November 8, 2010

Exciting? No, but land-use plans are worth reading

Outer Banks Voice

(Editor’s note:  The Dare County Board of Commissioners will conduct a public hearing on the county’s 2009 draft update of its land-use plan on Monday, Nov. 15, at 5:30 p.m. in the Commissioners Meeting Room in the Dare County Administrative Building in Manteo.)

During one of my nine lives as an editor, I was responsible for the Virginia Beach Beacon, a community news section in The Virginian-Pilot.

Advertising dollars flowed more freely back then, and the tabloid would sometimes balloon to 80 pages or more. Despite a staff that was hefty by today’s standards, there were times when we wouldn’t have enough material to fill it.

So once, I decided to run a city planning document word-for-word in a three-part series. As a dutiful editor, I read the whole thing before putting it in the paper.

About 20 years have passed, and I cannot tell you in any detail about the plan except to say it was quite large. I think it was the city’s entire comprehensive plan or an oceanfront master plan. In any case, a lot of time and effort clearly went into it.

Down this way, counties and towns update similar documents every five years. You won’t see them published word-for word in the newspaper, but you can find them online.

Required by the state, they’re called land-use plans. Around here, the state’s primary interest in them is to protect coastal waters. The county and its towns each have one.

Public hearings are also mandated. But you have to be a planner to fully appreciate land-use documents, which might explain why it is unlikely many people will have anything to say about them.

Still, they have a purpose besides fulfilling a state requirement. For one, they can offer an insight into a town or county’s philosophy about development. A “blueprint” if you will.

While they do not contain anything legally enforceable, they serve as policy statements that lay the groundwork for local ordinances. They can also be precursors for future development.

A Kill Devil Hills committee, for example, is looking at creating land-use language that says the town would be amenable to taller oceanfront hotels under certain circumstances. Most of the discussion has centered on general theories about how this could benefit the town’s economy. But no one should be shocked if a developer or two already wants to build a hotel taller than the current 42-foot limit.

Dare County wants to incorporated new language that says it no longer frowns on central sewage systems. It includes a statement to the effect that they could help water quality threatened by the county’s longtime dependence on septic systems.

While that may be true, septic systems have also restricted growth, and I could deduce that someone is thinking about actually building central sewage — if not the county, private developers. The possible consequence, of course, might be higher density development.

Dare County’s land use plan is several hundred pages long. Reading it word-for-word is a tall order, but it can serve as a nice reference manual. It is a repository in words and graphics of just about everything Dare County, including population, numbers of homes and community-by-community breakdowns.

It also provides the county’s positions on issues that it does not control, such as dredging in Oregon Inlet and access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Even if you don’t know all the specifics of the plan, there’s nothing to prevent you from offering your vision of what your town or county should be.

(Rob Morris is editor of The Outer Banks Voice –


You will have several opportunities to comment on the Dare County land-use plan.

You can attend the Nov. 15 meeting and present comments on the draft update. Also, written comments may be submitted to the Board of Commissioners at P.O. Box 1000 Manteo, NC27954.

Following the hearing, the board may adopt the draft update, defer action until a later date, or choose to make revisions to the draft update based on hearing comments or subsequent board discussion.

After local adoption of the plan, the draft update will be submitted to the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission for certification. This is another opportunity to be heard.

Written comments, objections, or statements of support of the draft update may be submitted to the Division of Coastal Management following local adoption of the plan.

Written comments, objections, or statements may be submitted to the Division of Coastal Management District Planner, Charlan Owens, at 1367 U.S. Highway 17 South, Elizabeth City, NC 27909 no less than 15 business days prior to the Coastal Resources Commission meeting at which the Dare County land use plan update is scheduled to be considered for certification. The District Planner may be contacted at 252-264-3901.

The land-use draft update is on the Dare County website at

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