By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on May 6, 2021
The Manteo Board of Commissioners on May 5 unanimously voted to return to the Manteo Planning Board a zoning text amendment application by SAGA Construction that would allow the company to build a 72-unit apartment complex dedicated to workforce and student housing.
The move means the fate of a project that has generated considerable public interest — on both sides — is still unclear. Slated for a four-acre property between U.S. 64 and Russell Twiford Road, the proposal for the project comes at a time when the workforce housing shortage on the Outer Banks has reached crisis levels.
The move by commissioners comes on the heels of a unanimous Planning Board recommendation on March 9 that the application to make changes to the B-3 Entrance Zone district be denied. In the meantime, SAGA returned to the town with additional changes to its application to address concerns that board had raised regarding the lack of density limitations and affordability requirements not addressed in the original text amendment proposal.
“It’s imperative that the planning board get a complete package and not just a piecemeal of a project,” Commissioner Christine Walker said before the vote. For her part, Board Vice Chair Betty Selby urged SAGA to produce whatever information the planning board needs as soon as possible.
“It needs to be addressed quickly,” Selby said of the project. “It is crucial and if the ball is in the town of Manteo, I guess that means we have to deal with it.”
If the project moves forward, the proposed complex would consist of three buildings with 24 units per building. SAGA is partnering the Taft-Mills Group, a developer of affordable housing communities in North Carolina, and if the complex is approved for low-income housing tax credits, SAGA Chief Executive Officer Sumit Gupta has said that the units will be rented for less than $1,000 per month.
The project has sparked significant community interest since it was proposed. In late April, the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce released a statement soliciting community support for the project, and during the May 5 public hearing, both Dare County Board of Commissioners Chair Bob Woodard and Vice Chair Wally Overman urged the Manteo commissioners to move forward with the project.
Through emails and during the public hearing, dozens of community members offered impassioned opinions in favor and against the project. For her part, Nancy Harvey, of Nancy Harvey Designs Inc. in Manteo, voiced support for the project in an email to town commissioners.
“We need workers, laborers, teachers and skilled craftsmen and women,” she wrote.
“Not everyone can afford a luxury home here in OBX. To make our economy work, we need all kinds of people. We need affordable housing or risk losing our reputation of pristine beaches, and friendly family establishments.”
The project, however, has prompted significant opposition among residents in The Peninsula, a neighborhood near the property.
“Thirty-four families own homes and/or property in the Peninsula Subdivision,” wrote John Anderson, who added that the project would be built very close to the only entrance and exit to his neighborhood. “Your forthcoming decision will impact all of them.”
Nicol Thrash, an employee at Manteo Middle School, was one of the speakers during the public hearing to throw her support behind the proposed project. “I see people losing houses,” she said. “I am in the school system and I see children and families coming and going in two or three months because they can’t afford to stay here.”