It’s a preservation victory when heritage and water quality both stand to benefit from a real estate deal.
week, the nonprofit Ocracoke Foundation closed on the half-acre
Ocracoke Community Square and its docks, shops, and views of
postcard-pretty Silver Lake harbor. The acquisition is a vital step
toward protection of the vibrant heart of the village.
the $4.4 million Community Square Revitalization Project, funded by The
Conservation Fund’s Land Conservation Loan Program and foundation
partners, goes far beyond saving historic buildings and the traditional
centerpiece of the old fishing village. It also includes the
purchase of property that will allow construction of public bathrooms
and desperately-needed wastewater and stormwater treatment, resulting
in improved water quality in Silver Lake.
you’re looking to be sustainable, this is a great model project,” said
Robin Payne, the foundation’s executive director. “This isn’t just a
quick flash project that will be over in five years. It’s something
that can be depended on.”
said that community input will be sought in planning the future of the
square, a frequent gathering spot for artisans, musicians, and
craftspeople during island events like the recent Blackbeard Pirates
Jamboree. She added that the foundation’s goal is to restore the
buildings and to maintain the historic Community Store as a market.
many years of patiently waiting for the right buyer, the longtime owner
of the Square, a founder of the Ocracoke Preservation Society, breathed
a sigh of relief.
happy to have it in good hands,” said David Senseney, who had bought
the Community Store in 1980, and the rest of the square four years
later. “Over time, the community will see the value . . . I’m
real, real, real happy that it’s going to public ownership.”
locally-owned businesses at the square will be retained, as well as
dockage for local marine businesses. The lease fees will be used as a
dedicated revenue stream to fund other needs within the village. With
the docks being one of the few places on the island that provide views
of and access to Silver Lake, the project will ensure through
protective easements that the harbor remains accessible to visitors,
residents, and local watermen.
on Silver Lake in the bustling hub of the tourism-fed commerce in the
village, the Community Square was long known by islanders as the
Community Store and docks. It includes two docks with 15 boat slips,
five historic buildings, and a large parking lot in the middle.
or tide water in the square, along with its inevitable pollutants,
drains directly into Silver Lake. An antiquated septic system -- four
walls with a sand bottom – sits under the parking lot to serve
businesses in the square. The closest public bathrooms are at the edge
of village at the National Park Service docks.
acquiring another tract -- the Dixon-Williams property -- across the
street, the foundation will have land to build a drainfield for
wastewater treatment. At the square, stormwater will be directed
to rain gardens or filter through permeable surfaces that will replace
current hard surfaces.
water quality component of the project would be one of the first
actions in the community’s recent work with Hyde County and North
Carolina State University to take a holistic look at restoration of
water quality island-wide.
foundation and the county are really trying to see that they take a
proactive approach to keep the water safe for the villagers and the
people,” said Erin Fleckenstein, a coastal scientist with the N.C.
Coastal Federation, which has been assisting the foundation on
The goal of the project is to also include a permanent boat pump-out and a water-monitoring program.
Anlauf, owner of Anlauf Engineering in Kitty Hawk, said that the
outmoded septic tank in the square, grandfathered under current state
environmental regulations, has long been inadequate for modern
Ocracoke. Whatever waste enters the tank is subject to minimal level of
treatment, making it possible for human pathogens to leach through the
tank’s sand bottom into the harbor.
“Everything that’s around Silver Lake flows to Silver Lake,” Anlauf said.
treatment in the village, where nearly every speck of land is
developed, he said, is challenging because of the difficulty of finding
enough space to put a drain field. That’s why the acquisition of the
Dixon-Williams property was so important.
the plan that Anlauf has designed, the wastewater from the square will
be collected and directed to a small station and pumped across the
street to an advanced wastewater treatment system that uses “enhanced
“It’s treating to a higher level,” he said. “The things that pollute our groundwater . . . that treatment removes that.”
number of bathrooms is unavoidably limited by the capacity of the
drainfield. “Adding public restrooms is a huge plus,” he said.
“But it generates an enormous amount of waste.”
Community Square also predates stormwater management regulations, said
Andy Deel, owner of Deel Engineering in Kill Devil Hills.
“It was more important to drain the site than treat the site,” he said.
retrofitting a design that will allow water to drain without being
dumped directly into the harbor, Deel said that a combination of rain
gardens, capturing the water and redirecting it, and replacing asphalt
and cement with permeable surfaces, like brick pavers, will address
much of the problem, he said.
The goal, said Deel, is to mimic the natural water cycle, while working around the existing infrastructure and environment.
area is really developed,” he said. “Trying to retrofit is challenging.
You can’t lose sight of just how historic the village is there. It’s
literally hundreds of years old.”
addition to its land being utilized for wastewater treatment, the
16,800-square foot Dixon-Williams property will enable the villagers to
create “value-added” consumer products made with traditional village
assets such as fresh fish and figs. For instance, island recipes for
crab chowder and fig preserves and Ocracoke fig cake could be prepared
in the kitchen, and packaged for sale.
The project has allocated $47,085 for planning, $2,200,000 for acquisition and $2,145,000 for improvements.
a biology teacher at Ocracoke School for 22 years, has been working
since 2008 with the foundation on the sale. For years, he had been
holding out for a buyer who would agree to preservation easements. One
“substantial” offer he turned down had proposed to turn the site into
an exclusive yacht club.
$1.565 million he accepted from the foundation is less than he had
hoped for to fund his retirement, but knowing that the village’s
minimal zoning made the site vulnerable to development, Senseney, who
today lives near Asheville, said the wait was worth it.
“I’m hoping it will also be a good example of preserving the old style of Ocracoke,” he said. “I’m very relieved.”
History of the Community Store
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)
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