Lawsuit challenges large SAGA multi-use development in Corolla

By on June 22, 2024

Rendering of part of the multi-use project that is the subject of a lawsuit. (Credit: Quibble and Associates)

By Kip Tabb | Outer Banks Voice

Faced with a 13-acre mixed use development in the heart of their community, the Whalehead Property Owners Association (WPOA) has filed suit in Currituck County Superior Court against Currituck County and CB Land Development, a company created by SAGA Construction to build the project. A hearing on the suit is scheduled for August 12.

If fully developed, the project will include single-family homes, 127 multi-family units, a mixed-use retail and residential component that will feature apartments above retail space, and a 172-bedroom hotel.

For the WPOA, one concern is with the size of the development. Terry Ruggles, First Vice President of the WPOA, told the Voice that, “We think it will be detrimental to what that part of the Outer Banks is all about. We’re not against growth. We know we can’t stop growth, but we think it has to be measured and better planned.”

Filed on December 1, the lawsuit asks the court to overturn an approval of an amended preliminary sketch plan for the development approved by the Currituck Commissioners at a quasi-judicial hearing on Aug. 21. Much of the dispute seems to stem from a disagreement over how many elements of that plan were discussed at an April 2023 meeting between local residents and CB Land Development representatives.

According to Chief Executive Officer of SAGA Summit Gupta, the amended plan is based on a sketch plan that was approved some time ago.

“The [original] sketch plan came with the property. This property has had a commercial zoning…for decades,” he said. “I worked closely with the county leadership for several years, to try to fill the needs. Corolla needs some multi-family. It needs some restaurants and shops…”

The April 2023 Special Use Permit (SUP) meeting was held at the Corolla Public Library because CB Land Development was requesting a change to a previously approved sketch plan. According to minutes of the meeting submitted by Quibble and Associates, the engineering firm representing CB Land Development, there were 36 people in attendance based on a signup sheet.

At that meeting, according to WPOA members, local property owners were told the change was to add five residential units and reduce by 1.5 acres the amount of green space for the project.

However, the lawsuit contends that when CB Land Development submitted the amended plan to Currituck County in May, the application sought “approval for multi-family use within an area previously designated for commercial use. The inclusion of the…request was a substantial and material change to the proposal presented to attendees at the [April meeting].”

“Our position is that their proposal didn’t include multi-family at the community meeting [in April]. Later, apartment buildings were added to their proposal,” Andrew Petesch, the attorney for the WPOA, told the Voice.

The suit asks the court to “reverse the Board of Commissioners’ approval of the subject permits and remand with an order that the Currituck Board of Commissioners deny the SUP application.”

Gupta, however, is adamant that the multi-family units were in the plans presented at the April 2023 meeting.

“I’m saying that it’s not true,” he told the Voice. “It was absolutely multi-family on the north side, hotel and restaurants and shops. We covered it all. There was no missing that.”

Corolla resident and WPOA member Tim Bostaph described the meeting as “mush,” telling the Voice, “Issues were raised by people in the audience, ‘Have you done any studies?’…and the answers all came back. ‘We’re thinking about doing this. This is a concept’…But they could not provide any specific answers to what studies they’ve done.”

It is uncertain from the minutes of the April meeting submitted by Quibble and Associates to Currituck County how detailed the discussions between representatives of CB Land and the audience were. The minutes read that at one point, “Several attendees expressed that traffic is a big concern and congestion is an issue during the summer months.”

The minutes indicate that “Mr. Strader [of Quibble and Associates] responded that was a legitimate concern and that there would be special attention to ingress/egress, circulation, and overall traffic…”

The same language was used to describe questions from multiple audience members about workforce housing, emergency services and traffic.

The suit also points to other shortcomings in the approval process. The county’s United Development Ordinance (UDO) requires that an application for an SUP provide evidence and expert testimony that the proposed use “will not exceed the County’s ability to provided adequate public-school facilities.”

No experts on school facilities were noted in the minutes of the April community meeting nor was there a discussion of school facilities at the August quasi-judicial hearing.

Additionally, the UDO requires a finding that fire, police and EMS services are adequate to insure public health and safety. The suit also contends there was a failure to show public health and safety would not be endangered by the project.

Public health and safety were discussed at the August hearing, with Board of Commissioners Chair Bob White commenting at one point, “We’re grappling with it, with [providing] adequate public facilities.”

Kevin Kemp, Development Services Director for Currituck County, addressed concerns about sewage and waste disposal at the August meeting, noting that “We…discussed that with the county attorney. Where we landed on that, is there’s some questions that still need to be answered. From staff standpoint, we’re going to look into it and we’re fine addressing that at a later date, not necessarily with this application.”

White, in comments before introducing motions to approve the SUP at the quasi-judicial hearing, seemed to agree with Kemp that there would be additional hearings before construction began.

“There’s nothing on the property. It’s a vacant piece of dirt…There’s not going to be any fire rescue or any county facilities at this moment until they come in for the next SUP phase of this,” he said.

It is unclear, though, if an additional SUP will be required. When asked by the Voice about future SUP hearings, Commissioner White noted that, it’s “a bit of a grey area, as no one has dealt with PUD [Planned Unit Development] changes in twenty years.”

If CB Land Development is not required to hold additional SUP hearings, further approvals would be administrative and would not require a public hearing nor any additional action from the commissioners. The approvals would be issued by the county’s planning department based solely on whether the applicant was meeting county and state standards for the property.

In the absence of any assurance that additional SUP hearings will be needed, attorney Petesch said the WPOA is asking CB Land Development to meet with Whalehead property owners to present the full scope of the plan.

“The Whalehead Property Owners Association and its members have the right to ask that it be done the proper way so they can participate in the process as designed,” he said.


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Comments

  • Phoebe

    I watched daily as Saga built their garbage homes on First Street behind the Wright Brothers Memorial. One day putting up drywall and painting the very next day. Too bad for the people that purchased these homes to the tune of $500,000+ thinking they were buying from a quality builder. Wait until the very first storm hits!!! Shame on those that called me a “tree hugger” when the 25+ acres of trees were torn down and my house started to shake from their removal due to no longer having a wind barrier from these trees. I first vacationed here in the early 80’s with my family in Corolla before moving here in 93′. Where the norm was enjoying the wild horses grazing in your yard on any given day or night. It’s truly a crime with what Saga has proposed for Corolla’s future. It’s too late to save Dare County. The damage of over building has already been done. Yet, you keep voting the same officials back in every election!!! Please don’t let this happen to Corolla.

    Tuesday, Jun 25 @ 1:06 pm
  • Stephen

    I am a longtime property owner and resident of Dare County. Given that the local authorities approved that abominable looking sweet shop and its highly visible ugly sign that can not be missed as one approaches the intersection of routes 12 and the bypass, I have no confidence in the integrity of the local community officials who approved this project. If I wanted to live near the overcrowded and ugly commercial areas near the ocean, I would have moved to the beaches of Delaware, Maryland or New Jersey . The sign is essentially an insult to those of us who have been visiting the Outer Banks for more than 70 years and have invested in an area retirement home in 1997.

    Tuesday, Jun 25 @ 4:10 pm
  • More investigative reporting needed!

    Kip – Hope you’re not done reporting on this issue. There’s so much more to investigate…what about the SUP that SAGA failed to disclose that they needed for the entire project at the April 2023 meeting? This project is not a “done deal” as Commissioner White keeps insisting. The Major Site Plan has not been submitted …but putting the UDO amendment vote off until Sept after the Currituck County Planning Commission unanimously and enthusiastically approved it in May, certainly helped SAGA and gave them more time to submit it. The whole situation smacks of being borderline criminal. Please dig in and bring the good old boy network to light. Who wants this development? Absolutely no one except those who financially profit from it.

    Wednesday, Jun 26 @ 12:35 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Just a warning that comments that accuse individuals or organizations of criminal activity when none has been proved will not be posted. The word “borderline” saved you here.

    Wednesday, Jun 26 @ 2:53 pm
  • Dr Rob Jr

    @Stephen: With regards to the sweet shop and its design, it did exactly what it is supposed to (that is, capture attention). If you don’t stop there, is it really impacting you?

    I am also not sure that you understand the economics on why these commercial business build here. (Hint: It isn’t for the locals). That also includes Walmart, Target, Starbucks, Urgent Care centers, and so on. Don’t forget the county infrastructure like the schools (First Flight campus in particular), the community college, and the parks and rec. Without the tourists, this area would be very ‘poor’ like many of the other Eastern NC counties.

    Wednesday, Jun 26 @ 3:01 pm
  • STEPHEN

    To Dr.Rob, jr. I guess I did not make my comment as clear as I should have. I am not anti profit. I worked for, retired from, and now have a major portion of my investments in a company that has several large buildings throughout the Outer Banks. They are very profitable and I benefit I from their profitability. My objection was, and is, to the large , almost purple looking , huge, ugly sign on the building on the Sweet Shop. About 20 years ago the Town of Nags Head required a local successful company to (1)place its location in the rear portion of a shopping center and professional office park and (2) altar its signage and front appearance to be considerably toned down. The Town of Kitty Hawk should have followed this Nags Head when it approved a building with such a grotesque sign, which on this building is more comparable with places like Coney Island, and not the Outer Banks

    Thursday, Jun 27 @ 11:04 am