Dare Planning Board moves Wanchese project forward

By on February 9, 2023

Dozens at meeting voice opposition to cluster home plan

Part of the overflow crowd at the Feb. 7 Dare Planning Board meeting. (Photo credit: Mark Jurkowitz/OBV)

At a Feb. 7 Dare County Planning Board meeting that included roughly two hours of public comment, the board concluded that a special use permit for a cluster home project in Wanchese “was reasonable and appropriate for the proposed use” and moved the project forward to the county commissioners.


Analysis

The 60-unit project is planned for a 10.5-acre parcel of land off Old Wharf Road in Wanchese. The proposal, by developer Brad Alexander of Aria Construction & Development in Creswell, calls for 36 two-bedroom houses and 24 three-bedroom houses with one car allowed for each bedroom, according to Dare County Planning Director Noah Gillam.

Significant community pushback to the plan has emerged, including a Jan. 17 meeting at the Wanchese Community Center that drew an estimated 75-100 people. That sentiment was very much in evidence at the Feb. 7 Dare Planning Board meeting, where, by the Voice’s count, only two of the nearly three dozen speakers spoke in favor of the project.

The cluster home project differs in significant respects from two other recent projects designed to create more essential/workforce housing in Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head that failed to win necessary community approval.  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 the county’s overall initiative to generate more housing.

At the outset of the Feb. 7 meeting, Planning Board Chair John Finelli offered some perspective on the issue.

“The Dare County Commissioners have made workforce housing one of their priorities and I agree one hundred percent,” he stated. “Our job as the Planning Board tonight is to look at the application and to determine whether or not it complies with the ordinance. We are not here to debate the ordinance.”

What followed in the next two hours was a vivid display of why, rightly or wrongly, the task of building more housing in the county has proved so difficult thus far. The speakers, the vast majority from Wanchese, offered a variety of reasons for their opposition.

A number of speakers complained that they were not adequately informed about the meetings and deliberations leading up to the 2018 county ordinance that paved the way for this project. Others homed in on specific technical aspects of the project, such as cul de sacs that did not provide an adequate turning radius for fire apparatus. Some talked about other traffic problems and safety threats. Some cited wildlife issues, such as the impact on the community’s beloved horses and the fact that bald eagles have recently been seen at the site.

Another prevalent concern was that the project would erode the historical fishing village character of Wanchese, playing into general sentiments voiced often on social media and elsewhere that changes coming to the Outer Banks are transporting it away from its history and legacy.

Asserting that the cluster home development would increase the population of Wanchese by six or seven percent, Wanchese resident Chris Carey told the planning board that while the project “might follow the letter of the law…I don’t believe it follows the spirit.”

Jon Matthews declared that “I think we should build jetties instead of housing,” adding that a key consideration is the “culture, history and heritage of Wanchese.”

In a comment that clearly alluded to an unwelcome change in the community, Patty Callum asked, “Will all the horses be replaced by golf carts?”

Reflecting the sentiments of a number of speakers, Ken Worth state that “I’m not against development. But it needs to be responsible.” Echoed Mindy Ralph: “We need housing. We do. Cut [the cluster home project] in half. Make it smaller.”

The vast majority, if not all of the speakers, received applause and occasional whoops for their remarks from the large crowd on hand in the Dare County Commissioners meeting room.

For the record, one of the two dissenters was Tom Stewart, a Colington business owner who decried the impact of the shortage of workforce housing on staffing issues. “I can’t find [employees], I can’t hire them, I can’t grow my business.”

According to Planning Director Gillam, the board members then discussed the proposal for at least a half hour, also asking questions of developer Alexander and his team, before concluding that the special use permit for the project was “reasonable and appropriate.” (The Voice reporter had to leave the meeting as public comment was concluding.)

It is unclear, Gillam added, whether the Dare Board of Commissioners would take up the issue at its March or April meeting, noting that the developer is having a traffic study conducted.

Whenever the commissioners put the issue on the agenda, it seems likely that they will hear from a number of the same people who spoke on Feb. 7.


SEE ALSO: Battle brews over cluster home project in Wanchese


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Comments

  • 26th Gen Native

    David Rohde; You aint from around here are ya boy.

    Wednesday, Feb 15 @ 10:53 am