Three of my blogs this fall were on topics that need some updating. They all were about issues in Hatteras Island’s villages — the possibility of zoning for the tri-villages of Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo, beach restoration in Buxton, and the question of whether the Hatteras Village Tax District should purchase oceanfront property.
I’ve done relatively short updates on these topics for this week’s blog, and readers who want more information can go back and read what I wrote before — and what the readers have commented on each of them.
ZONING IN THE TRI-VILLAGES
An ad hoc group of residents and business owners in Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo have launched a campaign to begin exploring use-specific zoning for those villages.
In a blog on Sept. 19, I wrote a blog that updated the county’s efforts to get Waterfall Park cleaned up and its initial exploration of zoning in the tri-villages.
In a Sept. 2 meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, chairman Warren Judge said the county had received a letter from the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Civic Association, asking to start the planning process for use-specific zoning in the tri-villages.
All of unincorporated Dare County has what is called “dimensional” zoning that governs such issues as height of buildings and setbacks from roads or septic systems.
However, such zoning is not use-specific but allows any use on all parcels of land with very few restrictions.
Many in the tri-villages found this out the hard way in June when a company reluctantly got the go-ahead from the Board of Commissioners to build a concrete plant in Waves. The board said, in this case, that it had no recourse under the zoning laws but to allow the use, though it did set some conditions on such things as fencing, noise levels, and operating hours.
Civic association president Mark Dingman said in September that there had been discussions among residents about zoning since the hot debate about the concrete plant, so the group moved ahead to ask the county to begin looking at the issue.
Dare County, though, is not in the habit of forcing zoning on communities, but has instead chosen to work with those where the majority favor it.
In September, the board instructed county planning director Donna Creef to gauge the interest in and support for site-specific zoning. If there is interest and support, the planning department could recommend that the board proceed with community meetings and zoning proposals.
Dingman said in September that the civic association was very careful to say that it does not “favor” or endorse zoning, but instead sees its role as assuring “the best treatment” for all villagers if the process does proceed.
Now fast forward to this week when property owners and businesses in the tri-villages got a letter in the mail, which was signed by seven residents, non-resident property owners, and/or owners of businesses.
They are Chip Walton, Judy Sagan, and John Griffin of Salvo, Trip Forman and Chandra Rutledge of Waves, and Don Babin and Cecelia Caretti of Rodanthe.
The letter urged all who got it to petition the Dare County Planning Department to “initiate the process to improve current zoning” of the villages.
In the letter, the signers made reference to the concrete plant and said that “the time has come to develop a positive growth plan for our villages.”
That plan makes reference to the part of the Dare County Land Use Plan and its vision for unincorporated areas of the county.
The plan says, “It is the goal of Dare County to shape the growth of the unincorporated villages in such a manner that they retain their historical character.”
The letter says that “Unfortunately, current zoning ordinances for RWS overrule and are inconsistent with our community vision and allow incompatible land use.”
The letter also states:
“The community must initiate the process for zoning improvements. With our demonstrated support, the Planning Board will develop a zoning plan consistent with our desires. There will be due process and your voice will be heard. Once drafted, the proposal will require approval from the Dare Commissioners.”
The letter comes with a page of questions and answers about the zoning process in the tri-villages.
There is a petition in some businesses in the tri-villages that are still open that folks can physically sign. You can also “sign” online by e-mailing Donna Creef at email@example.com and including the statement, “I support improved zoning for RWS.” Include your name and property address.
By signing this petition, you are asking Dare County only to start the process.
The process is inclusive and transparent and will include many community meetings to get the input of property owners.
However, even in villages that are home to an eyesore of a former water park and a big concrete plant, zoning is not a slam-dunk.
There are many who feel that zoning is an infringement on their property rights and government overreach — just read some of the 51 comments on my Sept. 19 blog.
I suggest that if you own property in the tri-villages that you get informed about the process before you just reject the idea out of hand. Read the letter and the Q-and-A sheet — links are included at the end of this blog. Attend the meeting, ask questions.
Too many of us don’t like government “overreach” until the concrete plant lands next door to our home or business.
BUXTON BEACH RESTORATION
I have written several times in my blogs about the county’s plan for beach restoration in north Buxton, where both Highway 12 and private property are threatened by the encroaching Atlantic Ocean.
Dare County plans to nourish the beach there to protect the highway. The permitting and planning process is underway, but, according to the timeline, sand won’t be pumped on the beaches until the summer of 2016.
For some very vocal property owners, that’s just not soon enough. They have been calling the governor to demand that a state of emergency be declared in north Buxton and signing a petition to get nourishment now — as in immediately.
In my Nov. 7 blog, I wrote about a meeting in Buxton where business and property owners were again rejecting the idea that the area can or should wait until 2016.
The organizer of that meeting, Carol Dillon Dawson, who with her husband owns the Cape Hatteras Motel in north Buxton, set up another meeting — this one with New Bern, N.C., businessman and consultant, Taylor Griffin.
That meeting, sponsored by the Hatteras Island Business Association, was on Nov. 18 at the Avon Fire House and was attended by 40-some property and business owners.
Griffin, a former Washington, D.C., lobbyist, gave the group a well done PowerPoint presentation in which he focused on many of the challenges that the restoration project faces. Warren Judge, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, also attended this meeting and made some comments.
Griffin made many of the same points that the Dare commissioners, agencies, and others — including me in my blogs — have made.
However, the group this time seemed more accepting of the information he presented.
Among other things, Griffin said:
- The regulatory process is very complex and involves a lot of agencies who are players. “No one (agency) can approve” the needed permits to expedite the process.
- The process is regulated by state and federal law and “can’t be easily speeded up” and is “relatively rigid.” It took Surf City, N.C., from 2002 until 2015 to get nourishment, and the process took Nags Head seven years.
- The biggest chunk of the process is the environmental document required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which will be either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
- The National Park Service, which owns the Hatteras Island beaches as part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, must give the county a special use permit for the nourishment and will decide whether it needs an EA or an EIS to meet its own internal legal requirements under NEPA.
- The EA is the quickest route to nourishment. An EA normally takes about 12 months, while an EIS can take 24 to 36 months.
- The county’s contractor on the restoration, Coastal Science and Engineering, feels that the Park Service may get by with the less time-consuming EA.
- The Park Service is working to make nourishment happen as “expeditiously” as possible but may not get able to get around the requirement for the EIS. “If the Park Service goes with the EIS, it could be a problem.”
- Any glitches or foot-dragging by agencies in the regulatory process could delay the process until 2017.
- The governor can’t really declare a state of emergency until the highway is damaged, which it is not — at least right now.
- Though it might not make sense to many, projects such as beach nourishment can be done as preventative maintenance.
“I want to be careful how I talk about this tonight,” Judge emphasized when he addressed the group. The process, he said, is “fragile” at this point.
“The National Park Service is charting new territory here,” said Judge, using more cautionary words, such as “tight” and “delicate,” to explain that he thinks the county — and project advocates — need to use care not to “impact” the NPS or other agencies involved.
Griffin also referred to not “alienating” the players with the power to get the project done — and to get it done on time.
He advised that advocates who want to help should focus on such things as public comment periods that are coming with either an EA or EIS, letter writing, social media, e-mailing, starting a website, contacting media, and legislative changes at the state and national levels.
HATTERAS VILLAGE OPPORTUNITY?
In my Nov. 14 blog, I wrote that Hatteras village — through its special tax district — has an opportunity to buy oceanfront property, along with several parcels across the highway for parking and other uses such as a septic system.
The property is being offered to the tax district by Eric Kaplan, owner of the non-profit Hatteras Island Ocean Center.
After three months of discussions with the seller — largely out of public view — and several weeks now of much more public debate, the village is still divided on whether the property is an opportunity — or not.
Some think it could be developed into an economic engine for the village — a beach access with a bathhouse, picnic tables, a public beach and perhaps later an oceanfront event venue. It’s an opportunity, they think, that the village can’t pass up.
Others think the property is unaffordable and that the whole project has had little or no planning or public input.
Advocates say that with the possibility of about $600,000 in grants, the property is affordable and that it should be seriously considered.
The five tax trustees are the only ones with a vote on how tax money can be spent.
The Hatteras Village Community Center Tax District was created in 1981 by the North Carolina General Assembly after approval by the majority of voters in the Hatteras precinct. This bill authorizes the Dare County Board of Commissioners to levy and collect an ad valorem tax, not to exceed 15 cents on each $100 of valuation of taxable property in the area. The current tax is 8.21 cents per $100, which provides an income of about $320,000 to $330,000 a year.
The governing body of the district is a board of five trustees appointed by the Board of County Commissioners for three-year terms. The current trustees are Richie Midgett, Ernie Foster, Ricki Shepherd, Geraldine Farrow, and Rom Whitaker.
However, the Hatteras Village Civic Association, which was created by the trustees to manage the village’s property and buildings — and theoretically to do long-range planning for the tax district — is also involved in the decision.
Several trustees have said publically that they do not want to move ahead with a purchase without the support of the civic association.
At an August meeting, both the trustees and the civic association board voted to proceed with exploring the purchase.
In the past two weeks, the HVCA board has voted unanimously twice against the purchase, mostly on the grounds that the village cannot afford it. They voted once in a regular meeting and again in a joint meeting with the trustees.
The trustees were scheduled to meet Tuesday night, Nov. 25, to further discuss the proposal and how it could be financed.
They were somewhat ambushed when that meeting, which is public, was publicized and about 20 or 25 villagers showed up.
Some of those who attended were pretty vocal about their opposition to the purchase because of the price and because no planning had gone into how the property could be used. And they asked plenty of questions.
The tax trustees answered questions and emphasized that there was no intention to keep the negotiations from the public. Instead they said that they wanted to collect all the need financial information on purchase, financing, planning, and use before they presented the proposal to the village.
They said they were adamant that there would be no tax increase involved with a purchase, and that top priority was to get input from the village.
After, a spirited back-and-forth discussion that lasted more than an hour, the meeting ended as folks started leaving.
No vote was taken, and the trustees, at this point, have no further meeting scheduled.
Therefore, there is no apparent resolution.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Tri-villages zoning initiative:
Hatteras Village Tax District financial information: