July 22, 2013

‘Pop-up’ businesses engender debate on Ocracoke’s future


At the last Ocracoke Development Advisory Board meeting in July, there was an outpouring of concern for the newly adopted amendment regulating the “pop-up” businesses on the island.

The Hyde County Board of Commissioners approved the new regulations on June 3.

Prior to 2010, the village had not seen this approach to commerce and was not prepared for the consequences. The planning board was asked by the commissioner at the time to work on this topic.

We had finished working on the use of travel trailers as residential units and began to tackle the issue of “pop-up” businesses in early 2011.

As stated under the heading of “PURPOSE” in our Ocracoke Development Ordinance, the board is charged with promoting the public health, safety, and general welfare through regulation.

The board chose to address “pop-ups” from the angle of public safety. After a grueling year and a half, give or take a few months, we had boiled it down to keeping the “point of sale” or exchange of money in an area that would be 10 feet from the road.

We felt that signage should not obstruct the walking access or the line of site for vehicles.

An Ocracoke Development Ordinance permit would be required and two parking spaces would have to be provided for customers. The full amendment can be found on line on the Hyde County website.

The flood of interest at the July 11 meeting had nothing to do with public safety. It was a concern for the larger picture of Ocracoke as a quaint fishing village. It was the “general welfare” portion of the board’s purpose that was now being called into play.

When the board started the discussion two years ago, it was attempting to regulate what appeared to be an infrequent occurrence. As the board deliberated, it began to feel like pop-up businesses were literally popping up all over.

And so the issue mushroomed. It has grown to the point of shop owners and real estate companies fielding questions about the negative change in the atmosphere of the village. It is no longer just a safety issue.

The contention of the vocal group at the recent planning board meeting was that the effect of allowing these entrepreneurial retail locations to exist was one of coloring the picture of what our guests had come to expect. Rather than adding to a healthy competition amongst vendors, the pop-ups were believed to be detracting from the historic and picturesque appeal of the fishing village.

It was perceived as the good of the individual trumping the good of the community. The bigger question is “What is the good of the community?”

At that same meeting, a representative from The Ocracoke Civic and Business Association was soliciting a partnership with The Planning Advisory Board to foster a conversation on this very topic. The board was agreeable to being part of the discussion.

OCBA was willing to hire a consultant who had worked with many communities, helping them to formulate a look that matched their goals as a village. This gentleman’s forte is working with communities that border national parks. The concept is one of producing a unified look or feel in the community that would work for all aspects of the population.

The towns with which the consultant has worked in the past have prospered from a combination of the community focusing on a unified look, coupled with his advice.

In preparation for this debate, I am posing the question: “What do you think?”

Do we foster entrepreneurial start-ups or do we tone them down? Do we limit the use of signs? Do we congregate the pop-ups in one place? Should we limit the coverage of any pop-up business to the same 50% coverage as required of a building on a lot? What questions need to be on the table to be ready for the dialogue?

I realized when I thought about writing this article that I actually was not clear myself about what I would want to change. In an effort to kick-start the conversation, I would like to offer a destination for your opinions. You can mail a written statement to me at P.O. Box 366, Ocracoke, NC 27960 or e-mail me at [email protected] I will make sure that all responses are aired at this upcoming meeting.

There is a lot to be gained by working through this process as a group. Ocracoke has a history of brilliant thinkers and creative problem solving. With the intention of focusing on “the good of the community,” we can strengthen the future for the entire village.

(B.J. Oelschlegel has lived on Ocracoke Island for more than 30 years and has worked in the real estate business for almost as long.  She is a broker with Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty and a real estate columnist for The Ocracoke Observer. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected])

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