Dare commissioners approve Avon cluster housing development

Published 8:08 am Sunday, August 13, 2023

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Dare County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a cluster housing project in Avon.

During public comment, five people from Avon questioned the project.

At the project’s quasi-judicial hearing, commissioners launched probing questions.

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County manager Robert L. Outten framed the debate: has the project as presented met the ordinance requirements?

The original cluster housing ordinance came under severe criticism from a high density project in Wanchese. The result of that development was to eliminate cluster housing from zoning districts in Wanchese and other places like Avon.

However, applicant William David Stowe filed the plan for seven units off Old Main Road before the revocation action on May 17, 2023. As planned, the units will have two bedrooms. Responding to questions, Stowe said the 900-square foot units are intended for essential housing and will rent for $1,500 per month. He agreed to a rental period of one year, rather than the 31 days defined in the ordinance.

Public commenters described the parcel as narrow, with the proposal making it “awful crowded.”

Jim Schultz said the project is “not reasonable” and “doesn’t fit the parcel.”

Ronald Williams handed up 10 pages of signatures of people opposed to the project. He indicated many people were working at the time of the meeting. He asked for a public hearing at the Avon Fire Department.

Chris Hanburger echoed his neighbors’ concerns and called it a “difficult proposal.”

Basil Hooper asked the commissioners “to stop the application for the good of the Avon village community.”

Noah Gillam, Dare County’s planning director, delivered the details about the project, including that the parcel was 1.58 acres or 68,963 square feet, that the buildings were separated by 24 feet, more than the required 15 feet; that the road is 20 feet wide with a 30-foot right-of-way; that two parking spaces were required; and that a space has been added for fire trucks to turn around adjacent to the last house.

One of the 19 conditions in the proposed special use permit requires that “all supplemental State and Federal permits shall be secured prior to ground disturbing activities.” Listed are sedimentation and erosion control, stormwater, environmental health (for the seven septic systems) and CAMA permits. Driveway permits are required from NCDOT.

At this quasi-judicial hearing, two attorneys appeared. David Dixon represented the applicant. E. Crouse Gray represented Jim Coleman, who owns property to the north of the entrance to the project.

Dixon asked Gillam if all requirements had been met. Gillam answered in the affirmative.

Gray had confirmed that the lot coverage requirement was 30% and that the site plan said coverage was 29.63%

Commissioners Rob Ross and Ervin Bateman opened the discussion about the five-foot vegetative buffers on the north and south sides shown on the site plan. As modified, on the north side, Russian olive would be used to create a buffer and would be used to fill in bare spaces on the south side. No one raised the fact that Russian olive is considered an invasive species according to the North Carolina Invasive Plant Council. The issue was raised during consideration of the Wanchese cluster housing project.

Under the county’s parking rules, a parking space is required for each bedroom, one of which must be paved. On the initial site plan, no parking was included for guests as parking on the street is prohibited. Stowe indicated that a third parking space was added.

Ray Meekins with Seaboard Surveying and Planning, Inc. testified.

Meekins said he initially surveyed the site for a four-lot subdivision that was approved.

The cluster housing document submitted is called a “Conceptual Site Development Plan,” which does not require a seal. The identifying block credits the survey work to Seaboard Surveying and Planning, dated Nov. 15, 2021.

He urged the commissioners to deny the special use permit, citing the lack of an up-to-date survey; missing engineering data regarding the amount, if any, of fill; that the stormwater basin is within a septic system repair area; that the five-foot buffers are “completely inadequate;” that a traffic study should be required; that a guy-wire for an electric pole is in the proposed road and no provision is made for moving that.

Gray provided additional information about the property. A copy of the recorded plat shows the square footage of the land at 67,493 square feet. The calculation for the proposal included the canal that runs along the east side of the property. Excluding the canal, the lot coverage is over 30%, to 30.58%.

Board Chairman Robert L. Woodard asked about the guy-wire. Mark Bissell, of Bissell Professional Group, replied he would work with the electric company about relocation.

Outten proposed two new conditions for the special use permit: ensure stability of the pole in question and provide sealed plans to verify lot coverage.

In comments, Gray stated that the application should be denied because the applicant failed to meet the requirements of the ordinance based on (1) lot coverage using only land is 30.58%; the canal was dug by the State of North Carolina and ownership is at issue; and (2) a third parking space does not work to meet the requirements for parking spaces to be 10 feet by 20 feet.

Outten replied that the ordinance does not require a third space.

In his closing argument, Dixon pointed out that three people said the plan meets the ordinance requirements: Gillam and Bissell said yes; Meekins said “I believe it does.”

Commissioner Wally Overman made the motion to approve the special use permit. Added to the draft special use permit were three other conditions: Russian olive would be used on the northern boundary and to fill in the bare spots on the southern boundary; that the stability of the electric pole must be addressed; and the lease term will be one-year. Commissioners Jim Tobin and Rob Ross seconded the motion.

This will be the only cluster housing project in Avon, as the village was excluded from the ordinance May 17, 2023.

To read all 19 of the original conditions to the special use permit, go to darenc.gov, select Departments, then under Board of Commissioners select Agendas, Minutes and Videos and select agenda under the August 7, 2023, meeting date.

All seven commissioners were present for the meeting, as Jim Tobin joined by phone.