Letter to the Editor: Not at the expense of townspeople

Published 3:50 pm Saturday, December 1, 2018


Queen Elizabeth Street storefronts circa 1978-79

Letter to the Editor:

It has been 40 years since Manteo had boarded-up empty stores, no public boardwalk, no public docks, no bridge, no Elizabeth II. It was a town in decline, a town in disrepair, a town with one of the highest tax rates in North Carolina.  Businesses had moved to the highway and to the beach. There were those who thought the town was finished and suggested the town charter be rescinded.

But there were also residents who wanted to revitalize the town they loved.  They wanted to preserve it, protect it, and find a sustainable economic future.  The question that had plagued Mayors and Boards of Commissioners for more than a decade was how to do it.  Public Participatory Planning became the answer.  Professors and graduate students from North Carolina State School of Design were the facilitators.  Townspeople dreamed of a future, participated in public meetings, filled out surveys, engaged with the students in design charettes.  The product was a 20-year plan voted on by townspeople in a public meeting.  It focused on day-visitor tourism for the economic engine.  It focused on year-round residents for stability and sense of community.  The plan was entitled “Come sit on our front porch, let us tell you of the dreams we keep.” The result is the Town of Manteo today.

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Professors and students have returned twice since then for intensive workshops, public surveys, and public meetings to update the plan.  Each plan established goals.  Each plan required zoning text amendments to implement the goals.  That is the way town planning is supposed to work.

It is past time for another plan update.

The answer is not spending $20,000 to hire an off-island attorney to review our ordinances and suggest changes that will benefit developers at the expense of the community, permanently altering the sense of place we call home.  Manteo has never opposed development, rather it has encouraged development consistent with the goals set by the residents. Its ordinances are neither obsolete nor unenforceable.  They were reviewed and implemented under the guidance of one of North Carolina’s most respected real estate attorneys.

The answer is not altering Conditional Use Permits for more intense development that will ruin a neighborhood.  It is not removing the 20,000 sq. ft. rule that keeps chain box stores from moving in and destroying the local grocery stores, furniture stores, hardware stores, and lumber yards.  It is not permitting drive-through windows that will result in stock designed fast food establishments that will hurt our local restaurants.  It is not tearing down historic buildings.  It is not increasing the density in our single-family residential neighborhoods.  It is not doing away with architectural review. These rules, regulations, guidelines, and citizen-led procedures grew out of public planning.  They were essential to implementing the goals set by townspeople and local businesses. They have successfully preserved and protected our town, making it a day-trip destination for visitors while preserving a community with a year-round quality of life.

It is past time for a plan update.  Why not repeat the public planning process that has proven itself repeatedly over the past four decades?  Let’s bring the students back, roll up our sleeves, and let townspeople set the goals for the next 20 years.

John Wilson