Kitty Hawk residents rally behind minimum lot size amendment during emotional public hearing
Published 11:43 am Monday, September 18, 2023
With a full house at the Kitty Hawk Town Council meeting held September 5, the board held a substantial public hearing regarding a text amendment that aimed to treat all wetlands consistently in regard to minimum lot sizes. During the emotional hearing, the council heard from 10 residents, nine of which expressed their support of the proposed amendment.
As it stood, CAMA and/or CRC wetlands could not be counted toward minimum lot size when subdividing new lots in Kitty Hawk. However, other wetlands, such as 404 wetlands, were allowed to be counted towards minimum lot size square footage. The proposed amendment would not allow any wetlands to count towards minimum lot sizes. In other words, newly subdivided lots would be required to have enough uplands area to meet the minimum lot size of the zoning district in which the proposed lot was in.
Rob Testerman, director of planning and inspections, noted as the public hearing began that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision dictated a change as to what is considered jurisdictional wetlands at the federal level by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Additional concerns have been raised that should the proposed text amendment get approval, it may encourage a developer to get a fill permit from the USACE and fill the maximum allowable amount of wetlands prior to applying for a subdivision, which would circumvent the intent of the request.”
In their July 27 meeting, Kitty Hawk’s planning board recommended denial of the proposed amendment in a 3-2 vote.
The proposal’s applicant, Mark Perry, approached the stand to further the discussion about what the amendment aimed to correct: “Right now, the way the rules read in this town, is that you can take a piece of land with a ton of wetlands on it, overlay a grid of 15,000 square foot lots and then you can get a nationwide 18 permit and fill one tenth of an acre of each one of those lots.”
Perry noted the town’s “fiscal responsibility” in maintaining existing wetlands and working to mitigate extensive infrastructure and added density. He made mention to the loss of “a friend and a legend” Michael Gard, who unexpectedly died of an infection contracted in the sound after handling a crab pot. In addition, Perry reported the recently changed rule which allows septic fields to be placed within 15 feet of wetlands. “If the land keeps settling and the water comes up, we don’t want to be sweeping crap under the road.”
The applicant concluded, “… It doesn’t affect people’s property rights, it doesn’t keep people from filling, it doesn’t keep them from subdividing. If it’s legal, you can do it, but what it [the amendment] does keep is irresponsible development and tons and tons of density.”
Several residents came forward to back Perry’s proposal and share their support of the amendment, including Jamie Hines, Wade Tillett, Craig Tillett, Andrea and daughter Violet Windle, Amy Wells, Jesse Hines and Eric Reece.
Jamie Hines expressed concerns regarding destruction of the natural landscape, resources and wetlands with increased density. “It takes a village to save a village,” he stated. Jesse Hines echoed Jamie in wanting to protect Kitty Hawk’s “fragile environment” from over-development. He also mentioned his displeasure in rumors regarding development off Kitty Hawk Road, where a possible 30 houses may be developed where six now stand. “All I’ve seen the water do is rise behind our house, and there’s no development … yet.” He added, “I can’t imagine if they did take that 26 acres … and mow it down and push it over, there would be nowhere for the water to go.”
Jimmy Scarborough took to the stand following Jesse Hines in opposition of the amendment. “We own the 26 acres that everybody’s so worried about being developed,” he said. Scarborough defended the development, sharing, “the houses to the east only come halfway down, we own that much further beyond them down into the border line.” Scarborough said land would be cleared for the road and around the house, but each homeowner will do as they so desire past that. Sharing his hope that the land “will be developed,” Scarborough reported that the land was high and dry, and said that Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Pruitt could advise council on this, as he had walked the area with Scarborough.
Wade Tillett, a septic contractor for the State of North Carolina, approached the stand in support of the amendment. Sharing that he works hand in hand with the health department regularly, Tillett was adamant that the water “is coming up.” He was in favor of “putting a leash” on development as “good lots” are already far and few between.
Last to the podium was seventh grade First Flight Middle School student Violet Windle. In an emotional plea to council, Windle shared her treasured experiences growing up in Kitty Hawk village and her love for the town. “I would hate to see the places I grew up with gone … the places I have in my heart gone,” she said, trying to hold back tears. “I have been back here for as long as I can remember … we have a swamp right by my house, and the water rises, and when the winds pick up, the water rises so much higher. Sometimes, it can get so high that it can go up to your door, especially if there’s a big old strong hurricane that hits.”
Windle continued with concerns of higher traffic volume that would accompany increased building, noting that commuting to and from school would become more challenging. She closed with, “I don’t want to lose this place that I hold so close to my heart.” Not having addressed any of the prior speakers, Mayor Craig Garriss had Violet stay at the stand a moment after finishing her speech. “I’m not taking sides here, this has nothing to do with you being in favor or against this text amendment … I can’t tell you how proud I am of you,” he said. With that, the room erupted in thunderous applause.
Once the council was back in regular session following the public hearing, councilwoman Lynne McClean confirmed with Testerman that the amendment would not need to be revisited if approved. With no further discussion, Garriss motioned to approve the text amendment and all were in favor. The amendment passed unanimously with roaring applause from the crowd.
In addition, the council approved their CAMA land use plan update, which the town in conjunction with Stewart, Inc. had been working on for approximately 10 months. The land use plan can be found on the town’s website at kittyhawknc.gov.
The next Kitty Hawk Town Council meeting will take place on October 2. It will include a public hearing regarding a proposed amendment that would allow placement of digital message boards by, or on behalf of, a government body, in addition to the number of standard signage permitted by the chapter. For more information and updates, visit the town’s website.