Nags Head says ‘no’ to drive-through Starbucks

Published 2:04 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2024

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After months of discussion on the Nags Head planning board and the board of commissioners, a decision was made at the January 3 commissioners meeting to deny a request from Outlets Nags Head for a drive-through Starbucks.

The current ordinance states that drive-through restaurants are not allowed in commercial mixed use developments. Attorney Crouse Gray submitted a request on behalf of Outlets Nags Head to amend the Unified Development Ordinance that would change this.

As the law stands now, drive through restaurants are only allowed in the C-2 Commercial District, and even then only through a special use process.

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The issue is not the Starbucks itself, it is the drive-through portion.

At the December 6 commissioners meeting, some members of the board expressed concern over the potential traffic a drive-through would create at Outlets Nags Head. However, the text amendment the board was considering was not specific to one particular location; if passed it would apply to the entire zoning district.

At the December 6 commissioners meeting, Mayor Ben Cahoon said that he is in favor of concentrated development in walkable areas. He pointed out the inconsistency that stand alone drive-throughs are permitted in the surrounding C-2 commercial district. “I can’t find a reason to exclude a use that is permitted all the way around it from being in the middle of it,” he said.

But, aside from the applicant, Mayor Cahoon was the lone voice in the room.

During the public hearing, nine residents spoke up, all in opposition to the text amendment.

Planning board member Molly Harrison reminded commissioners how much effort the focus group invested to create the comprehensive land use plan in 2017. This was a multi-year community-wide effort to determine which uses will promote and protect the character of Nags Head as a relaxed, family-oriented beach town.

“Establishing the character areas in town was very important to not only the committees but also to the citizens who had public hearings and the commissioners who voted on the plan. We all agreed this is how we want our town to look,” Harrison said to commissioners.

“And quite frankly, a major international corporation coming into town and trying to get us to rewrite our plans to fit them into to something we’ve already agreed upon is a little bit insulting … This has the potential to really change our town. We’ve established our character areas and let’s keep them how they are,” she continued.

Planning board chair Megan Vaughan, speaking on behalf of the board, said that they voted unanimously four times in eight months to deny several different versions of the text amendment. “We found no real reason – no compelling reason – to change our UDO,” Vaughn said.

After public comment, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Siers made a motion to deny the text amendment that would allow a drive-through Starbucks at Outlets Nags Head. The motion was quickly seconded by newly elected commissioner Megan Lambert.

“I have a lot I was going to say but given the time constraints and seeing which way this is going I will not say them,” Mayor Cahoon said.

The motion to deny the text amendment passed four to one; Mayor Cahoon being the nay vote, and commissioners Kevin Brinkley and Bob Sanders siding with Siers and Lambert.