MOREHEAD CITY – The city council has approved a request to rezone 23 acres of undeveloped property on N.C. 24 for a new boat dealership and an independent living community for seniors.
The council also approved annexing the property so it can connect to city water and sewer. The actions came during a special meeting held Wednesday in the Crystal Coast Civic Center, a venue chosen because of significant public interest, including signs and billboards about the proposal, and after groups formed to oppose the request. About 200 attended.
The 3-2 vote to approve came at the end of the four-hour public hearing and following presentations from opponents of the rezoning request, including Nancy Fish, and the applicant, Bryan Starling, who owns Starling Marine on Arendell Street. Starling and his brother David spoke on behalf of the property sellers, Mary Lynn Eure Osteen. Several dozen others addressed the board, a roughly even mix of supporters and opponents.
Those for the proposed development, a roughly 31,000-square-foot boat dealership and a 72-bed, 85,000-square-foot independent senior living community, argued that the property would likely be developed in the future and the wise choice would be this project versus a large, single-family residential development scenario that could bring in more traffic and jeopardize the wetlands on the property.
Those opposed argued during the meeting that the stretch of N.C. 24 across from Walmart is too dangerous to consider adding more traffic, particularly senior drivers and vehicles towing trailers.
According to material provided by opponents, there were 65 accidents involving 120 vehicles on this mile-long section of N.C. 24 since January 2015, and rezoning will add hundreds of vehicles per day to “this dangerous situation. Many will be large slow-moving vehicles towing boats or vehicles operated by senior drivers.”
Opponents had cited concern for wetlands on the property and the effects of additional stormwater runoff, according to the material in the agenda packet, but their focus during the meeting was on traffic safety.
The planning board had approved the conditional zoning Feb. 16 after two meetings on the request.
The rezoning is subject to the following conditions proposed by Starling:
- A maximum building height of 50 feet is to be enforced on the portion of the property proposed to be rezoned Commercial Highway.
- There is to be no disturbance to the Clean Water Act Section 404 and coastal wetlands on the site plan.
- A 30-foot natural buffer is to remain along the eastern property line with no disturbance to the existing vegetation within the buffer, which was proposed in lieu of the landscaping and buffering requirements between commercial highway and single-family residential zones.
- A turning lane is to be installed along the eastbound lanes of N.C. 24 at the request of the state Department of Transportation.
- The proposed uses for the commercial highway portion of the property are to include permitted uses such as marine-related retail and wholesale with or without outdoor storage. This includes associated uses such as part sales and service functions.
- The proposed use for the portion zoned residential multifamily is to be as an active living facility. Maximum density is not to exceed eight units per acre.
Councilmember Diane Warrender made the motion to adopt the ordinance approving the rezoning from single-family residential to residential multifamily-conditional zoning, and highway commercial-conditional zoning districts. The motion also included an amendment to the Coastal Area Management Act Future Land Use Plan Map allowing for commercial use and maintaining medium residential density without Land Use Plan text amendments. Councilmember George Ballou seconded. Warrender, Ballou and Mayor Pro Tempore Keri McCann voted in favor while councilmembers Bill Taylor and David Horton voted against.
Ballou then made a motion to adopt an ordinance approving a voluntary contiguous annexation request for the property. Taylor seconded and the motion carried unanimously.