Dare County pitches 46-unit housing project to Manteo Commissioners

By on August 8, 2023

This possible rendering of the project was included in the Aug. 2 presentation to Manteo Commissioners.

As Dare County struggles to create workforce housing, the impact of high-density housing on local communities continues to be at the forefront of municipal concerns.

In January 2022, the Manteo Board of Commissioners rejected the county’s request to allow a 120-unit development at the end of Bowsertown Road to tap into the county’s wastewater treatment plant. Although commissioners and residents raised concerns about quality-of-life issues, underlying the objections was the strain the complex would put on an aging wastewater treatment facility.

On Tuesday, Aug. 1, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten met with the town’s board of commissioners, this time to present a new 46-unit proposal for the project. Located on county land, the apartments would still have to connect to the town’s wastewater system.

Outten referred to the revised project as the Sanderling, but he stressed that was a working title.

Asked by Commissioner Tod Clissold why the project was configured at 46 units., Outten noted that the developer, Woda Cooper, indicated that was the fewest number of units needed for the development to be economically feasible. “When we run the costs…for them [Woda Cooper] to get their return on their investment, forty-six was pretty much minimum they can do with the expenses in Dare County,” Outten told the commissioners.

Hoping to move the project forward, Outten asked the commissioners to let the county know if a connection to the wastewater site would be acceptable by their Sept. 6 meeting.

The wastewater treatment facility at the heart of the discussion is currently operating at 50 per cent of capacity according to Town Planner Matt Farmer. However, as he notes, it is not allowed to use its full capacity.

“The state only allows us to go up to 80 per cent,” he said.

According to the information that Outten provided to the commissioners, a 46-unit development would create 11,810 gallons of wastewater per day. That number was calculated using the smallest number the state allows for wastewater treatment calculation, and commissioners took note that it was the lowest number that could be used.

Currently the Manteo wastewater facility treats approximately 300,000 gallons of wastewater per day. Whether using the lower or upper range of numbers for calculations, approximately four to five per cent of the remaining capacity of the facility would be used. Farmer, however, pointed out that the condition of the facility is also a concern.

“They’re [state officials] also considering the age of the wastewater treatment facility,” he said.

In fact, Manteo has a proposed 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP) that includes substantial improvements to the wastewater treatment facility. Outten, when asked about the town’s CIP, pointed out that the county’s proposal could significantly impact that.

“If we’re allowed to connect, we would pay a pretty substantial impact fee to pay the cost of our connection…[which] would help them towards their capital plan,” he said.

It is unclear how or if the project can move forward without the wastewater connection. There are on-site wastewater treatment systems, but according to Denis Blackburne, Senior Vice President of Development for Woda Cooper Companies, the location would not support a large enough system to make the project feasible.

“We have considered developing the Bowsertown Road site using on-site septic sewer treatment facilities, but unfortunately the soils and the layout of the site does not allow for such development. We estimated the site could only support 10 two-bedroom units with on-site sewer treatment facilities,” he wrote in an email to the Voice.

Although Blackburne feels an on-site system does not appear to be feasible, Outten after stating a clear preference to tap into the Manteo system, indicated the county is looking at the possibility of on-site wastewater treatment.

“The other way to do it is to try to make that land…suitable for one of the new kinds of package plants that will allow us to build the same thing. I don’t know whether we can do that or not yet,” he said. “We’ve got engineers working on that to see what it would take to do that.”

Outten, though, made it clear that he wants the project to move forward as a cooperative effort with Manteo. His proposal to the town included allowing Manteo to annex the property after it was developed.

“As I said in the presentation, we want to work out a win-win, something that’s good for the community, something’s good for the town and hopefully we’re getting close to doing that,” he said in an interview with the Voice.

Several efforts to build significant workforce/essential housing in Dare County have been halted by community opposition. Aside from Manteo’s thumbs down to the Bowsertown project in January 2022, Woda Cooper’s attempt to build a 54-unit development in Nags Head was rejected last year, and the town subsequently rezoned the area in question. An effort by another of the county’s housing partners, Coastal Affordable Housing, LLC., to build a housing development in Kill Devil Hills was derailed when the commissioners voted against a rezoning proposal needed to pave the way for the project.

For his part, Blackburne, who was the point person on the Nags Head project, said the need for workforce housing in Dare County remains very real.

“Market reports confirm what everybody knows,” he wrote in an email. “There is a dire need for such affordable workforce housing developments.”

Outten, reflecting on how slowly the process seems to be going, compares the process to what it was like when beach nourishment was first proposed.

“It’s much like beach nourishment was back in the early 90’s. Everybody was reluctant until we finally did it and found that it was beneficial, wasn’t harmful, and was a good thing,” he said.

“It’s been a difficult process for a multitude of reasons,” Outten added. “We’re hoping that we’re getting closer to a point where we can actually start doing something. It’s been a long process, but there’s just a lot of steps, a lot of hoops to jump through to get where you’re going.”

In their comments after the presentation, the Manteo Commissioners urged their constituents to contact them to let them know how they feel about the project.



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  • Obxer

    Is it affordable priced rent ? Are there gonna have any weekly rentals? Best improvement would be to put the waste water on the west side of the island not only close to the treatment plant, but offers alot better water changeover than shallow bag bay.

    Tuesday, Aug 8 @ 9:30 pm
  • Workforce Housing ?

    Dare County has a severe local worker housing shortage but these LIHTC low income housing projects will not necessarily help and could make the problem worse. These housing projects are being marketed as “workforce” housing for local workers but in reality these housing projects are not just for local workers.

    When asked about this at the Nags Head meeting, Mr. Blackburne from Woda Cooper stated that; “This is general occupancy housing, in other words there is no age restriction, anyone can live there if they comply with the max income limits. We find a lot of retired seniors do move into our properties, even if it’s intended for workforce housing, because they are on a fixed income and they often comply with the income limits and are able to live in our properties.”

    If retired seniors move into these apartments that will not help solve our local worker housing shortage, and if non-local retired seniors move into these apartments the increase in demand for services will make our local worker housing shortage even worse.

    Tuesday, Aug 8 @ 11:18 pm
  • M

    Maybe it is time to slow things down a bit. A plan to fix the infrastructure, housing, medical, etc. before you continue to permit more building. Same goes for Currituck. Both Counties are creating unsafe environments for tourist and residents.

    Wednesday, Aug 9 @ 8:38 am
  • Marshes Light Resident

    Are there plans to address the increase in traffic since Highway 64 on Roanoke Island is already heavily congested?

    Wednesday, Aug 9 @ 8:48 am
  • OBX Resident

    Over 18 months ago the Commissioners awarded $35 million of taxpayer money to Coastal Affordable Housing for the creation of ‘affordable/essential housing’ in Dare County. Dare County’s website states ‘Coastal Affordable Housing has indicated (in Feb 2022) to the Dare County Board of Commissioners that it intends to construct up to 400 housing units within Dare County by the end of 2023’. With 4 and a half months remaining in 2023, construction has not commenced on one unit. Further, to date, Coastal has not purchased one piece of property, applied for one permit, and only appeared before KDH Commissioner to look for another public handout, the gift of the 44-acre Baum Tract to be rezoned from government/recreation use to high density/multi-family. Instead of purchasing available land and working to alleviate the housing shortage, Coastal is looking for another handout, free taxpayer land. Yet, to date Dare County has provided payment of over $300,000 to Coastal. It is questionable how a firm with no experience, and does not apply for additional available federal grants, beat out one of the top affordable housing companies in the country to receive the $35 million, and more curious why the Commissioners are complacent with the inaction of Coastal Affordable Housing.

    Wednesday, Aug 9 @ 9:34 am
  • Jeff Walker

    At this rate they’ll probably move on next to suggesting busing in folks from the Tyrrell Work Farm and Hyde Correctional Institute to solve the staffing issues. Heck they might even cut a deal with Curritick to build a new state facility hidden away among the corn fields so our esteemed visitors can’t see where the help comes from. Since that’s really the issue at hand.

    Wednesday, Aug 9 @ 11:59 am
  • Manteo Resident

    First of all after reading the comments, I’m concerned about the post by OBX Resident. $300,000 is a lot of money to advance any company without performance by the company. Will that money be returned to Dare County?
    My main concern is about affordable housing and essential worker housing. We need doctors, dentists, optometrists and all the staff that each practitioner requires. Where can they live? What about school teachers Pre-K thru 12? I read the report of how many teachers each school has, how many have left and how many more are needed. Why would teachers consider moving here if there is no where to live? And then, a problem that is very close to my heart – where can our children and grandchildren live? One of my grandchildren is living in a 2-bedroom rental that they rented when they had one child. They now have 3 children and there is no affordable housing anywhere so they have to make do in a very small apartment. Another grandchild is living at home even though they are almost 30. His work is seasonable and finding something affordable is impossible! This is just an example of how this housing shortage is hurting everyone! Property owners who have turned their monthly & yearly rentals into week-end rentals have certainly played a huge part in the current shortage.
    When all is said and done, the biggest question for our family and many, many families that live here and have raised their families here is “Where will my children and grandchildren live?”

    Wednesday, Aug 9 @ 12:44 pm
  • Billnc

    Is there any guarantee this will be only for “the workforce” and not just end up getting filled with out of town retirees? Genuine question….

    Wednesday, Aug 9 @ 1:24 pm
  • Travis

    Free markets are great…until they aren’t. The market is attempting to respond to the demand of more workers for local businesses by creating housing for said workers. However, over and over a bunch of people (the vast majority I suspect would be otherwise ardent supporters of capitalism, low taxes, small government, and trickle down economics) rise up to stand athwart the plans, be they in Manteo, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills or anywhere this side of the bridges.

    On the one hand, it’s great. Democracy in action. On the other hand, I wish these same individuals would check their knee jerk reactions when people in other parts of the country stand up against the construction of pipelines, frakking and uranium mines in their own backyards.

    Wednesday, Aug 9 @ 3:30 pm
  • james

    As a professional in New York City, one can easily make a 6 figure salary. Also, one can easily rent a beautiful apartment for around $3000 and have a slew of options. If you can even find a home to rent on the Outer Banks it will easily cost $3000, but try finding a 6 figure salary on the Outer Banks. It is the same in Hawaii, rent is astronomically expensive, but the pay is terrible. They call it “lucky you live Hawaii or the paradise tax”. How is a residential area on the Outer Banks zoned residential when the vast majority of homes are a business? How can a corporation based in Seattle or Los Angeles come into a residential neighborhood, pay more than a home is valued, put in a putt putt in the backyard, a basketball court, a volleyball court, give it a silly name, and immediately hand it over to Verbo or Vacasa to rent daily or weekly without ever stepping foot on the property? He does not need to comply with fire, handicap, or other rules like hotels, but is a hotel and business in EVERY sense of the word. Pass an ordinance than bans this practice and see how fast the issue of affordable housing on the Outer Banks is resolved as in 5 seconds.

    Wednesday, Aug 9 @ 8:01 pm
  • Davis

    My problem with this is that literally the entire burden of the ‘affordable housing’ problem is being pushed onto Roanoke Island. We’ve already got the cluster project in Wanchese and another project on Bowsertown. Manteo schools are already packed, and driving on 64 in the summer is next to impossible.

    Nags Head says no. KDH says no. Until the snobby beach towns agree to be part of the solution, I think Manteo should say no as well.

    Wednesday, Aug 9 @ 10:01 pm
  • Good questions/comments

    “Workforce Housing” and “OBX Resident” commenters are right on the money. Mr. Blackburne of Woda Cooper did indeed say they get a lot of retirees in their other “affordable housing” projects; I was there at the Nags Head BOC meeting when he said that. And to answer “Billnc”, no, there is no guarantee retirees won’t rent there. The only limit is a maximum on the tenant income. The Town of Nags Head did a study when considering the Woda Cooper project and found that only a small percentage of “essential workers” (police, EMS, teachers, etc.) would qualify to rent there. The others have salaries that are too high to allow to rent there.

    Thursday, Aug 10 @ 10:31 am
  • Thinking About The Future

    I appreciate reading everyone’s comments and questions. Lots of food for thought but most importantly, I urge all the “Manteo In” constituents (those who live in Manteo, pay Manteo’s taxes and have sewer lines) to call or email their Manteo Town Commissioners and let them know your views, as it has been requested in the article.

    Thursday, Aug 10 @ 12:17 pm
  • Steven

    If Dare County would enforce their own codes, we would not have a housing issue..

    Thursday, Aug 10 @ 1:33 pm
  • Pat nash

    East Lake East Lake East Lake..why in the world don’t they consider East Lake ..it’s a straight shot to the beaches where the help is most needed..it is wide open and would not further congest 64..unless it’s a bring in more tax dollar thing to the Town of Manteo…why not??

    Friday, Aug 11 @ 10:14 am