Aerial photo evidence

This aerial photo submitted to the town as evidence shows previous clearing of trees and vegetation from the frontal dune at 589 and 591 Forest Dunes Drive in Pine Knoll Shores earlier this year. (Crystal Coast Aerials photo)

PINE KNOLL SHORES — Town officials fined two homeowners $10,000 for an environmental protection ordinance violation.

The board of commissioners met for a special meeting Wednesday at the town hall boardroom at 100 Municipal Circle to hear an appeal by Chet and Rhonda Osterhoudt of a notice of violation.

The Osterhoudts had been fined $10,000, the maximum amount allowed by state law, April 23 for removing of vegetation from the frontal dune on their adjacent oceanfront lots at 589 and 591 Forest Dunes Drive and performing other land-disturbance activities without a permit.

After hearing testimony from the Osterhoudts, other residents, a drone photography business owner and town officials, the board deliberated and unanimously affirmed Town Manager Brian Kramer’s decision to fine the Osterhoudts $10,000.  

Commissioner Clark Edwards recused himself before the proceedings began, citing prior knowledge of the incident.

Commissioner Bill Knecht also disclosed he’s chairman of the Beacons Reach Homeowners’ Association, which regulates in the development the homes are located in. Attorney Richard Stanley, who was at the meeting as special legal counsel for the board, said Mr. Knecht didn’t need to recuse himself.

After the meeting, the Osterhoudts seemed displeased with the board’s decision.

“I feel like we were ganged up on,” Mr. Osterhoudt said. “It’s been one thing after another since we moved here. Ten thousand dollars is excessive (for a fine).”

Ms. Osterhoudt said they’d asked the board to hold Stella Construction Company, the landscaper they’d hired, accountable for failing to get the necessary permit. News-Times staff attempted to contact the company, but no one was available before presstime.  

Mr. Osterhoudt also said they intend to keep disputing the fine. According to Town Attorney Neil Whitford, if they wish to pursue the matter further, the appeal would need to go to civil court.

According to Mr. Whitford’s opening statement during the meeting, the violation which resulted in the $10,000 fine is related to an earlier ordinance violation. In April 2018, Town Planner Kevin Reed received a report of unpermitted tree removal at the Osterhoudt’s property. The Osterhoudts had removed a dozen trees from the oceanfront area of the property, which included the dune oceanward of their house.

The Osterhoudts were fined $1,200 for the initial violation.

Later, in February of this year, Mr. Reed received a report of additional land disturbance at the Osterhoudts.

Mr. Reed, who was at the meeting, said he went out and found the stumps of the previously removed trees had also been removed, as well as additional vegetation from the frontal dune. Grading had also occurred and a gravel driveway had been put down oceanward of the house.

Residents Jessie and Trish Randall were called on at this week’s meeting by Mr. Whitford as witnesses. Mr. Randall said they were in the area in February, walking in the neighborhood of the Osterhoudts’ property, when they saw Mr. Osterhoudt on a tractor performing what seemed to be grading to the dune on his property.

“I was shocked,” Mr. Randall said, “I didn’t know the trees had been removed the year before. That’s when I called the town manager.”

Ms. Randall said she spoke to Mr. Osterhoudt, who she alleges told her he was preparing to put in a pool. The Osterhoudts have been seeking to install a pool at their property, but they said they’ve been having difficulty getting a permit.

The Randalls also contacted Crystal Coast Aerials owner Harold O’Brian, suggesting he take pictures of the property via his aerial photography drones. Mr. O’Brian was also at the meeting as a witness and confirmed he’d taken pictures of the lot after the Randalls spoke with him.

“I sent this picture to Brian (Kramer),” Mr. O’Brian said, pointing to the picture being displayed on the meeting room’s monitors at the time, “and said ‘surely this can’t be legal in Pine Knoll Shores.’”

Mr. Kramer said he chose the largest possible fine because the incident was “the most significant degradation of an oceanfront dune” he’s seen in his 12 years as Pine Knoll Shores manager and because this was the Osterhoudts’ second violation of a town environmental protection ordinance.

The Osterhoudts stressed they hadn’t intentionally violated the ordinance, either the first time in April 2018 or the second time this February. They said they’re primary residence is in Rocky Mount, which they said doesn’t have such strict land disturbance ordinances.

“Back home in the country, we just clean up vegetation,” Mr. Osterhoudt said, “we don’t think to get permits. We paid our penalty last year and agreed to plant 12 trees to replace the ones cut. We cleared the stumps and things so we could have a lawn; the driveway was also messed up, so I hired a local contractor. I thought if there were any permits needed, he’d get them.”

Mr. Osterhoudt said when he received his first fine, he was told he couldn’t cut trees without a permit, but nothing had been said about other kinds of landscaping work.

Ms. Osterhoudt said they thought they were “doing the right thing” by planting grasses to prevent erosion.

“We weren’t intentionally trying to break any ordinances,” she said. “We had a local landscaper and assumed he’d know what was needed to put anything there.”

Commissioner Larry Corsello seemed to understand, but still voted to affirm the fine.

“You were trying to make it pretty for a lawn,” he said to the Osterhoudts, “but you’re not allowed to disturb the dunes (even by planting grass).”

Commissioner Bill Knecht said he could sympathize with the Osterhoudts about the amount of the fine.

“But you were fined before,” he said, “and it appears you didn’t look at the (town) code to see what you could and couldn’t do.”

Mayor Ken Jones, who didn’t vote when the board took action, said dune and beach preservation has been a big focus of his work as mayor.

“The dunes are there to protect that first line of houses,” he said. “It’s people’s homes (being protected).”  

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(11) comments

Osprey

This would make a great place for a "comfort" station now that the dune is clear.



A dozen or so porta potty booths will make them wish for a vegetation barrier.


Scooter97

wait until the next bad storm and they will wish those trees were still there!!




David Collins

Te reason it a been one thing after another , may well be because you have done one thing after another . Always someone else’s fault . There is a road that leads back to Rocky Mount , you know . Don’t you ?


D Snow

$10k....?







Sounds rather light to me for a blatant offense such as this, and a 2nd offense, too!


saltydog

I guess they thought with the area concealed by their house and trees/shrubs on the sides, no one would no the difference....how about those drones?


Geoclem

As a local to the coast I see that the problem is people with money think they are above the law and can do what they want and think they can get away with it. I feel that they should have to pay more. And to show how ignorant they are. GRASS WILL NOT GROW IN SAND. PERIOD.


Beacher

Congratulations Osterhoudts !! You have just announced to the world how incredibly stupid and selfish both of you are.



When you own coastal property you become stewards of that land for all present and future generations. You have not only put your own property in peril from northeasters and hurricane storm surges, you've put the property of your neighbors' in peril as well.



A $10,000 fine is not enough punishment for your actions.


Beacher

Congratulations Osterhoudts !! You have just announced to the world how incredibly stupid and selfish both of you are.



When you own coastal property you become stewards of that land for all present and future generations. You have not only put your own property in peril from northeasters and hurricane storm surges, you've put the property of your neighbors' in peril as well.



A $10,000 fine is not enough punishment for your actions.


Carteret Native 01

$10,000.00 is the cost of doing business for the Osterhoudts. They pay the fine and they have a much improved view of the ocean. They get exactly what they wanted at a very reasonable price. Now we should all start a "go fund me" effort to pump sand up onto the Pine Knoll Shores beaches and make sure that the Osterhoudts don't get washed away in the next big blow? Sadly, we live in a twisted world with sick priorities.


Buckohbong

Great comments and, all correct! I hope no one forgets these folks. They just slapped the whole coastal community in the face! Next comment might read "well, tRump said we could".


David Collins

It would appear that this guy is a financial advisor and a real estate-rentals person. Saying that he knew nothing about the laws/codes is a bit of a stretch if not out and out deceit . Wonder what the CAMA folks are saying. That is if they prefer not to say or do anything. Would you and I be treated the same way ? To be sure the landscaping company knew of the needed permits but the contract would spell all that out . Wouldn’t it ? Agree, 10 K is chump change . Cheaper to beg for forgiveness than the embarrassment of being turned down .


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