February 22, 2008

An update on Dare County’s Land Use Plan survey

Dare County's Land Use Plan includes management of ocean shoreline development, including ocean setback standards for building, minimum elevations for first floor construction, and regulations to prevent loss of ocean front dunes.  This aerial photo was taken in Hatteras village looking East toward Frisco and one of the most vulnerable areas on Hatteras Island.

The votes are in and tallied -- not for a presidential candidate, but for the update of the Dare County’s Land Use Plan (LUP).

A survey was sent out to all residents and non-resident property owners in September.  It was also available online to the general public. So, non-residents were permitted to be involved in a local planning process used by the elected Dare County Board of Commissioners.

The survey is just one tool to obtain feedback on the LUP.  It is used in conjunction with existing policies and the direction of the Board of Commissioners.  The plan, even when updated is not a regulatory document, but a policy guide.

The land use plans are mandated for coastal counties under the provisions of the North Carolina Coastal Area Management Act. All coastal counties must prepare and update guidelines and policies for land use within their jurisdictions.   These documents provide local elected officials with a set of guidelines for development patterns and other land use issues that are important to the community.  
Once adopted, LUPs must be updated every five years under the CAMA regulations.  The latest version of the Dare County Land Use Plan Use was certified by the state Coastal Resources Commission in July, 2003.

The LUP applies only to unincorporated areas of Dare County.  Incorporated towns establish their own plans.

Results were analyzed and reported to the Dare County Planning Board in December.

Senior planner Donna Creef coordinated the survey and reported the results. 

“We started with what needed to be replicated and changed,” she said. “We will then move to writing and drafting policies.”

More than 2,000 people responded to the survey, with more than 20 percent of responders calling Hatteras Island home.  This is significant as the 433 Hatteras residents were 40 percent of the total Dare County residents responding to the survey and 21 percent of all respondents.
Among those designating their property location, 1,183 (60 percent) own property on Hatteras Island.
Assuming that very few respondents own property in multiple villages, approximately 750 of Hatteras island's non-resident owners responded. This is 88 percent of all non-resident owners who responded. Even with a 10 percent degree of error, that’s substantial.
 So these results largely reflect the views, priorities, and frustrations of Hatteras island's residents and non-resident property owners.

There were some issues where large numbers of people agreed.
•    80.9 percent support continuing single family homes as the preferred land use.
•    77.2 percent agree that alternative energy production, including personal use windmills, should be encouraged.
•    74.6 percent agree that there should be increased funding to enforce removal of junked vehicles and unsightly structures.
•    72.9 percent support limiting multi-family units to a density of 3-5 units per acre.
•    72.2 percent agree that Dare County should zone its surrounding water bodies to protect traditional activities and uses.
•    70.8 percent agree that zoning should be amended to prohibit parking heavy equipment in “residential neighborhoods.”
•    70.3 percent agree that the “proliferation of tourist-oriented retail stores” should be studied for further regulation.

It is also interesting to note those areas where residents and non-residents disagreed most.  Not surprisingly, they concerned the use of tax revenues, as well as the regulation of commercial activity.  For example:

•    78.1 percent of residents (versus 56.1 percent of non-residents) support a re-evaluation of current funding of tourism promotion in favor of spending for quality-of-life issues for residents.
•    73.5 percent of residents (versus 53.3 percent of non-residents) agree that occupancy and land transfer taxes should be re-evaluated to allow expenditures for non-tourist and infrastructure improvements.
•    59.1 percent of residents (versus 38.6 percent of non-residents) want to explore a countywide public transit system.
•    58.2 percent of residents (versus 28.8 percent of non-residents) agree that single-family homes rented on a short-term basis should be considered as commercial activity with different standards for parking, trash pick-up, and water rates.

Overall, the top five “issues of concern” were (in descending order):
•    Affordable housing/workforce housing
•    Bonner Bridge replacement
•    Wetland protection/conservation of natural resources
•    Property taxes
•    Wastewater/septic issues

The five least important issues were (in descending order):
•    Working waterfronts/public access,
•    Economic development -- not just tourism
•    Prohibited beach driving/ORV use
•    The Buxton Woods SED-1 district (revisions and no revisions).

It is important to note these issues, because in some instances, the data did not give leaders clear directions, and in others they gave contradictory information.  Consider the following examples.

•    Affordable Housing/Workforce Housing
o    80.9 percent continue to advocate for single family homes as the preferred land use
o    50.1 percent propose the county evaluate using single family homes as boarding/rooming houses
o    72.9 percent want multi-family structures to be at density of 3-5 per acre.

•    Wetland protection/conservation of natural resources
o    47.3 percent agree that Dare County should support efforts by the state to limit the installation of bulkheads
           56.3 percent agree that current federal regulations to protect wetlands are adequate
o    51.2 percent disagree that Dare County should adopt regulations regarding land clearing and removal on private property.

•    Wastewater/septic issues
o    Five questions specifically addressed variations of private versus public ownership of centralized waste water (on and off site) with a variety of response.  Overall, private ownership was discouraged, though trying to understand these questions was difficult.
o    53.3 percent disagree that fill in excess of waste-water improvements should remain unregulated

Draft regulations for storm water management by the State Division of Water Quality were a hot topic at the time of the survey.  While Dare County commissioners have publicly opposed the implementation of the current draft, a number of questions provided a variety of feedback.
o    36.8 percent have no opinion on current state regulations of storm water runoff.  35.2 percent believe that they were inadequate and 28.3 percent believe they are sufficient.
o    60.2 percent agree that 30-foot setbacks along ditches and canals connected to waterways are adequate.
o    65.25 agree that the county should establish and fund a full-time storm-water management and ditch maintenance department.
o    No clear majority (each category under 40 percent) agrees on the status of current lot coverage standards.  39.6 percent believe that the issue should be re-evaluated.

Relative to the “bottom five issues,” more than 65.1 percent of respondents agree that the county should resist efforts by the federal government to further restrict beach driving on federal lands.

Additionally, 81.3 percent of respondents either disagree or have no opinion on the issue of whether the county should work with the state to re-evaluate regulations concerning the SED-1 zoning of the Buxton Woods.

With all of this information, the Planning Department finds the survey results supports the status quo and the commissioners’ approach to current land use policies policies.  This should expedite the process somewhat.

The next steps of the process include more detailed discussions of each area.  For example, at the February Planning Board meeting, there was a discussion of environmental constraints, an important issue when dealing with wetlands and water quality.

Creef is pleased with the progress of the LUP process.  “We’re moving along,” she says.

Planning Board meetings are open to the public.  Hatteras Island is represented by Beth Midgett and Dan Oden. 

The public will have additional opportunities to provide feedback, but comments may also be sent to the planning board.  These avenues remain open as the survey did not address every question covered by the LUP, including issues raised in public informational workshops, such as commercial building design standards, lighting, landscaping or sign control as designated in the 2003 LUP.

Click here to see a breakdown of answers to the Land Use Plan Survey

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