Bid to limit sound-front development left hanging

By on September 8, 2013

Zoning limits would affect the Pamilco Jack’s property.

Limits would affect the Pamilco Jack’s property. (Rob Morris)

A move to strictly limit the size and look of stores along the southern Nags Head sound front has stalled after a property owner called it an overreaction to rumors about a new supermarket.

Last month, the Board of Commissioners told planners to look at regulations for retail buildings in a recreational district also zoned for commercial development and hotels.

What they got last Wednesday was a substantial zoning proposal to reduce the allowable size of stores from 40,000 to 15,000 square feet, which would trigger dozens of architectural rules usually applied to residential neighborhoods.

The area includes the Windmill Point property, which is now being used as an open-air events venue and is owned by the town and the Outer Banks Tourism Board.

Also in the area running south of Forbes Street are other large lots owned by the town, three miniature golf courses, a go-kart track, Tanger outlet mall, Miller’s restaurant, a Dairy Queen and Pamlico Jack’s restaurant.

Talk of the changes coincided with speculation that the Pamlico Jack’s property might be sold to make way for a Harris Teeter supermarket.

The rumor went public when a speaker brought it up during the public comment period at the Aug. 7 Board of Commissioners meeting. In response, Commissioner Renee Cahoon said she wanted to see the area maintained as it is with no large structures blocking the view. That led to the directive from the board.

Mike Kelly, the owner of Pamlico Jack’s, said in an interview that the Harris Teeter rumor had no factual basis and the property would be too small for a store that size.

“They never asked me,” he said.

Kelly also spoke at last week’s board meeting, saying that the town needed to make allowances for short-term tourists in a region turning more residential and dominated by weekly cottage rentals. Short-term visitors look for hotels, shopping and restaurants, he said.

Planning and Development Director Elizabeth Teague said the proposal put together by the planning staff and the Planning Board was intended to “look specifically at footprints of buildings.”

She called it a “place holder” to give the Planning Board a starting point to look into zoning with a long-term view.

Zoning of the area started out as commercial. A recreational “overlay” district was added in the 1990s to make allowances for businesses catering to outdoor activities on the soundfront. More recently, the hotel district was layered on in attempt to offset the loss of oceanfront motels and cottage courts to big rental houses. A hotel was never built.

Commissioner Anna Sadler said it made sense to encourage recreational uses on the west-side waterfront but noted a contradiction between zoning to preserve views along the sound and not on the oceanfront.

“Other than our beach accesses, what have we done to maintain the oceanfront vista?” she asked.

Commissioner Susie Walters, noting that private property owners have vested rights and privileges, said the proposal represented a “significant change.”

“When we do that, we change the value of that property,” she said.

Cahoon said her interest was in a longer-term view of how zoning will affect the area.

“I don’t think anybody wants to deny anybody reasonable use of the their property,” she said. “I certainly don’t.”

Other discussion noted that the marshy area along the sound is already subject to state and federal regulations that would tend to limit larger development.

Other than a suggestion from Cahoon that the Planning Board take a broad look at regulations in addition to the footprint of buildings, the issue was left hanging.

“Speaking for me, not for the board,” Mayor Bob Oakes said, “but the planning board jumped a little bit too far too fast, probably.”

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