Nags Head Board tables proposed zoning changes

By on March 3, 2023

Jeff Pavlak, left, spoke in favor of the rezoning. Elliot Katherman said rezoning would gut his property value. (Photos by Corinne Saunders/OBV)

Businesspeople, property owners turn out for March 1 hearing

On the morning of March 1, more than 80 people squeezed into the board room for the Nags Head Board of Commissioners meeting. Almost all of them were there for the hearing on a proposed rezoning of the C-2 zoning district—the general commercial district located between U.S. 158 and N.C. 12 from Danube Street to Hollowell Street. And opinions varied widely.

Various businesspeople characterized the proposal, by which many longstanding businesses would become non-conforming uses,  “unfair,” “down-zoning” and “a kiss of death.”

Many Historic Cottage Row and other C-2 property owners along N.C. 12, meanwhile, spoke in favor of the rezoning.

After over three hours dedicated to the issue, including an hour of public comment, the commissioners decided more work needed to be done. They voted to send the proposed zoning amendments with some additional ones that planning staff presented during the meeting back to the planning board for review and inclusion.

The movement to rezone the town’s C-2 commercial district accelerated last fall when the Woda Cooper Company—a partner with the county is in its efforts to build more essential housing—proposed a 54-unit housing development for the corner of Hollowell Street and U.S. 158 across from Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Amid considerable community opposition, the town commissioners last October voted to enact a 150-day development moratorium in the town’s historic character area that includes the 4.6-acre Hollowell Street parcel.  In January 2023, the board approved a zoning text amendment to remove multifamily residences as a permitted use in the town’s C-2 General Commercial District.

Going into the March 1 commissioners meeting, the town planning board had recommended that commissioners split the C-2 district into multiple sections of alternating high-density R-3 residential and the newly proposed C-5, “historic character commercial zoning district.”

That proposed C-5 zoning district, as initially presented in town documents, would be more stringent in its allowable uses. Everything from fire stations and indoor public assembly facilities to fueling stations and shopping centers would not be permitted under the proposed new zoning regulations.

Brew Thru, Kitty Hawk Kites at Jockey’s Ridge Crossing, Keeper’s Galley Event Space, the Barn at Keeper’s Galley, the Duck Thru Food Store, 7-Eleven, Surfside Plaza and Station 20 (a fire station) and the lifeguard station in Nags Head were some existing entities listed as “not permitted” in this proposed C-5 district documents.

Town documents did not outline the rezoning impacts on businesses categorized as nonconforming uses. However, comments from local businesspeople during the meeting suggested that their businesses would have not been able to expand and would have had a more difficult time securing business loans from banks.

During the public hearing, some Nags Head residents suggested delaying action on an issue of such significance.

“Let’s slow down and make sure we do this thing right,” said Bobby Edwards, a former Nags Head mayor.

“It’s a bad look; it looks like a few property owners are driving the debate,” said Courtney Gallop, a Nags Head resident and small business owner. While not personally affected, she told the commissioners her business was threatened in the past with being nonconforming, so she wanted to stand up for her fellow businessowners.

“There are several small businesspeople on this board, and to make a business nonconforming and to prevent them from growing or improving or expanding is a kiss of death,” Gallop said. “It’s very anti-American. It’s very anti-capitalistic.”

Philip Foreman, president of Brew Thru Inc., wrote a letter to commissioners that his mother Vanessa Foreman read aloud during the hearing, since he was unable to attend in person.

“It makes zero sense to create new zoning when the existing zoning has been working perfectly,” Foreman wrote, noting that the Brew Thru location in the C-2 district is the highest-grossing of the five Outer Banks stores and has been operating for over 30 years.

Kitty Hawk Kites owner John Harris and his wife Sandra Allen also both spoke in opposition to the rezoning. Harris said Kitty Hawk Kites will soon celebrate 50 years in business.

The Town’s comprehensive land use plan states a commitment to “sustaining a thriving local business community that supports residents and visitors,” Harris noted. “The amendments as written do not support a thriving local business community.”

On the other side, Basil Belsches, who owns a house in the district, said the rezoning would “preserve the look, feel and nature of the area as described in the 2017 Comprehensive Land Use Plan.”

Belsches said he and “a group of neighbors” have been in communication regarding the rezoning, and he asked them to stand up, since only some planned to speak during the hearing. About 20 individuals stood up.

“We like the proposal taking the C-2 to the C-5 and R-3,” Jeff Pavlak said of himself and his wife.

Charles Kalan of Portsmouth, Virginia, said he and his wife own a house on East Hollowell Street that they rent three months out of the year. “We are nevertheless homeowners, and a property that we invested in…we have every right to make our voices heard,” he said.

“I own the property that is the elephant in the room,” Elliot Katherman said, adding that he bought a 4.6-acre property between the highways in 2000 and has paid commercial-rate taxes on it for 23 years. He decided to sell it to Woda Cooper for its housing development when he retired in 2020, but the affordable housing contract “fell through when the moratorium was imposed” by the commissioners last October.

“I’m expecting to be included in this C-5. All of a sudden, I’m downgraded to this R-3,” Katherman said. This is “gutting” his property value, he added, taking it “from the highest possible use to the lowest.”

“I’m torn,” said Randy Royal, an engineering consultant in Virginia Beach, who bought a house that he rents out in the C-2 district. He said he thought affected business owners were “owed a townhall-type” meeting, and “this gentleman [Katherman] deserves to do something with his property.”

The commissioners seemed to agree. They also voted on March 1 to send the proposed new zoning map back to the planning board with the request that Katherman’s parcel be included as C-5.

That map amendment would require a new public hearing, which would take place in April if the planning board agrees to the change, Mayor Ben Cahoon explained during a board meeting recess. The zoning text amendments with the suggested changes do not need another hearing and could be voted on in the board’s March 15 meeting.

One of those amendment changes would outline that all uses currently permitted in the C-2 district would automatically be permissible in the C-5. If included, that would mean none of the affected businesses would become nonconforming uses.


  • czarina

    Seriously? What business on the bypass is “historic” ????

    Friday, Mar 3 @ 5:43 pm
  • Surf123

    Preserving the historic district is far more important than the squabble over restricting a uses. Existing businesses can stay so long as they maintain the same use. There is no problem.

    Saturday, Mar 4 @ 9:08 am
  • Paul

    So it is becoming more and more obvious that non-full time residents are dictating policy for Nags Head and other OBX communities. There is a lack of viable long term housing and which is causing labor and critical infra-structure shortages. I’ve also heard that Target, which is scheduled to open April 2nd, is importing workers in order to staff up.

    Saturday, Mar 4 @ 9:40 am
  • Greg

    I will submit that the backside of the two Surfside Plaza buildings needs to be upgraded from the eyesore that currently exists. How is it that it was allowed to have what one can see be so ugly?

    Sunday, Mar 5 @ 8:56 am
  • WindyBill

    The Surfside Plaza owners should avail themselves of the incredible art community that is here. Murals do Wonders for building appearance. For example, look at the Kitty Hawk Wings store next to Ace. Beautiful work and a photo op for parents and kids (of all ages).

    Monday, Mar 6 @ 3:49 pm
  • outis

    A very excellent idea, WindyBill !

    Tuesday, Mar 7 @ 7:01 am
  • Jon

    I moved to OBX 28 years ago. What a shame it has become.

    Tuesday, Mar 7 @ 10:25 pm