By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on May 12, 2021
On May 11, for a second time in a few months, the Manteo Planning and Zoning Board unanimously voted to recommend to the Manteo Board of Commissioners that it deny a zoning text amendment that would allow for a 72-unit housing complex on a four-acre property between U.S. 64 and Russell Twiford Road.
SAGA Construction, partnering with affordable housing developer Taft-Mills Group, submitted the application to the town earlier this year for the text amendment, which if approved by commissioners, would allow for 18 units per acre at the site. The proposed amendment changes would also allow for a density bonus that would pave the way for SAGA to build two market-rate apartments for each affordable unit built in the 72-unit complex.
The Planning and Zoning Board rejection came amid concerns that the development was too dense and out of character for the neighborhood – and with questions about whether the two dozen affordable units would be within the financial reach of workers.
The proposal by SAGA has sparked widespread community interest. A May 5 Manteo Board of Commissioners public hearing on the proposal drew more than a dozen speakers and numerous emails for and against the proposal. At that time, the commissioners voted to return to the proposal back to the planning and zoning board for further consideration.
According to the most recent figures offered by the applicant, if approved, the 24 affordable workplace rental units in the complex would range from $1,084 for a one-bedroom to $1,502 for a three-bedroom — with rental rates increasing by 4 percent a year thereafter.
SAGA’s Gupta told the board on May 11 that the piece of property had previously been approved by the town for Salt Meadow Landing, 20,4000 square feet of business and professional space, which he said could amount to a total of 15 businesses. And he suggested that SAGA might go that route if the housing proposal was not approved.
“I proceeded to purchase this property and move forward based on what the current zoning allowed,” Gupta asserted. “So that was my initial approach on this property and that is something we would go back to if this text amendment doesn’t go further.”
He also said it was through conversation with the county and others that the idea emerged that this could be a good site for affordable apartments. “And there’s limited property throughout the county which made me think, ‘Okay, maybe this could be a site for helping to put a dent in this affordable housing crisis.’”
During the public comment portion of the May 11 meeting, John Anderson spoke on behalf of The Peninsula homeowners’ association. That subdivision is adjacent to the proposed complex. Anderson noted that Manteo, per square mile, currently has 229 times more affordable apartments than the remainder of Dare County. With this project, he contended, “You open Pandora’s box for big city development on the doorstep of what Southern Living [magazine] calls the gateway to the Outer Banks.”
As a comparison to what is being proposed by SAGA, Manteo Town Planner Melissa Dickerson pointed to adjacent undeveloped property in unincorporated Dare County.
“I dove in and I researched the existing density for Dare County and found that the county zoning ordinance states the maximum dwelling density for multifamily structures shall not exceed ten units per acre,” Dickerson said. “And I thought that was important to know – that even the county on the adjacent property does not have a density that would allow eighteen units per acre…and this is literally just next door to the site.”
Prior to the vote to deny, Manteo Planning and Zoning Chair Sherry Wickstrom said that if rent increased by four percent every year as proposed, the affordable units in the complex would not stay that way.
“I would hate to have people disappointed thinking that there is this affordability in these twenty-four units and then within a handful of years, it not to be even close to affordable to people,” she asserted.
As for the current renderings of the complex, Wickstrom added, “We can’t say it enough, that we do have this Manteo way of building, and it’s more to us than just architecture. There’s so much that goes into it, there’s history, there’s our customs, there’s tradition.”
Board Member Jamie Daniels made the motion to deny the recommendation. Citing that the proposed text amendment was not consistent with the B-3 Entrance District, Daniels summarized the intent of the district.
“These regulations are designed to encourage historic tourism and provide an appropriate entrance to the one-hundred-year-old town, intended to create a village-like atmosphere of welcome and preserving an aesthetic quality appropriate to a small town,” Daniels said. “But if we look at these twenty-two changes that they are asking for, it does not meet the intent and that’s why I would make a motion to not recommend the approval of the amendments because I feel they are inconsistent with the statements of intent.”
SAGA’s text amendment application will return to the Manteo Board of Commissioners for consideration, likely at its June 2 meeting.