preferred by our ad. The group determined that we had explained all of the requirements in detail in the interview process and that the individual accepted knowing the expectations. In an effort to address or correct any issues before looking for another Beach Ranger we analyzed the activities on the beach over the past several weeks.”

He explained, “One area of concern for the group was the limited number of applicants that had law enforcement or code enforcement background that applied for the position and the fact that duties on the beach tend to be very police like. Over the past several weeks the types of activities that the Beach Ranger experienced on the Municipal Beach Strand related to helping the PD look for a bag thief, addressing a domestic dispute, actively communicate with the police and lifeguards on various life safety issues and glass and dog ordinance violations. It is our determination that these activities are not just police officer like responsibilities, they require the training and ability to use force or interact as a police officer.”

Cramer explained the search for a new full-time beach ranger will call for hiring a sworn police officer who will wear a different uniform yet still be able to operate in a law enforcement capacity when needed. He explained, “It is for these reasons that I have decided to change directions as we search for a new full-time beach ranger. I have recommended that instead of hiring a police like individual we need to hire a police officer to perform these duties.”

The beach ranger salary position started at a minimum pay of $33,594 per year. A full-time “Police Officer I” position has a minimum starting pay of $35,274.

Cramer explained, “Chief Spivey has agreed to take over the Beach Ranger Program and hire a Police Officer I as our Beach Ranger. This individual will have full law enforcement training and abilities but will be dressed down from the typical officer. It is our goal to create a welcoming and approachable appearance with the respect and authority that goes with an Police Officer. This officers primary responsibility will be civil citation on the Beach and the Boardwalk District. The recruiting process will take approximately four weeks.”

Cramer explained that during the search for a new ranger the Police Department will utilize off duty officers to enforce beach ordinances. On Monday  June 5th, a police officer began enforcing rules on the beach until a new ranger can be hired. At the same time, the officer will be training a part-time beach ranger that was recently hired.

Cramer explained, “Although this has been a painful and unexpected start to the Beach Ranger Program we are working toward a more stable solution. Eric has done a great job getting the program up and running under difficult circumstances and a fast turn around time. If you have questions please let me know.”

The Carolina Beach Town Council approved changes at their March 14th meeting to the rules prohibiting owners from walking their dogs on the beach during the busier spring and summer months.
Dogs are allowed on the beach within town limits from October 1st to March 31st on a leash. You must have on your person at all times, a plastic or paper container that can be used to clean up and contain dog waste until it can be disposed of in an appropriate container. The container must be produced and shown, upon request, to anyone authorized to enforce this ordinance. Pets are not allowed on the Boardwalk at any time of the year. In Freeman Park on the north end of Carolina Beach dogs are required to be on a leash from April 1st to September 30. From October 1st to March 31, dogs are allowed off a leash so long as they remain under voice command and the owner is within a reasonable distance from the pet.

The new rules adopted by the Council on March 14th, state that dogs can be on the beach strand before 9am and after 5pm from April 1st to September 30th and must be on a leash.
Violation of that rule will result in a $250 civil citation which can be appealed in writing to Police Chief Chris Spivey. If that appeal is denied, the only other option is to challenge the citation in court.
As of June 7th, there had been 26 ordinance tickets written since April.

During the Council’s March 14th, meeting Mayor Dan Wilcox said, “The important part is that Council has made a commitment to provide some enforcement at a past workshop” and, “Council is not considering extending the dog hours without a complimentary enforcement aspect and that enforcement aspect is not just for the new ordinance. Because one of the complaints we had for years has been because we don’t enforce our old ordinance and we don’t enforce certain littering on the beach and we don’t enforce skateboards on the boardwalk. We don’t enforce other things that are beach strand related and the police officers are dealing with more important life safety things most of the time and they just don’t get addressed.”

In neighboring Kure Beach, dogs are not permitted on the beach from April 1st, to September 30th. From October 1st though March 31st, when dogs are allowed on the beach in Kure Beach, all dogs are required to be on a leash or restraint lead not to exceed 15 feet. The fine is $150 for the first offense. The second offense is a misdemeanor citation.

During the Council’s June 1st, meeting Cramer explained, “The rangers have been doing quite a bit of activities over the Memorial Day weekend. They only wrote two specific citations but they did a lot of education process and talking with individuals about various types of violations they were seeing. I expect that what you’ll see is we will start doing more and more of the enforcement and less of the warning type activities. But that’s been working out well.” He explained, “He does get a lot of positive response, but yes there are those individuals”  that sometimes react differently.
Council member Leann Pierce explained, “If the Beach Ranger is talking to somebody, trying to be nice, and they’re nasty, write them a ticket. If you can’t be at least nice to the Ranger trying to be nice to you, write them a ticket.”

Mayor Dan Wilcox said, “We also have to remember that unlike a lot of non-tourist towns, non-vacation destinations like a normal community where a fine works very effectively in a community because you have the same people there all the time. So they get the message out to them. I got a $250 fine and it spreads through the locals and pretty much that’s your mechanism. Here we have people that are here every week. New people in town every week. So for those people, that type of a lesson is not effective. So the police department and rangers are dealing with those people that are here weekly and I agree if they are acting inappropriately in the back of pickup trucks and all that, zero tolerance. But they have to have some discretion if a family of four brings a little dog on the boardwalk and didn’t realize they weren’t supposed to have him and they warn them and they are polite and they take the dog away they have to have that level of discretion.”

Carolina Beach Council Votes To Prohibit Helicopter Operations

The Carolina Beach Town Council meeting room was filled beyond capacity during the January 10th, meeting with the majority of people speaking against an ordinance that would permit helicopter tours in the Highway Business District. The Council voted to prohibit commercial aircraft operations anywhere in Town and turned down a proposal to allow helicopters to operate on a limited basis with a special event permit.

CAROLINA BEACH – The Carolina Beach Town Council voted on two ordinance amendments at their January 10th, meeting that dealt with commercial aircraft operations. Large crowds of people attended the meeting to voice their opinion on whether or not to prohibit commercial helicopter operations in any zoning district and to allow helicopter operations in the (HB) Highway Business District only with an approved special event permit.

The Council unanimously voted not to permit aircraft operations anywhere in Town and  voted to not create allowances for special event permits for helicopter landings and take-offs.

Town Senior Planner Jeremy Hardison explained in a memo to Council regarding the January 10th, meeting, “The ordinance does not address aircraft allowance or regulations. Staff is proposing language to address when aircraft are allowed to land and takeoff within the town limits that are not associated with a zoning use. The proposed language would allow aircraft for emergency purposes only and for governmental operation with required notice to the town. Staff has had requests for aircraft operators to land and takeoff within the town for various reasons. An option for the Council to consider is if they would like to accommodate the activity for special occurrences such as events, festivals, filming, wedding’s, real estate viewing, personal use, or tours on a limited basis. Staff has categorized the number of commercial operation allowances into single take-offs and multiple take-offs.”

At the January 10th, meeting the Council considered the following language:
Chapter 14 Sec. 14-517
Commercial aircraft operations.
a. All commercial aircraft operations shall meet the following:
i. Submit a permit application 30 days prior to the regular scheduled Town Council meeting. The proposed flight path shall be submitted with the application. Town Council, shall review every application and may approve, condition the proposal to mitigate potential impacts or deny the permit.
ii. Fire Department shall ensure appropriate fire prevention regulations have been satisfied.
iii. Permits shall be issued on a first come first serve basis.
b. Single takeoffs and landings shall meet the following:
i. No more than three permits shall be issued within a calendar year. Permits shall be for one take-off and landing.
ii. Take-off and landing shall be limited to daylight hours.
iii. No take-offs or landings shall be allowed in residential districts.
iv. Permit holders are required to provide written notification to all adjacent property owners. Notification shall include the date/time of the Town Council meeting where the flight operation is being considered for approval. Notifications shall be sent a minimum of 10 days prior to the meeting.
c. Multiple takeoffs and landings shall meet the following:
i. No more than one permit shall be issued within a calendar year. Permits are valid for one day.
iii. Take-off and landings shall be limited to 8:00am – 5:00pm iv. Shall only be allowed in the Highway Business (HB) zoning district.
v. Permit holders are required to provide written notification to all property owners within 500 feet measured from property line to property line and Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point. Notification shall include the date/time of the Town Council meeting where the flight operation is being considered for approval. Notifications shall be sent a minimum of 10 days prior to the meeting.
vi. No permit shall be allowed on Sunday.
vii. Shall be located 500 ft. from a residential use in a residential district.

During the January 10th, meeting the Council room was standing room only with people standing outside in the lobby. Many in the audience were holding small signs that read “Stop the Helicopters @ Carolina Beach” with a drawing of a helicopter and a red circle with a line through it.

With the room filled beyond capacity, those protest signs soon doubled as fans to help people cool off.

Approximately 37 people spoke in opposition to allowing helicopters to operate anywhere in Town as a permitted use in a zoning district or under limited special event permits in the Highway Business District. Approximately three people spoke in favor of allowing helicopters to operate.

Mayor Dan Wilcox previously explained he was in a relationship with Jessica Ward – the owner of High Tide Helicopters of Oak Island, NC – who previously expressed a desire to offer helicopter tours in Carolina Beach. A special event held over the Memorial Day weekend in 2015 where Ward offered paid tours over two days generated complaints from numerous residents.

Wilcox previously addressed public comments about their relationship when some citizens questioned how that relationship would influence his opinion on the issue. He says he has no financial interest in her company and doesn’t stand to gain financially from her business.

Prior to the January 10th, hearing Mayor Dan Wilcox said, “Is there anyone in here that doesn’t know that I have a relationship with the owner of the helicopter company.” That generated some negative response from members of the audience.

Wilcox said, “I’ve had a couple of calls from citizens – I’m sure other council people have to – with the suggestion that I should have a conflict of interest. The helicopter company does not have an application before the Town, they have not sought an application and to my knowledge have no intent to seek and application. What we are dealing with tonight is a direction as a result of  a public meeting that Council had where citizens came and said we want you to take some action on the helicopter issue. Council then gave staff direction to go back and do research and bring a proposed ordinance change back to Council. So none of this is related to an application or action on behalf of the applicant.”

During the hearing, Laura Parks said she grew up in Carolina Beach and her family was involved in several large developments in the area. She said, “My grandfather was one of the largest developers in the Piedmont of North Carolina. I’m pro business. I am pro industry. I am pro economic prosperity for everyone. In addition to my experience in development and Carolina Beach, being a former resident here, as a family we maintain a rental property here. Aviation is in our background. I’m married to a pilot. My father-in-law is a 50-year aviation veteran and within our sphere of friends and relatives we have pilots in fixed, rotor wing and commercial, private and military aviation.”

She said, “I don’t think anybody here that is going to speak against either of these two items being approved came to either be here since sand as old time residents… or whether they are transplants. They didn’t come here or develop or participate in the economic community under the specter of an LZ [Landing Zone]. There is not an active runway, airport or landing zone or any of that. People come here, whether they are vacationing, whether we come from northern New Hanover County and stay-cacation here or whether they live here year round. These people are here to talk to you about asset protection.”

Parks explained, “Whether it’s their quality of life or whether it is the protection of their revenue, their business, their livelihood. They pay taxes and their taxes don’t just cover their interior structure. They cover the decks, their boats, their docks… restaurants, outdoor seating. All of that. relies upon an atmosphere that is enjoyable and it can only thrive and it can only grow and only continue to feed the coffers of Carolina Beach if it remains enjoyable for everyone.”

She explained, “I’m adamantly opposed to anything that puts whirlybirds in the air because I don’t care what expert is going come up here and give you decibel levels or whatever, it’s loud and it’s obtrusive and it’s offensive.”

At a previous meeting Jessica Ward read a letter from a helicopter pilot and veteran which addressed several topics including claims that helicopter noise impacts military Veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). She said, “Some folks had brought up a concern about PTSD and Veterans and this is contrary to the truth which is that they use helicopters in PTSD therapy for Veterans” and, “One of the most comforting sounds you can hear is an inbound helicopter because this is associated with comfort and rescue. So the PTSD argument is simply, it’s doesn’t hold water.”

While Ward did not speak during the hearing, local resident Peter Linquist conveyed an emotional message to the Council stating, “I am a disabled Marine Veteran with a tour in Iraq and I know for a fact that the helicopter, to me, is a sound that reminds me of somebody dying or somebody that’s dead. So I am begging you to not allow this right over my house.”

Local resident Alex Torres said, “I bought my property over the summer thinking this helicopter thing was squashed and gone. It would have definitely changed my decision on buying this piece of property. The last time the helicopter flew over it was all day long and it was as annoying as could be.”

Councilman Tom Bridges said, “From my standpoint I think it’s pretty clear. We’ve heard from a lot of people, some on both sides, but overwhelmingly those emails I received and the people I’ve heard tonight, don’t want the helicopters. It’s nothing about one company or anything else it’s just the activity itself, they don’t want it in their neighborhood. I don’t have a business. I retired here from Charlotte. I’m just a resident. But as a Council member I have to balance all of it. I’ve heard that this is  a tourist attraction and we need to have the tourists. Well I understand that, but no matter how many tourists we have in the summer the businesses will not survive without the full time people.”

Councilman Steve Shuttleworth made a motion to adopt the recommendation of the Planning Commission to amend the zoning ordinance to specifically prohibit commercial aircraft landing facilities in any zoning district.

The Council voted unanimously on Shuttleworth’s first motion.

Shuttleworth made another motion to not adopt exemptions for emergency purposes or governmental operation of aircraft and to not create allowances for aircraft and helicopter operations using a special event permit process. The Council voted unanimously on that motion.

Council member Leann Pierce said, “All 6,000 of our residents can’t come here and vote on every issue. So you send a representative in your place to vote for you. And you sent me here to vote for you and I’ve heard you, you don’t want helicopters. It doesn’t matter if we have differing opinions. If the people do not want a use, it’s our job to vote against that use.”

Shuttleworth said, “I also heard a comment earlier tonight that said these would be a delight for a small number of people but annoyance to a large number of people. And given the preponderance of people that spoke against this I just don’t see the reason to have any exceptions whatsoever.”

Wilcox said, “I like win, win situations. I look for them. I work  hard to make them happen. If we can accommodate a business and make it work with the community, that’s what I want to do. I don’t see that here. I don’t see the ability to make it fit and meet both and have it be a win, win. I do worry that we are losing our family attractions and activities and we clearly are.”

He explained, “I was hopeful when I first saw the helicopter tours out here and saw families standing in line for two and three hours to take tours, they  were excited. They got on the helicopter, they had a great time, they saw Carolina Beach, they were excited when they got off of it. I know they went home and told all their friends the good time they had. That told me it is a family attraction. It’s just not one our Town can accommodate. It always bothers me when that’s the end result. I would have liked to have seen something different.”

Councilman Gary Doetsch said, “My personal opinion of it is ok, but I’m like the rest of the folks up here. I heard what you guys said tonight and I agree with you. I’m here to represent you and not my personal feelings. That being said, my whole family went for a fly when she came in and did the tours and they were pretty excited about it also. So just want to let you know your voices are heard.”

Carolina Beach Installs New Crosswalks

February 28, 2017 – In August 2016 the Carolina Beach Town Council approved additional crosswalks on Lake Park Blvd at several locations. During the Council’s February 21st, meeting Town Manager Michael Cramer explained, “The first installment of our Lake Park crosswalks have been installed. These were the flashing signs. We went through multiple iterations with the State in what they were going to approve and then what they finally approved. All of the four intersections south of Atlanta Avenue have been completed. I believe there’s one at Carolina Sands. One at Ocean Blvd. One at Alabama Avenue and one at Tennessee Avenue.” The crosswalks are push button activated, solar powered and have lights to alert motorists including flashing beacons.” Two more crosswalks were installed on Lake Park Blvd at Hamlet Avenue and Atlanta Avenue. (Photo: Ethan Crouch) Meg Young standing next to a new crosswalk on S. Lake Park Blvd with her pups Rue and Tuck.)

Hurricane Irma

The beach at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk on Monday September 11th. Strong winds and rough surf conditions eroded area beaches. The weather conditions were the result of hurricane Irma moving northward through Georgia and Tennessee. Strong winds continued into the early morning hours Tuesday.

Council Approves New Kure Beach Town Hall, Police State, Fire Station

The Kure Beach Town Council unanimously approved a measure  earlier this year to begin seeking financing for an upcoming $5.5 million dollar project to renovate and expand Town Hall, their Police Station and build a new Fire Station. Work began in December when offices were relocated to the Fort Fisher Air Force Base.

Fire Department Training

The Carolina Beach Fire Department conducted training exercises at a house at 1517 Snapper Lane on Saturday morning February 18th. Firefighters had the rare opportunity to conduct live fire training in individual rooms. The building was not entirely burned and was donated for use by the property owner prior to demolishing the house to build a new home.

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