This story was updated to clarify information on the tentative date of a public hearing on a proposed zoning amendment unrelated to the Wanchese cluster home decision.
By a unanimous vote Monday, the Dare County Board of Commissioners approved a special use permit for a proposed cluster development on about 10.5 acres along Old Wharf Road in Wanchese.
The vote was 5-0 with Commissioners Ervin Bateman and Jim Tobin recused.
The proposed project site will feature 60 two- and three-bedroom homes, according to plans submitted by Brad Alexander, owner of Aria Construction & Development of Creswell.
The vote followed a sometimes noisy and angry public comment period with residents of the unincorporated village of Wanchese telling county commissioners they believed they had been betrayed. Frustrated that zoning changes made in 2018 allowed for cluster, or high-density, development in the village, residents directed their frustration at commissioners, telling them numerous times during the meeting that they had lost their constituents’ votes.
“I’m only one vote but it can be multiplied,” Wanchese resident Nan Willis told the board.
The 2018 changes were geared toward addressing the county’s shortage of affordable housing.
Wanchese residents Monday repeatedly pointed to the Wanchese Village Residential Zoning District ordinance passed by the county in 2006 that they believed would preserve the “village feel” of the community. Several speakers noted that the 2018 zoning amendments were poorly advertised and that residents were not aware of the changes.
Residents, however, were concerned about more than whether the cluster development would change the nature of the village. Of particular concern was stormwater in an area that historically has poor drainage.
Rex Mann noted that during periods of heavy rain Wanchese was prone to flooding and that “the county has had to pay to have low-lying areas pumped. Even with retention ponds the ground can only accept so much water and when it can’t accept any more, it comes up in a different area.”
The project site is forested, and a number of residents brought up the impact of losing so many trees.
Their concerns were buttressed by Alyson Flynn, coastal advocate and environmental economist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Wanchese office. The Coastal Federation publishes Coastal Review. Flynn asked the county to withhold issuing special use permits until a county engineer could be hired to approve the developer’s plan, as stipulated under the stormwater management heading in the county development ordinance.
“Specifically tonight, the Federation requests that no approval be granted for special use permit applications falling under the cluster home ordinance for unincorporated Dare county until an engineer is on staff or at a minimum contracted on behalf of the county,” she told commissioners, noting that the planning department in issuing a permit was relying on engineers hired by the applicant.
Despite the concerns, the commissioners may have had no choice regarding the permit. County Manager Bobby Outten, who also serves as the county attorney, advised commissioners that, under state law, if a special use permit meets all the established requirements, the board must vote to approve.
Stormwater plans are not a condition of approval. Nonetheless, commissioners in their comments expressed unease at the density of the planned development.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated the kind of density that is being proposed,” Commissioner Danny Couch said.
His observation was echoed by Vice Chair Wally Overman.
For Alexander, the developer, the vote was a relief and a chance to perhaps change the village residents’ perception.
“Hopefully everybody’s emotions will kind of die down and down the road they’ll see that it’s not as bad as they think it is,” he said.
In the wake of the Wanchese cluster development controversy, Dare County is reevaluating the 2018 cluster home development in unincorporated areas, with possible revisions and deletions of districts where cluster homes may be built, according to a memo in the agenda packet for Monday.
Public comment was initially set for the June 5 commissioner’s meeting, but the board instead set May 17 as the tentative date for the hearing.