CAPE CARTERET — After months of public discussion inside board meetings and outside them with residents, town commissioners voted 3-2 Monday night not to reopen a long-closed section of Clubhouse Drive, which leads from Star Hill Drive into the Star Hill Golf Course.
Mayor Dave Fowler broke a 2-2 tie during the board’s monthly meeting in town hall off Dolphin Street, but said those who supported the reopening could “bring it back” for reconsideration later.
“That’s possible?” he asked Town Attorney Brett DeSelms, who responded with a “yes.”
Commissioner Mike King was absent, excused by the board for personal reasons, creating the possibility of the tie.
Commissioners Minnie Truax and Steve Martin voted to leave up the fence blocking the roadway, while commissioners Charlie Evans and Don Miller voted to take it down.
The issue had previously sharply divided residents in and near the Star Hill development 13 years ago, when, after an intense debate, commissioners voted 5-0 to erect the fence to halt traffic on Clubhouse Drive near its intersection with Sutton Drive. The fence has remained there since.
It has largely stopped motorists from using the street as a cut-through, through the private golf course, from Star Hill Drive to Taylor Notion Road. Residents in 2006 had complained about speeding, use of the road by large delivery trucks and heavy traffic.
The same issues quickly arose again in January, when two brothers, Patrick and Nick Sheets, and Cape Carteret businessman Mac Holz asked that the fence be removed to increase access to a new restaurant they plan to open in the Champions’ Room inside the clubhouse.
Paxon Holz, a primary developer of the town, mother of Mac Holz and president of Star Hill Golf Club Inc., the owner of the course, has said she believes the success of the restaurant is crucial to the future of the struggling golf course, and that without removal of the fence, Star Hill could close, like Silver Creek Golf Course in nearby Peletier. Silver Creek is now expected to be home to a major residential development.
Daxon Holz came to two meetings, in January and February, in support of the request and brought letters from others who supported the concept.
Many other residents, however, such as former Commissioner Tara Patterson, have come to the same meetings, and have contended that the same issues still exist. They say increasing traffic on Clubhouse Drive, especially by motorists who have indulged in alcoholic beverages, would endanger children and pets in and near the streets in the area.
The board tabled its decision in January and February, but commissioners said they would make a decision in March.
In the meantime, Mr. King worked with golf course officials to try to find ways to make the road safer if it were reopened.
At first Monday night, Mayor Fowler praised both sides for the “civility” of the discussion this year, as opposed to 2006, when, he said, there were “many heated discussions inside this room and outside it.”
But things got confusing and changed fast. Speaking during the public comment section of the agenda, near the outset of the meeting, Ms. Holz said the corporation in the past month had worked to install some safety measures on Clubhouse Drive, including speed bumps and signage, and were prepared to do more, such as putting up stop signs.
She also asked that the request to remove the fence be withdrawn so the corporation could continue to work “in good faith” to address safety concerns.
Mac Holz, also speaking during public comment, noted the town board had twice tabled the decision, and said he supported the proposed withdrawal of the request.
“Give us another month,” he said, to work on safety measures to satisfy the board.
When the Clubhouse Drive issue came up later in the meeting, Commissioner Charlie Evans said he had been ready to vote to take down the fence, but was confused by the withdrawal request.
“I don’t know what delaying another 30 days will do for you,” he said.
Commissioner Steve Martin said he’d been in favor of tabling the decision in January because he didn’t have enough background information to vote.
He also said that despite the absence of Mr. King – who had worked on the safety compromise plan – “this board is fully capable of handling this without Mr. King.”
Mr. Martin added that he didn’t “buy” the idea that the future of the golf course hinged upon the success of the restaurant and the opening of the road.
He said he believed the town “overstepped its bounds” when it closed the road 13 years ago. But he also wanted to hear from Mac Holz about why the decision should be delayed.
Mac Holz said he realized the board was split 2-2 on the issue, and with Mr. King absent, that would mean the mayor would be required to break the tie and based on past comments, would vote for the fence to stay up.
“I knew that,” Mr. Martin said.
After more discussion, Mr. Evans made a motion to table the decision and got a second from Mr. Miller.
Mr. Martin said he couldn’t vote to table it again, because he’d promised last month to make a decision and because he disagreed with Mac Holz’s request to withdraw the request until Mr. King could attend. He called that “stacking the deck.”
Daxon Holz said the corporation had not asked that the request be tabled, but instead withdrawn, to return at a later date, after more safety concerns could be concretely addressed.
A few minutes later, Mayor Fowler said he had promised the board he wouldn’t say anything during the debate.
“Hear, hear,” Daxon Holz said from the audience.
“What does that mean?” the mayor asked her.
As the discussion wound on, Mayor Fowler said he interpreted the “hear, hear” statement as questioning his judgement and ability to weigh the issues and make a fair decision.
“All of us,” he said, “take an oath (of office) to weigh issues and make decisions that are in the public interest.”
And, he said, the decision to fence off the street section had apparently served the town well, since there haven’t been any serious incidents since the board made the decision in 2006.
“Something worked,” he said, “and I don’t know what has changed other than the … golf course needing more money.”
Although the mayor said he values the course and its longtime contribution to the town’s economy, the board should always “err on the side of public safety,” not on anyone’s financial interests.
Ms. Truax said she, too, supported the golf course and the effort to open a new business there. But, she added that she didn’t think the success or failure of the planned new restaurant would hinge on the decision on the road.
Mac Holz had earlier said he didn’t think the road should ever have been fenced and that the road, fully open from Star Hill Drive to Taylor Notion, provided more efficient access to the club house and the course.
Mr. Martin said that until Mac Holz’s previous comment about wanting Mr. King to be there because of an apparent 2-2 split on the board, he’d have been more amenable to delaying a vote again.
Now, he said, “We’ve discussed this for three months and it’s time to put it to bed.”
Mayor Fowler broke the tie, so the motion to table failed.
Ms. Truax then made the motion to leave the fence up, and got a second from Mr. Martin. The vote was again 2-2, with Mr. Miller and Mr. Evans in opposition. Mayor Fowler then broke the idea again, this time to not remove the fence “for now.”
But, he said, that didn’t close the door completely to changing the situation. It could come again, with Mr. King present, at a later time. And, he said, the golf course should continue to work on safety improvements.
Ms. Truax agreed, and said the board and those who want the road reopened should “wait and see how things go. You might see later that you don’t want it open either,” she said. “But you can bring it back to (the board) later.”
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.