Battle brews over cluster home project in Wanchese

By on January 26, 2023

Dare Planning Board to evaluate proposal at Feb. 7 meeting

Site of the proposed cluster home development in Wanchese.

With a key Feb. 7 Dare County Planning Board meeting looming, some Wanchese residents are voicing firm opposition to a proposed 60-unit cluster home development on a 10.5-acre parcel of land off Old Wharf Road.

“I understand we need housing, but this is not the way to go about it,” said Belinda Fulton, who has helped organized a petition drive against the project. “This is not looking out for the locals if [the developer] is renting 30/60/90 days. You can’t have a stable family environment with a constant transient development.”

Another Wanchese resident, who asked not to be identified, was among the estimated 75-100 people who attended a community meeting on the issue at the Wanchese Community Center on Jan. 17.

“I’m not opposed to that lot being developed, but at the density that the builder is proposing, it seems reckless and greedy,” the resident said. “The other thing is their proposed septic system requires pumps that run 24/7.”

Dare County Planning Director Noah Gillam said the Wanchese cluster home proposal includes 36 two-bedroom houses and 24 three-bedroom houses with one car allowed for each bedroom. The prospective developer, Brad Alexander of Aria Construction & Development in Creswell, is applying for a special use permit, which will need the Dare County Board of Commissioners’ approval.

Alexander’s company has not yet purchased the parcel of land in Wanchese; “he’s doing his due diligence before closing,” Gillam said. Aria Construction & Development currently owns three parcels of land in Kill Devil Hills and one in Colington, according to county tax information. Alexander also had a nearly $2.4 million, 12-bedroom house in Kill Devil Hills with 12 full bathrooms and two half-bathrooms that was included in the 2019 Outer Banks Parade of Homes. Alexander did not respond to Voice requests for comment.

Dare County ordinances define cluster homes as “more than one residential dwelling on one parcel of land,” with the dwellings “occupied on a long-term basis”— meaning 31 days or more.

Cluster homes cannot exceed 1,200 square feet of heated/conditioned space; must be 15 feet apart and are limited to 30% lot coverage. While ownership can be transferred for individual buildings, the remaining land is considered a common area that belongs to a homeowners’ association or similar entity.

As Gilliam pointed out, unlike recent proposed housing developments that failed to win approval in Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, the Wanchese project does not involve county dollars or a partnership with the developer. But it comes in the wake of county zoning amendments passed in 2018 and 2019 that allow cluster homes in more zoning districts in unincorporated parts of the county—amendments that were part of Dare County’s overall initiative to generate more workforce/essential housing.

Special use permits are issued through quasi-judicial proceedings, where the commissioners’ decision is based on “facts and findings,” separate from the planning board’s process, Gillam noted. “The planning board just makes the recommendation that the conditions of the special use permit are reasonable and appropriate,” he said. “Typically as part of one of the conditions of the special use permit, we make a condition that no building or land-disturbing activity can occur until copies of the applicable permits have been provided to the Dare County Planning Department.”

The Dare County Planning Board will make a recommendation to the commissioners on whether it finds the conditions of the prospective special use permit “reasonable and appropriate”—with one typical condition being that no construction activities can begin until the developer provides all needed permits to the Dare County Planning Department, according to Gillam. While the planning board makes a recommendation, the Dare County Commissioners’ decision is solely based on the “facts and findings” of its quasi-judicial proceeding, Gillam said.

The developer would also need permits from state agencies for stormwater management and for sedimentation and erosion control “because the amount of land he is disturbing is over an acre,” Gillam said.

In discussing her opposition to the project, Fulton referenced the March 2006 Dare County ordinance that established the “Wanchese Residential Zoning District,” which includes the land on which the proposed cluster home development would be built.

According to that ordinance, its intent was “to preserve the traditional family-fishing atmosphere” of the Village of Wanchese while also protecting its environmentally sensitive coastal wetlands. The ordinance encourages single-family residential land use and permits “traditional village business” on the same property, and it promotes “stable, permanent neighborhoods, characterized by low vehicular traffic flows and low impact of development.”

Fulton expressed the view that the ditches between and behind the proposed houses would leave essentially no yard, and if significant sand was added to the development, neighboring homes that are not on pilings would likely flood. She also expressed concern about the addition of 150 vehicles entering and exiting at a point on the road that is a “blind curve.”

Lorraine Tillett, a former Dare County zoning administrator, is also involved in organizing efforts against the cluster home proposal. Nearly two decades ago, she began spearheading the original zoning efforts in Wanchese and she received a Pelican Award from the North Carolina Coastal Federation in 2006 for “outstanding environmental service.” Tillett plans to attend the Feb. 7 planning board meeting, along with many other community members, including Fulton.

“We can’t stop change; we can’t stop growth, but it can be moderate,” Fulton said.



    As a resident very close to that area I know first hand that the land and the roads cannot handle that amount of instant growth. The newest development on Old Wharf is bad enough. Every tree gone. I have lived in Dare County my entire life and yes there should be affordable housing it’s been an issue for 20 something years or more but it needs to be in a community that can handle it. Wanchese is so low and they want open above ground septic. These cluster homes are a mistake. Dare challenge is already building apartment buildings. The great fishing village of Wanchese is being ruined with all the additional homes. My family and I actually look forward to moving away from “home” because what made this place so wonderful for so long is being destroyed.

    Thursday, Jan 26 @ 11:42 am
  • We need change

    The commissioners see tax dollar revenue from the cluster of homes. It’s land that sits vacant, or land that makes money (pushed by the fact that it provides housing.)

    If the commissioners want it, they’ll get it. Gillam works for the commissioners, so what they want out of the quasi judicial meeting is what they’ll get.

    The powers above will push the supervisors below to turn a blind eye and write the permits. Same thing will happen to every empty lot you see on the GIS map. Every tree on the lots will be cut down, trees that absorb water and help prevent flooding.

    The dollars made for today will be the demise of the future of Dare county. It has to be stopped. We need new commissioners and a new county manager that cares about the environment and long term stability of the county. Glad I live on a boat, because it’s all going to be underwater in 20 years.

    Thursday, Jan 26 @ 12:49 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Change, I will say that if we are going to be underwater in 20 years, it’s probably not worth it to talk about the long-term stability of the county.

    Thursday, Jan 26 @ 5:40 pm
  • Jeff Walker

    There’s going to be a tipping point with all these poorly thought out sprawl style developments where local backlash turns ugly. Out of state vacation home owners griping about a pizza place is one thing, but when someone’s yard is turned into an open sewer from a cluster of Airbnbs plopped next door, it’s another matter altogether.

    Thursday, Jan 26 @ 2:35 pm
  • Chris

    @ obxboxer I feel your pain everything you just said is true. Nothing is the same anymore, we all keep saying this but nobody gives a rat’s ass about us anymore. Hate to say it but I bit-the-bullet, left the beach and moved over the bridge

    Thursday, Jan 26 @ 3:39 pm
  • J. Bootj

    Tourists from Virginia come here because their beaches have been ruined by over-development. We are going down the same path. The Outer Banks are sinking and water is rising
    Houses fall into the water every year. Wanchese already floods. It has a 2 lane road for access. Adding a cluster home project is dangerous to the community and the Outer Banks. Potential tourists are valued more than people who have been here for generations.

    Thursday, Jan 26 @ 7:32 pm
  • Tri-Village

    @obxboxer , I am truly sorry it has come to this for you and yours. The over development of our respected towns is out of control. Piss poor leadership blinded by greed has allowed this to happen. The latest phase of Wind over Waves has all but cemented my departure from the Outer Banks. Years ago I said it feels like they want to push people like us out. Judging by comments from previous articles it’s the truth. “Move over the bridges”; but still come here to work. I have also said a complete worker strike on Fourth of July week would show this county what our value is. I’ve recently refrained from making too many comments on the issues of housing and tourism. This county has shit the bed. Only time our officials will realize this is when there’s no one left to change their shat in sheets.

    Thursday, Jan 26 @ 8:20 pm
  • mom

    the only way around this issue for business owners is to provide employee housing like they do in some ski areas. and……that will cost a fortune.

    Thursday, Jan 26 @ 8:35 pm
  • We need change

    I should clarify my opinion of under water. With sea levels rising and water tables following suit, cutting down vegetation that sucks up water, installing more septic systems that add water to the ground… there will come a point when the ground is too saturated to handle on site wastewater systems that we all have in our back/front yard. If the ground is too saturated for septic then you can not live there. Lots will become uninhabitable. I’m not just talking about ocean front or water front lots, it’s a concern for many areas in the county.

    Friday, Jan 27 @ 11:49 am
  • WindyBill

    Only because county Commissioners voted approval is needed to change zoning will I comment on a project that so deeply affects Wanchese. While somewhat higher density worker housing is sorely needed, perhaps the proposal is too high. (But everyone has one don’t they.) A referendum of the registered voters living south of US 64 on Roanoke Island is needed on this serious issue.

    Friday, Jan 27 @ 2:48 pm
  • Ted Midgett

    Make that ALL Wanchese residents! We will fight this!

    Tuesday, Jan 31 @ 10:28 am
  • Cat lady

    When collington harbor develope that wasa good sign of the coming future as was duck and southern shores it was bare land taken over by greedy developers. So they will be gone as well as the place that use to be enjoyable to visit

    Sunday, Feb 5 @ 3:45 pm