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.


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


  • OBX Owner

    WHO is going to enforce the one car allowed for each bedroom?
    36 two-bedroom houses and 24 three-bedroom houses equals 144 bedrooms and each bedroom is only going to have one person? Whoever came up with that plan is in another world!
    60 homes with 144 cars on ten and one half acres means these houses will be one on top of the other and when there is a fire the fire engines will not be able to make it down the streets lined with all the extra cars.
    What number of people per unit was used to figure water and sewer needs? I bet it’s not 1 per bedroom!
    Oh well more traffic on a two lane road.

    Thursday, Feb 9 @ 11:15 pm
  • ed

    For Mr. Stewart and John Harris and other local business owners whining about not having employees. That is capitalism. If you can’t afford to pay more than another local business to attract employees, then you have a failing business. Is it really up to the government to make up the shortcomings for your business idea that did not pan out? No it is not. You did not succeed. You failed. Businesses fail every day because they cannot make enough money to operate. You want employees? EARN them, or shut down your bad idea. Quit trying to be socialists when you need help and entrepreneurs other times.

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 8:52 am
  • Chief Wanchese

    How many of these new residents of be will be working age local people who are actually in the local workforce?

    How many will be new residents to Dare County who are not in the workforce, who just increase the demand for services and make our workforce housing problems even worse?

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 11:17 am
  • Obxer

    Ed…. what business or businesses do you own? Just curious?

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 3:30 pm
  • Sean

    What the cost for year round rent ?
    Is this going to house people that work here or is it gonna be whoever will rent?

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 3:32 pm
  • Ted Midgett

    If commissioners approve this, they can all look for new jobs! What would have been the decision if it was Manteo involved?

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 4:30 pm
  • ed

    Obxer… my primary business is called SATOLOBPPOLTBWTCLTTPSCGBWSLSBMSHNNN, Inc.

    (Sick and tired of local old boys putting pressure on local taxpayers by whining to county leadership that their precious 7.25/hr sweatshop can’t get by without slave labor so build me some housing now now now!)

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 4:53 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Ed, how do you pronounce the name of your business?

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 8:20 pm
  • Hal McCray

    The Dare County Commissioners are hiding behind the Planning Board to do their dirty work. Affordable, “cluster” housing isn’t zoned for their neighborhoods or any of the municipalities. This illustrates the lack of respect they have for those in rural areas that try to protect their communities and heritage. Shame!

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 6:04 pm
  • Eric

    This is hilarious on both sides. They are within the right to build these most people complaining have the mentality of most homeowners here, “I have mine but you can’t have yours”. On the other side, this is a perfect lesson showing that elected “officials ” don’t give a damn about what the people who got them elected think.

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 7:09 pm
  • mom

    sadly, the only answer for local businesses is to provide housing for their seasonal employees and with the price of real estate, who can afford this?

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 7:44 pm
  • Ed

    Mark, being serious for a moment, how much traction do you think a local business wage/salary study/report could get? Name names. Rank them. Highlight those who are leaders and let people know which ones are still cheap and hiding behind the horrible state minimum wage?

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 8:31 pm
  • Wise Leaders

    Chief Wanchese was a wise leader of his Roanoke tribe. After he learned their ways of property developers like Raleigh and Grenville he was rightly wary and he urged resistance against them in order to protect his people and preserve their way of life.

    Wise leaders were rare back then, 450 years later they are still hard to find.

    Friday, Feb 10 @ 10:35 pm
  • Michael

    I agree with most arguments from my wanchesers but please don’t use wildlife as a reason not to do it. That land is not some wildlife heaven. Traffic issues and others yea but not wildlife. With Jon Johnson rubbing his hands together and cutting every tree down he can find, I don’t ever hear the animal excuse when he’s changing wanchese and manteo dramatically. Stay on the main reasons so they take us seriously. If our reasons are “ all of our bald eagles will fly away” lol that’s not going to work.

    Saturday, Feb 11 @ 8:31 am
  • Goldwater Conservative

    Thank you Ed. Somebody had to say it. I bet you’re a great conversationalist

    Saturday, Feb 11 @ 11:43 am
  • Fhärt Rõquét

    We need housing, we don’t want this housing, create housing now, I don’t want this housing in my backyard…

    Would people seriously make up their minds?

    Sunday, Feb 12 @ 2:27 pm
  • GT705

    If the premise is that “local workers should live locally,” and employers want more and better workers, then employers should either provide or build local housing for them, or pay to transport workers from neighboring counties. This is a business problem for businesses to solve, not a government problem for governments to solve.

    Sunday, Feb 12 @ 8:15 pm
  • Sharon Spencer

    I’m very concerned about the lack of tolerance for more affordable housing. Where do our children live to raise their families? And our grandchildren? Where will our teachers live? Doctors, nurses, firefighters, police? Is the Outer Banks to become only a place for visitors? And where will workers live who provide the services that tourists want? There has to be a balance. This “not in my backyard” attitude that many have exhibited is not going to solve the housing problem. We don’t live in our yesterdays. To go forward we must look forward.

    Sunday, Feb 12 @ 9:29 pm
  • pat nash

    they can live in East Lake …plenty of room in East Lake …it is still dare county and a straight shot over the bridge to the beach and work..why is that so hard why do they have to disrupt already settled communities and neighborhoods….and the traffic on wanchese rd is already ridiculous..!!East Lake is the way to go ..DUH!

    Monday, Feb 13 @ 9:34 pm
  • David Rohde

    Wanchese residents want special protection not afforded the rest of Dare Co. residents

    Tuesday, Feb 14 @ 6:17 am
  • GT705

    Pat Nash, that is another strong idea toward a solution. There would be minimum disruption as you mentioned, a much lower cost, more design flexibility, and more potential for growth when necessary. Also, if a lot more workers are needed, then the model from the Norfolk naval shipyard can be followed. Hundreds of workers are transported there daily from outlying areas like Elizabeth City.

    Tuesday, Feb 14 @ 8:40 am