Reprinted from the Outer Banks Voice.
Citing overwhelming opposition to allowing Dare County’s proposed essential housing project to connect to the town’s wastewater treatment system, the Manteo Board of Commissioners on Wednesday voted unanimously to reject the county’s request.
The Sanderling project at the end of Bowsertown Road envisioned a 46-unit apartment complex that the county had contracted with Woda Cooper Companies to build. Although the complex would be on county property, according to Woda Cooper officials there is not enough land on the property for a septic system to support the complex.
If built, the 46 units would represent a small step toward remedying the housing shortage for year-round workers in the county.
Manteo Commissioner Sherry Wickstrom, in her remarks at the meeting, indicated the county needed 1,200 housing units. Chair of the Dare County Commissioners Bob Woodard, in an interview the following day, told the Voice that number was low. “She said 1,200. We’re lacking 2,500 (units),” he said.
The decision by the Manteo commissioners continues a trend of county-based essential or workforce housing proposals being rejected at the municipal level. Back in January 2022, Manteo commissioners also turned down a county request to connect with the town’s wastewater treatment system for what was then envisioned as a 120-unit development.
In August 2022, Kill Devil Hills commissioners rejected an effort to rezone the 44-acre Baum tract to potentially pave the way for a high-density multifamily housing site backed by the county. And early this year, Nags Head commissioners opted to rezone an area that would have potentially housed a 54-unit Woda Cooper housing development.
At the Sept. 6 Manteo Commissioners meeting, County Manager Bobby Outten noted that the county and the town had a history of working together.
“We want to work with you and anyone else to solve the (housing) problem, much as we did when you had a parking problem,” he said. “We took down some buildings, donated some land, and we all worked towards solving a parking problem in your downtown.”
Outten also stressed that every concern the commissioners had voiced about the project had been addressed.
“We were told by you that (the original proposal) was too big,” he said, adding the project they’re proposing is 46 units.
Outten continued that there were concerns voiced during discussions about impact fees, annexation and setting aside teacher housing. He explained that the county agreed to pay what the town requires for the impact fees, would annex and set aside 10 housing units for the teachers.
In public comment, though, every resident who spoke about the project was opposed to the proposal. Pointing to two issues in particular, speakers felt traffic in Manteo had become a significant problem and the addition of a 46-unit housing complex would exacerbate that. Residents were also concerned about the effect the development would have on the existing wastewater system and expressed concern about losing the small town feel of Manteo.
The commissioners described their vote as heeding the will of their constituents.
“I think tonight,” Commissioner Tod Clissold said during the meeting, “You’ve heard that (Manteo residents) are not in favor of a connection to the sewer plant.
“At this time, I just think we have to listen to our voters,” he continued.
Echoing Clissold’s comments, Commissioner Ruth Stetson said, “I can’t find a lot of support for this development. I can’t find any support, actually.”
Woodard, when interviewed the next day, told the Voice that “I fully understand their position. They listen to their constituents. I don’t fault them for that.”
Nonetheless, he had hoped the project could move forward. “It’s just very disappointing,” he added.
For his part, Outten told the Voice that the county will continue to work toward building essential housing in spite of the setbacks.
“I’d say we’re disappointed in the Manteo decision, but we’re going to continue to work to bring workforce or essential housing to the county,” he said.
Woodard agreed. “We’re looking at multiple options in other places in the county, as well as towns and municipalities.”