Residents voice apprehension over Currituck County growth: ‘I’m now very concerned’

Published 9:58 am Sunday, May 7, 2023

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Currituck commissioners spent the majority of their May 1 regular meeting hearing citizens’ concerns about the growth in the county and what was being done to slow it down.

“When I grew up here this was a truly rural community. We were safe. I’m now very concerned,” said the first speaker to share in public comment, James Mims.

There was agreement among speakers that the county needed to be more proactive in halting growth and limiting development, and providing the infrastructure and services needed to manage the current population.

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“Think of how quickly this county has transformed to what is now far from rural. If this can happen in just 20 years, I do have genuine concern for our children, and where my children are raised. I don’t want them to grow up in a Norfolk, Virginia,” Mims added.

Several parents connected the growth in the county to a greater need for school resource officers in the elementary schools. After the tragic elementary school shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee, parents are more concerned than ever that protection be provided for students from outside threats.

“The fact is that this growth is coming more quickly. I can’t imagine how many more families are going to be part of the elementary schools and I struggle to understand why all of [the new development] gets approved when we cannot properly protect the kids that are here and enrolled in our elementary schools,” said Kelsey Robarts.

“I feel personally when I drop my kids off every day they’re essentially sitting ducks. And as a parent that doesn’t sit very well,” she said.

Generally, SROs have been placed in middle and high school students to manage student conflicts, drug possession or the threat of a student bringing a weapon to school. Currituck parents feel that elementary schools are now prime targets for violence from outsiders because they are unprotected. Due to budget restrictions, the county’s position has been that there is no money in the budget to hire additional SROs.

Because the Currituck County is a “tier three” county financially, which is considered the best position, they are ineligible for some state grants. The county has hired a lobbying firm to work on their behalf in Raleigh to try to get additional state funding for things like schools

“The population is growing tremendously in our county,” said parent Jamie Thompson, who provided commissioners with a petition from over 350 parents requesting that the county amend its budget to place an SRO in every elementary school. “Let’s get ahead of the problem and start protecting our children and our teachers now.”

One of the ways Currituck County is trying to control growth is by implementing a one-acre minimum lot size, thereby restricting large developments. Commissioners held a work session prior to the meeting to discuss the idea, and most voiced approval of the change.

Commissioner Selina Jarvis said that increasing the minimum lot size is “just one tool in the toolbox” to manage growth, and while the county cannot stop the growth, there are options available to “do better than we’ve done.”

In a fired-up speech that drew applause from the audience, Jarvis said, in reference to workforce housing needs: “Every time I have a conversation with someone in Dare County they mention ‘my neck of the woods,’ Lower Currituck, and how they would love to find some land to put workforce housing. And it disgusts me that they are not willing to solve their own problems … I will fight for Lower Currituck with all that I have. Workforce housing for Dare County is something that I will never, ever, ever sign onto in Lower Currituck.”

In his monthly report, Chairman Bob White responded to the issue of growth in the county.

“This is America. And as part of that right, as part of a citizen of this great nation, you have a right to live where you want to live, and to own property. As we talk about development and growth, we have to keep that in mind. There are a lot of people in this room who came here from somewhere else … we are a melting pot at the end of the day and we exhibit all those things that is America.”

To all of those residents in the room concerned about the county’s ability to sustain the growth he said, “We’ve heard you, and we’re working through that.”

“You want us to be prudent in this process. If we move too fast we’ll make mistakes,” White said.

In the few minutes remaining of the meeting, commissioners voted to approve the Parks and Recreation master plan presented by McGill Consulting at the April 3 meeting, and to approve board appointments.

The board then went into a closed session to discuss the option of purchasing 2.93 acres at 129 Maple Road in Maple.