Controversial Wanchese project to go forward to Dare commissioners

Published 9:14 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

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On Tuesday night, Feb. 7, 2023, Dare County’s Planning Board listened to passionate defense of Wanchese and questions about a special use permit for cluster housing in the fishing village.

On the agenda were two minor subdivisions, quickly approved, and the special use permit for the Village at Old Wharf Road in Wanchese.

The Dare County commissioners meeting room was filled. At least 109 people sat or stood through the three hours of public comment and board member consideration. Some 31 people spoke to the planning board.

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John Finelli, planning board chairman, had a light gavel. He announced a three-minute time period for comments, but for many speakers the red light flashed indicating time had run out. Finelli asked for speakers to conclude remarks. Most did, but some did not.

Finelli in his opening remarks said the board was “not here to debate the ordinance.”

However, the Wanchese community is passionate about its zoning districts. For two years, the community worked to create zoning districts for its family-fishing village. In 2006, the Wanchese zoning map and districts were adopted by the Board of Commissioners. The zoning program received multiple awards.

The Dare County Board of Commissioners adopted the cluster housing ordinance for unincorporated Dare County in October 2018 and again Sept. 16, 2019.

The 10.53 acre lot for the Village at Old Wharf Road is in the VR, Village Residential Zone.

“There’s no other place like it,” said Lorraine Tillett, who worked on the village zoning plan.

She, along with others, said they had no knowledge of the cluster housing amendments. “It is just not right.”

Brimage Silver said she was never made aware of the zoning change.

Joey Daniels said the zoning change was “underhanded.” He said “it wasn’t fair the way it was done.”

“We can change this. Let’s do it,” said Laurie Tillett. She called the proposed development “crazy” and commented “this is wrong for Wanchese.”

At the end of public comment, board chairman Finelli said he was not happy with the statements that people didn’t know about the cluster housing amendments. He implied that the notification rules would be scrutinized.

He said “we do not approve or disapprove” ordinances. Sometimes, the board can bring up conditions, commented Finelli.

Speakers gave the board comments about the proposal.

The first speaker supported the project. Tom Stewart, a business owner, said he had 50 full-time employees and 200 seasonal people. Housing is not available. “I have room for more. I can’t grow my business.”

Several major themes developed from the comments:

– About stormwater, the project proposes swales and retention ponds. About ponds, Ralph Barile said “they never work.”

Mitchell Bateman called for child protection fences around the retention ponds. He raised a basic question: where are children going to play? No playground is shown on the plans.

Denise Davis said she was “very concerned about stormwater.”

The engineer working with the project, David Neff with House Engineering in Kitty Hawk, said the basins were dry, which elicited audience laughter. Neff said the basins were a foot and half deep and capable of absorbing eight inches of rain, about double what’s required. Additionally, all the basins are connected, so that if one is over capacity, the overage drains to another one.

– The safety of the entrance. Four speakers addressed this issue specifically. One entrance is proposed for the 60-house development. Speakers described the entrance as on a “blind curve.” Jennifer Davenport said the road at that location was already dangerous.

“The entrance is in a horrible place,” said Ken Worth.

Neff responded that the applicant has hired VHB, a firm out of Raleigh, to conduct a traffic impact analysis, which will be forwarded to the state’s transportation department, which must approve the report.

– Septic system. Michael Basnight, speaking for his mother, voiced concern about the environmental impact of the septic systems. The plans show 10 houses attached to one septic system. Basnight asked for a multi-year study or a something managed by the county.

Chris Carey also expressed doubts. He asked “will wastewater treatment work?”

Neff said the system is called a TS-2 System. The installation requires an operator.

– Landscaping. The landscaping plan as submitted calls for using Japanese privet. Chris Carey pointed out that Japanese privet is an invasive species.

The plant is listed as invasive in North Carolina by Invasive Plant Atlas of the MidSouth; Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States; North Carolina Forest Service; North Carolina Invasive Plant Council; North Carolina Native Plant Society (Significant Threat); and North Carolina State University, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources.

The plant’s removal from the landscaping plan is covered in draft Condition 13 which states in part: “The vegetative buffer shall consist of the existing hardwoods present, and be reinforced with indigenous deciduous and/or evergreen trees, and indigenous dense shrubs.”

Jon Matthews and Craig Parker noted they observed bald eagles on the property.

Both men also stressed the heritage of Wanchese, fearing the development would destroy the fishing village. Matthews said Wanchese is one of the oldest fishing villages in the country. Said Parker, “this island is history! … Rethink this thing.”

“We the people are against this thing,” said Barry Holt.

Chris Carey opined, as outlined, the project may follow the letter of the law, but may not follow the spirit of the law.

“Save our village,” pleaded Lorraine Tillett.

Finelli asked that Dare County planner Noah Gillam present his staff report, which he did.

The board chairman provided applicant Brad Alexander with Aria Construction and Development an opportunity to speak. Alexander is represented by the law firm of Pritchett & Burch, PLLC, Windsor, and David Neff with House Engineering, who offered previously referred to explanations.

Planning board member David Hines asked about homeowner association documents, specifically who is going to pay.

Alexander responded that the documents are being worked on. He commented most of the houses will be sold.

Board member Terry Gore asked about the entrance location. Neff responded that Sheet 4 of the plans shows clearing vegetation and trees will provide a “football field” line of sight in both directions.

When Gore visited the site, he saw pooled and standing water. Neff responded that a restrictive layer of soil is present and that once removed, as is planned, sandy soil is present.

Gore asked about the ownership of septic system. Who is the contact for any problem? At the beginning, it will be Alexander. When 51% of the houses are sold, the president of the homeowners association would be responsible.

Gillam read the draft special use permit, to which Alexander agreed.

However, Hines asked for another condition to be added. The condition to be included in the homeowner documents requires the developer to provide the cost of maintenance fees for septic, stormwater and roads.

Finelli made the motion to forward the special use permit application, revised conditions, including the Hines addition and site plans. Board member Buddy Shelton seconded the motion.

In discussion, Gore said the project met requirements of the ordinance. He urged Alexander to work with local community.

Responding to allegations, Alexander said “I am not a cheap builder. I’m not going to do a development that tarnishes my name.”

Board member David Overton commented that the project “met the requirements of what’s on paper.” He said to Alexander “you need to sit down and rethink this whole process.”

At the end, the six planning board members present voted to send the project forward.

At the very start of the meeting, the board quickly approved two minor subdivisions:

The Lorraine H. Burrus subdivision at 57961 Pricilla Curve Road in Hatteras village was approved. The parcel number is 01553800. The total site area is 4.732 acres and is divided into two lots, the smallest of which is 56,635 square feet. No new road improvements are need to access the lots. All applicable permits are to be obtained and a copy provided to the Dare County Planning Department.

A five-lot subdivision at Murray Bay, 52185 Mare Vista Drive in Frisco. The parcel number is 14896000 which shows ownership by Murray O. Clark, of West Palm Beach, Fla. The total site area is 2.1 acres. The smallest lot is 16,386 square feet. A 20-foot access easement will be improved to handle emergency and trash collection vehicles. All lots are vacant except one which has a single-family dwelling and two manufactured homes.