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Manteo Planning Board paves the way for COA project, but questions remain

The Manteo Planning Board has voted to recommend the town adopt changes to the zoning ordinance that would pave the way for a planned College of The Albemarle (COA) campus in Manteo. The recommended text changes for education facilities will be the subject of a public hearing at the November 4 Manteo Board of Commissioners meeting.

The town’s planning staff said modifications were needed because the current zoning ordinance has become outdated. The current ordinance addresses schools in general, but not specific needs of colleges, universities and community college campuses.

The text changes, if adopted, would ease parking requirements. Instead of calculating required parking spaces on a facility square footage, education facilities would need to provide one space per office plus seven spaces per classroom and one space per four seats for a lecture hall. The proposed COA campus includes parking for 208 vehicles, about half the amount that would be required under the existing requirements. Planner Melissa Dickerson told the Planning Board the new calculations mirror similar college campus requirements.

Other changes to the ordinance include: exterior brick foundations need not be red brick if the remainder of the structure is a modern interpretation of Outer Banks building materials, buildings may exceed 20,000 square feet, parking may be provided between the front of the building or campus and the street and the building need not front a public right-of-way, building façade materials may be scaled to the size of the building or a maximum of an eight (8) foot dimension, parking areas need not be permeable pavement and college campuses may have one (1) sign consisting of a brick wall or other structure consistent with the architecture of the site and of appropriate size to accommodate 150 square feet of sign area.

Although the Planning Board unanimously approved recommending that the Board of Commissioners approve the text changes, an informational presentation of the project brought a flurry of questions from the Planning Board. Board members made statements of support for the community college plans, but also questioned aspects of the design. Parking, curb cuts and even the look of the building’s design were questioned.

Jamie Daniels said although the campus was said to be designed within what has been termed the “Manteo Way” inspired by local architecture, he couldn’t see it. Daniels said the building design, “does not fit the Manteo Way” of building.  Hal Goodman said if the board approves the plan and people don’t like it, the board will “get a lot of flack.” Best to let them know now there might be changes, he said.

The criticism caught some town officials off guard. The estimated $16 million Dare County project has been in the planning for over two years. The project will shortly go out for bids and construction is expected to begin in February 2021.

Manteo Planning Board Chair Sherry Wickstrom wondered what kind of leeway they had to change the plan and asked, “can we even change it?”

If the Manteo Board of Commissioners approves the zoning change in November, the Planning Board will be asked to rule on the planning permit at their December meeting. Although the project appears headed for approval, the Planning Board comments left a cloud of uncertainty over the approval timeline process.

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