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Patrick Taylor Highlands Mayor

Tonight [Thursday] is the May meeting of the Town of Highlands Board of Commissioners. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Highlands Community Center next to the ball field.

Prior to this meeting, the board will hold a closed session at 5 p.m. with our attorneys concerning litigation issues related to short term rentals and proposed amendments to the UDO [Unified Development Ordinance].  

On the agenda for the public meeting will be a review and discussion of the proposed ordinance changes.  These proposed changes were developed from extensive work by the planning board resulting in recommendations and a public hearing. Since that hearing Chad Essick of Poyner and Spruill Law Firm has reviewed the recommendations and developed a draft of ordinance amendments. Prior to the review by the Highlands Planning Board,  Craig Justus of Van Winkle Law Firm had reviewed our current ordinances and drafted recommended changes to address STRs [short term rentals]. That draft served as a working platform for the planning board.

The current proposed changes are, for the most part, in line with Mr. Justus’s and the planning board’s recommendations.  The town board will now have to make several difficult decisions on how to move forward.  Several community groups hold different views on how the town should proceed.  I suspect that no one group will be completely satisfied with the board’s final decision.  

It is now time to resolve/address STR issues. One realtor recently expressed to me a concern that folks are now at a point where they need a decision, regardless of whether they totally agree or not.

As mayor my goal is for the town and everyone involved in this process to move forward in a civil and deliberative manner.  I believe the board has done so at this point, although there have been bumps in the road so to speak.  We have received a tremendous amount of feedback concerning STRs.  Even before COVID when STRs were initially being addressed, the board received differing viewpoints during public comment periods.  Since last year this feedback from citizens has continued and culminated in the public hearing that was held Feb. 24. Our staff has researched the issue and reviewed how numerous other communities are addressing the STR issue.  The newspapers have done a thorough job of covering the issues.  

The town has also had legal counseling from two of the best law firms specializing in land use and zoning issues.  The board sought the best legal advice before taking any final action.  We all carefully followed and reviewed the NC Court of Appeals Wilmington vs Schroeder decision.

The final resolution of this issue will be driven by several determinants. First, commissioners have listened to various concerns raised by the public. Second, we have consulted with attorneys. Third, we are cognizant of court rulings and laws. Commissioners know state statues will have to be followed. 

I am glad we have gone through this lengthy and deliberative process before taking action.  Related issues requiring board attention will be addressed at a later time.

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