Letter to the Editor: Manteo resident lays out concerns about proposed development
Published 2:32 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Dear Coastland Times Editors,
For well over a year, I have followed SAGA Construction & Realty’s constantly changing efforts to develop 0 Russell Twiford Road in ways that will change Manteo’s entryway forever. I sat through all of the Town’s months-long, quasi-judicial hearing on the Salt Meadow Landing OBX LLC Special Use Permit Application. I have reviewed the 414-page packet that the Manteo town staff assembled for this week’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting. In an effort to understand the critical decision confronting Manteo’s leaders, I put the following information together. It tells me that Manteo’s commissioners should deny the Salt Meadow Landing Special Use Permit without conditions.
Yvonne Farmer, Peninsula Drive, Manteo
Ordinance Requirement Questions (in bold below)
Per Manteo’s B-3 zoning ordinance, a NO answer to ONE OR MORE questions in bold below Is justification for denial of Salt Meadow Landing OBX LLC’s Special Use Permit application.
(1) Does Salt Meadow Landing maintain or enhance public health, safety and welfare? YES/NO
• SUP Applicant (Salt Meadow Landing OBX LLC) significantly UNDERESTIMATES vehicular traffic in Salt Meadow Landing and on Russell Twiford Road because its traffic study model: (1) assumes an unlikely 50:50 office/retail business mix and (2) disregards traffic utilizing the re-purposed College of the Albemarle facility.
• Accident reconstruction expert, Johnnie Hemmings, reported and testified that incremental Salt Meadow Landing traffic will increase already-known safety risks exiting Russell Twiford Road.
• Accident reconstruction expert, Johnnie Hemmings, reported and testified that solutions offered in Applicant’s traffic study are impractical and, if reduced to practice, will, by reducing the visibility of oncoming traffic, increase the risk of accidents for vehicles egressing Russell Twiford Road.
• SUP Applicant’s traffic study (and its timing) does NOT address special venues, hurricane evacuation plans and other important factors that impact traffic flow at or near the Midway intersection. Rainy days, in particular, are a safety and congestion problem.
• SUP Applicant disregards common, published, parking norms of 2.5 parking spaces per 2-bedroom residence [55 needed for Salt Meadow Landing’s 22 residences] and 5 spaces/1,000 feet of commercial or retail space [185 needed for Salt Meadow Landing’s ~37,500 square feet of retail space] versus Applicant’s plan for 131 parking spaces for its retail space and residences (reference: Chapter 17.55: Property Development Standards – Mixed Use, Codepubishing.com).
• Traffic congestion, delays and parking issues created by Salt Meadow Landing will frustrate motorists attempting to enter or exit Manteo at the Midway intersection while endangering motorists egressing from Russell Twiford Road, such that the quality of life in and around the proposed development will be reduced.
(2) Does Salt Meadow Landing maintain or enhance the value of adjacent property or be a public necessity? YES/NO
• A prima facie case is defined as establishment of a legally-required, rebuttable presumption (reference: Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute). Despite a zoning ordinance requirement to do so, Applicant has offered no information or prima facie case as to how Salt Meadow Landing maintains or enhances the value of adjoining or nearby properties.
• Common sense dictates that: (1) increased traffic on Russell Twiford Road, (2) Salt Meadow Landing’s dumpster and generator placement within ~100 feet of nearby homes and properties, (3) noise and light pollution associated with the development and (4) inadequate stormwater runoff management, collectively, constitute convincing evidence that Salt Meadow Landing will not maintain or enhance adjoining and nearby property values.
• By definition, Salt Meadow Landing is not affordable housing. According to Salt Meadow Landing’s Mr. Gupta, the development’s residences will be “luxury rentals.” Such units are unlikely to be occupied by Manteo professionals, e.g. teachers, police officers and firefighters. Therefore, Salt Meadow Landing is not a public necessity.
• SUP Applicant has NOT offered evidence detailing the business mix or types of businesses that Salt Meadow Landing will deliver; Applicant has offered no evidence of Manteo’s need for any particular mix of businesses and commercial offerings. Without information detailing the types of businesses that will occupy Salt Meadow Landing’s retail space, one cannot determine: (1) if the development will maintain or enhance nearby property values or (2) if the development is a public necessity.
(3) Does Salt Meadow Landing comply with the general intent of the B-3 zone for the physical development of the area? YES/NO
• SUP Applicant’s stormwater management plan provides only 1.02 inches of stormwater runoff storage; therefore, it does NOT comply with state (https://deq.nc.gov/media/5081/download) and, in particular, Manteo zoning ordinance requirements (Article 17.7 at https://library.municode.com/nc/manteo/codes/zoning?nodeId=ARTXVIISTMA) that mandate stormwater runoff storage of 1.5 inches for developments that drain into high quality waters (SC-HQW) like those adjacent to the proposed Salt Meadow Landing site where shellfishing is currently permitted.
• SUP Applicant’s 2022 stormwater runoff plan that stores 1.02 inches of runoff does not comply with 2006 approval that mandates 1.50 inches of runoff storage. Nonetheless, Applicant is, without explanation, asking for renewal of the 2006 approval.
• Environmental expert, John Anderson, testified that historical rainfall data and the Applicant’s stormwater management plan suggest that 7 times per year, on average, Salt Meadow Landing’s stormwater overflow pipe will direct stormwater containing a variety of pollutants into high quality (SC-HQW classified) waters and an estuary that nurse Shallowbag Bay wherein at least three threatened or endangered species have been observed.
• SUP Applicant has made no prima facie case demonstrating that its “approved” 2006 plan complies with the 2022 ordinance because facts stipulated in the quasi-judicial hearing demonstrate the opposite (See following bullet).
• SUP Applicant’s 2022 plan differs substantially from the expired 2006 plan the Applicant seeks to renew. Applicant cites expired, >16-year old approval of a project plan (dated 5/23/2006) and is asking for its renewal even though the 2022 application is fundamentally different from the approved 2006 application. In the respective applications, there are differences in inclusionary housing, commercial square footage, residential types, business mix and, most importantly, stormwater management plans.
(4) Does Salt Meadow Landing contribute architecturally to the traditional village-like atmosphere of historic Manteo? YES/NO
• Applicant has NOT provided a prima facie case that Salt Meadow Landing will contribute architecturally to Manteo’s village-like atmosphere. Applicant has NOT offered illustrations of buildings or evidence that Salt Meadow Landing will be constructed in the Manteo Way of Building that the B-3 ordinance requires.
• Applicant has NOT offered evidence as to how Salt Meadow Landing will convey Manteo’s heritage as an historic town or contribute to the aesthetics of Manteo’s entryway.
• In 2022, a “village atmosphere” dedicates space to resident and community activities. The Salt Meadow Landing plan is overly dense; it lacks open space for and a commitment to resident and community activities.
• “Pedestrian scale” is defined as site and building design elements that are dimensionally less than those intended to accommodate automobile traffic, flow and buffering (https://www.lawinsider.com/dictionary/pedestrian-scale). In 2022, a “village atmosphere” at “pedestrian scale” de-emphasizes vehicles that are generally directed to the perimeter of mixed-use villages. In contrast, the Salt Meadow Landing plan is vehicle-centric; its core is dedicated to vehicles instead of pedestrians.
• In 2022, a “village atmosphere” is indicative of a place that people can walk to and experience. Given its close proximity to busy major highways, 2-mile distance from downtown waterfront and the undeveloped nature of Russell Twiford Road, (no sidewalks, etc.), the Applicant has NOT offered evidence as to how Salt Meadow Landing will deliver the village and safe-scale pedestrian atmosphere that modern mixed-use developments aspire to, and the B-3 ordinance requires.
(5) Does Salt Meadow Landing comply with all other regulations contained in this [B-3] ordinance? YES/NO
• The B-3 ordinance requires that residential space lie above retail space in all buildings. The applicant’s plan does not meet the mixed-use intent of the ordinance because it contains 2 large buildings (G and F) devoted solely to commercial activities. Adding additional residential space above commercial space in those buildings is not permitted because the Applicant’s plan already proposes the maximum 22 residences for the buildable acreage in the tract.
• The Applicant’s SUP applicant is inconsistent with every Manteo Long Range Plan (1982, 2002 and the 2022 Update) that has emphasized that, in order to sustain the Town’s quality of life, convey a village atmosphere and maintain an aesthetic entryway, the Town needs to protect its natural resources and control growth.
• The Applicant’s plan offers no evidence that Salt Meadow Landing enables the village-like atmosphere or contributes to the aesthetically-pleasing entryway advocated in Manteo’s Long-Range Plan.
• Salt Meadow Landing replaces a riparian buffer. The Applicant’s plan and inadequate stormwater management system fails to demonstrate how Salt Meadow Landing will protect critical natural resources that Manteo’s seeks to preserve, e.g. mitigating the riparian buffer it replaces.
• The Applicant has offered no prima facie detailing why Salt Meadow Landing would not compete with downtown Manteo businesses and undermine the “vibrant Main Street” economic development strategy that Manteo is embracing.
SUMMARY POINTS FROM THE QUASI-JUDICIAL HEARING
1. Using unsupported assumptions in a generic traffic model, the SUP Applicant meaningfully underestimated Salt Meadow Landing’s vehicular traffic, its parking requirements and public safety risks that the development’s traffic will create. For a development exerting so much potential impact on Manteo’s entryway and 1.93 square miles, the traffic study submitted by the Applicant was insufficient in: (a) the quantity of data submitted and (b) the lack of depth in the study’s analyses. For example, no sensitivity analysis for effects of the development’s business mix on traffic was offered and the study provided no analysis or narrative describing parking requirements needed for the proposed business/residence mix.
2. Salt Meadow Landing’s stormwater management plan is inadequate because: (a) Stormwater pollution from the development threatens the adjoining estuary and high quality (HQW) waters, (b) fails to meet Manteo stormwater management requirements (Section 17.7 of the zoning ordinance) and (c) falls far short of stormwater storage requirements in the expired 2006 approval for development at 0 Russell Twiford Road.
3. Although required by the B-3 ordinance, the Applicant failed to offer evidence that Salt Meadow Landing maintains or enhances adjoining property values.
4. Although required by the B-3 ordinance, the Applicant failed to offer evidence that Salt Meadow Landing will contribute to Manteo’s historic village atmosphere, operate at pedestrian scale and conform to the Manteo Way of Building.
5. Although Manteo’s Long-Range Plan is published and updated, the Applicant offered no evidence detailing how Salt Meadow Landing aligns with the Long-Range Plan, when the preponderance of the evidence suggests that Salt Meadow Landing is inconsistent with both the Long-Range Plan and Manteo’s vibrant Main Street economic development strategy.
6. The B-3 zoning ordinance requires residences over retail in every building; the Applicant’s plan fails to meet the ordinance requirement because it includes two large buildings that lack residences and are entirely commercial.
7. The 2022 Salt Meadow Landing plan differs substantially from an expired, 16-year old, 2006 plan that the developer seeks to renew. For example, the 2022 plan does not include inclusionary housing found in the 2006 plan and the 2022 stormwater management plan’s runoff storage (1.02 inches) is substantially below the 1.5-inches of stormwater storage approved in 2006. It is important to note that North Carolina statutes do not preclude local stormwater requirements that are more rigorous than state requirements.
8. For more than a year, the Salt Meadow Landing developer has consumed enormous amounts of valuable time and Town of Manteo resources proffering a plan that: (a) unquestionably offers insufficient detail, (b) undeniably fails to meet known zoning requirements and (c) is inconsistent with Manteo’s Long-Range Plan.
9. Given its plethora of shortcomings, the Salt Meadow Landing OBX LLC SUP application should be denied outright without conditions and not reconsidered in similar form. Given its position on the landscape and close proximity to natural resources critical to Manteo, the best use for the 0 Russell Twiford Road property, if it must be developed, continues to be single family homes.