• 86°

Nags Head hears housing presentation, opposes off shore drilling

Nags Head commissioners sped through a February 7 regular session meeting passing one resolution in opposition to proposed commercial fishing changes, updated another resolution opposing off shore oil drilling, recognized two employees and heard a community housing presentation.

Making a presentation and a request for help, Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce Chair Bob Peele and Chamber president Karen Brown said they were behind a new Community Housing Initiative Group looking at the shortage of affordable housing in the area.

“Housing is not a new issue,” said Peele, “but it seems to have intensified this past summer.”

Peele explained that the results from a Chamber survey show lack of housing as one of if not the biggest issue facing Outer Banks employers. Providing examples of lost workers at both the Outer Banks Hospital and College of the Albemarle, Peele said they were talking about both year round and seasonal housing.

Peele went on to say that lack of affordable housing here is reaching a crisis level and that contractors at the table who have been here for years are unable to find workers in part or because of housing. In addition, there are restaurant owners living in their restaurant for lack of workers.

“How to make it affordable?” asked Peele. “It takes lots of partners with lots of ideas. There is no easy fix for Dare County because I’ve been here two decades and heard it since day one.

Peele and Brown explained that the chamber’s Community Housing Initiative is an effort toward providing a community solution to a community problem and that it may take thinking outside the box with new ideas.

The chamber duo ended their presentation with a request that Nags Head be part of the solution.

During public comments Al Friedman added his support to the chamber initiative saying he has seen a decline in available housing on the Outer Banks in recent years.

Also providing general public comments, Louis Toth thanked Police Chief Kevin Brinkley and the town for hiring trapper Leary Sink to capture coyotes and Meade Gwinn, Village at Nags Head Property Owners Association President said there are problems with trash carts being overloaded, pushed out too soon and not pulled back soon enough. Gwinn cautioned board members that relaxing sanctions in a trash cart rollback ordinance would eliminate any leverage the property owners association has with property owners.

In an effort to provide added leverage against drilling off the North Carolina coast, the board gave its unanimous support for an updated resolution in opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling. After reading the entire resolution Mayor Ben Cahoon commented that available information shows tourism related income today already meets or exceeds the projected income amounts from the oil and gas industry 20 years from now.

It was also mentioned that with no indication that any oil or gas revenue would flow into North Carolina, there remains a serious potential of environmental risks.

Commissioner Renée Cahoon said she and Mayor Pro Tem Susie Walters attended a meeting in Raleigh with Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke and others on this issue.

“One of the things that came out,” said Commissioner Cahoon, “is that the cost of the Deepwater Horizon cleanup was $60 billion. That’s more than twice North Carolina’s annual budget.”

She added that Zinke pointed out that in Florida all elected officials at all levels are in lock-sink agreement in their opposition to drilling and that is not true in North Carolina. Here all eastern coastal communities oppose drilling while a number of communities from Smithfield west are all in favor it.

Commissioner Cahoon added that drilling in the area proposed would require going down 37,000 feet in a harsh environment.

“What’s appalling to me,” continued commissioner Cahoon, “is that our two elected senators do not seem to care. They don’t care about our coastline but they want the money that comes from our communities. We as citizens need to talk to our U.S. Senators. The Governor, Attorney General and Congressman Jones are in lock-step, but our State leadership and State Senator Cook need to hear from our constituents. Everybody needs to be proactive with comments to BOEM and Zinke. We don’t need to be lackadaisical on this.”

During her comments Walters advised that although people think we are importing from the Middle East we are actually exporting oil and gas and it is a vastly different situation than some people present.

Before moving to another agenda item the Board agreed also that the resolution and a follow-up letter should go to the NC League of Municipalities requesting it take a stand.

In another show of opposition board members adopted the resolution opposing a NC Division of Marine Fisheries Commission proposal to change the definition of what makes up a commercial fishing operation. Up for adoption are requirements that 50 percent of all earned income must come from the Trip Ticket Program as in the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997 and that a fisherman must have 36 trip tickets per year.

There was less agreement on a zoning ordinance change recommendation from the Local Business Committee. Among the changes considered were a reconfiguration and reduction in the number of shrub and grass plantings. During a lengthy discussion on the planting changes and visibility concerns, commissioner Webb Fuller stepping up to the speaker podium to express his concerns to the board as a private citizen.

Fuller said he understood what the committee was trying to do but felt that the changes go against the purpose of the town and he does not agree with a vegetation reduction because he has a hard time seeing where the buffer is blocking buildings.

In contrast to that position Walters said a number of knowledgeable people have been involved with the proposed changes, previous guidelines have not always worked as intended, and the reduction is a move toward long term guidelines.

At the end of discussion the board adopted the ordinance as presented on a 4-1 vote with Fuller voicing the lone vote against it.

Earlier in the meeting the board recognized two employees for their length of service.

Deputy town manager Andy Garman led off the recognition session advising board members that although David Ryan has completed five years of service as town engineer he has been involved with Nags Head much longer than that. In making the recognition announcement Garman said also that Ryan was a driving force behind the development of Dowdy Park.

The second employee introduction of the day was by Deputy Fire Chief Shane Hite who congratulated Fire Department Office Assistant Jackie Hart for completing 15 years of service with the Town. A key member of the fire department, Hart, who is often early to work and stays late, is also a member of North Carolina Fire and Rescue Professional Group.

Other agenda items included:

– approving a taxicab driver application for Jessica Urbano.

– appointing Megan Vaughan to a regular Planning Board seat.

– appointing Bobby Gentry to a regular Board of Adjustment position.

– reappointing reappointed Jack Cooper as Board of Adjustment chair and Margaret Suppler as vice-chair.

– appointing commissioner Mike Siers to the Town Stormwater Committee.

– appointing Mayor Cahoon to the Town’s Dangerous Animal Appeal Board

– appointing Mayor Cahoon to represent the Town on the Albemarle Rural Planning Organization Transportation Advisory Committee.

– adopted an amendment to the Town Fire Prevention and Protection Code.

– approved a Commercial Fire Inspection Schedule Policy.

– approved a budget adjustment to transfer up to $25,000 to conduct the Water Impact Fee Study.

– approved a CIP/Budget Workshop meeting schedule.

– heard a Community Watch update from Police Chief Brinkley.

At the end of business the board recessed until 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 21, for a Flood Map Workshop.