Dare commissioners hear from Wanchese citizens

Published 5:35 pm Friday, April 7, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting room was jammed with folks from Wanchese on April 3, 2023. Another room where the meeting was live-streamed held more people.

The attendee count was estimated at 150 people.

On this evening, the Dare commissioners held a quasi-judicial hearing on the application for a special use permit for cluster housing off Old Wharf Road in Wanchese.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

The applicant, Brad Alexander, his attorneys and experts who would testify occupied a row and part of another up front.

The application was filed Oct. 21, 2022 and was reviewed by the Dare County Planning Department and fire marshal. 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. Over 100 people attended that meeting.

The Planning Board approved the draft special use permit with an amendment and forwarded the project to the Board of Commissioners.

Initially, the quasi-judicial hearing was set for March. However, no traffic study was completed and the hearing was pushed forward.

Public comment started about 6 p.m. The formal hearing started around 8:30 p.m. and was recessed at 10:30 p.m. The commissioners will take up the issue again May 1, 2023 at 5 p.m.

Some 35 speakers approached the podium during public comment to passionately offer views and suggestions.

Following public comment, the applicant had an opportunity to offer information about the project. Attorney Lloyd C. Smith Jr., with Pritchett & Burch, PLLC, in Windsor, asked questions of sworn witnesses.

Public Comment

Speakers addressed Wanchese village and what they saw as problems with the proposal.

Quality of Life. “We are a community,” said Pixie Wescott. She said if you had a problem, the “casserole patrol” would put dinner on the porch and that the prayer chain had all the news. “They know each other” and their horses and dogs.

“I know my neighbors,” said Kobe Beasley. He described a village without sidewalks where roads are used for walking and riding bikes, scooters and horses.

Johnnie Robbins Jr. commented that he’s seen changes, but Wanchese has remained much the same. “This project as planned does not fit.”

Amy Stone commented that nothing has changed about housing needs in this county in 40 years. “We’re not the solution to this problem.”

Process change. From the beginning, the Wanchese community has complained about the notice provisions for the 2018 and 2019 zoning changes that permitted cluster housing.

Joey Daniels said the 2018 zoning changes were made “without us being involved.” It “wasn’t done the right way.”

For two years, Wanchese worked to craft its dozen zoning districts. The plan was adopted by the Dare County Board of Commissioners in 2006. The zoning program received multiple awards.

The same process was followed for use-specific zoning in Manns Harbor and Mashoes. At public comment, Robin Mann said the changes were made with no community involvement. She passionately opposes cluster housing. “Consider undoing cluster development until the issue is given consideration by the community.”

Alternatives. The first speaker voiced an alternative: tally up what’s been spent and give the information to the [Wanchese Preservation] Alliance with time to raise the money, said Justin Bateman.

“We can just settle,” said Rex Mann. “We don’t have to sue you.”

“The right thing to do is send it back of the Planning Board,” said Lorraine Tillett. “Delay the vote. Amend the zoning ordinance to respect the will of the people.”

Laurie Tillett urged the commissioners to put the zoning back to the way it was. “Six homes on one acre. That’s absurd.”

Stormwater. The North Carolina Coastal Federation submitted substantive comments regarding the design of the project’s stormwater system. The federation recommends denying the special use permit because the applicant’s stormwater management system “may result in chronic flooding that could threaten public safety, health and welfare.”

The federation’s licensed professional engineer analyzed the proposed system. “An improper formula was used to calculate runoff volumes, and the plan incorrectly classified soils as being ‘highly pervious’ and assumes an infiltration rate of 20-inches per hour.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service Web Soil Survey shows the Icaria and Johns soil series to have a maximum permeability of two inches per hour.

In addition, the federation notes that no site-specific infiltration data was provided in the documents submitted to the Dare County Planning Board dated March 16, 2023.

That analysis also questions the 6.5-foot contour area as it does not allow for two feet of separation from the seasonal high water table.

States the letter, “it is not clear from the provided plans how this project would manage a storm over 4.3 inches.”

Septic System. In her remarks, Sybil Ross charged that the development would hurt the aquifer that is recharged from Wanchese rain.

Lynn Davis said, “I have some issues with it.” He said two of the six wastewater treatment systems are directly across from his home and four seem to discharge into ditch that goes to the sound. “I really don’t want this.”

Traffic. There will be “a lot of traffic on Old Wharf Road. We do not need that,” remarked Chetty Parker.

Additional Items. Jade Midgett objected to cutting down trees. “Those trees drink up a lot of that water.” She remarked that Brinkly Road is a one-lane road with a deep ditch.

“Emergency services are not equipped to handle this development,” said Lindsey Kee.

Craig Parker used the forum to lobby for an ambulance. He remarked that a person needing to go to the hospital is delivered faster in a private vehicle than the county ambulance. “Something is wrong with 911 service.”

Two people spoke in favor of the project.

Tom Stewart, a business owner, previously reported he had 50 full-time employees and 200 seasonal people. Housing is not available.

Jenine Emery remarked about proposed affordable housing projects turned down by Nags Head and Manteo. “It’s time to move forward and get something started here.”

During public comment, two men were moved to pray and were granted permission. Mitchell Bateman raised up commissioner Jim Tobin in prayer and Will Brooks offered prayer.