Dare County commissioners delay decision on cluster home project in Wanchese

Dare County commissioners delay decision on cluster home project in Wanchese

April 3rd, 2023

The Dare County Board of Commissioners have delayed a final decision on approving a cluster home project in the village of Wanchese that has drawn vocal opposition from residents.

A quasi-judicial hearing was held Monday night on a special use permit for The Villages at Old Wharf Road.

Brad Alexander of Aria Construction has submitted the proposal to construct 60 two- and three-bedroom units, ranging from 960 to 1,120 square feet, on a 10.53 acre parcel at the intersection of Old Wharf and Pugh roads.

The hearing included testimony from Brad Alexander and the engineers who helped design the project, following more than two hours of public comment where only two people spoke in favor.

A request by Dare County for a traffic study and other data that was submitted during the meeting led commissioners to recess the hearing ahead of the deliberations, and any decision on the permit will have to wait until at least next month.

The hearing on the special use permit will resume during the May 1 Board of Commissioners meeting, with the start time moved to 5 p.m. to accommodate public interest in the proposal.

For full details from the meeting, scroll through our live blog below. We will post video links as soon as they become available.

10:30 p.m.
The hearing has concluded. Chairman Woodard recommended due to the receipt of the traffic study and other information that did not happen until this evening that a decision on the permit not take place next month.

A motion was approved, and Woodard also said that the permit will be taken up again at the meeting on May 1 at 5 p.m., rather than the normal morning start.

10:17 p.m.
A feed has been reestablished on the Dare County Youtube page.

10:15 p.m.
A traffic study that was requested by the county took place over a four-day period in late February and early March. Commissioners are asking questions of the traffic engineer.

The engineer said that a deceleration lane for right turns into the development is not needed according to their data because traffic volumes would be considered light.

10:00 p.m.
The civil engineer who looked at the traffic impacts of the proposal is now being questioned.

9:55 p.m.
The wastewater treatment system operator is answering questions from commissioners about specifics on the system’s function.

9:42 p.m.
The Youtube feed is still down, so we’ve switched to the online feed from Dare County’s Current TV. A representative of the company that will operate and maintain the development’s wastewater treatment system is currently testifying.

9:32 p.m.
Now its House v. House.

Commissioner Steve House and engineer Rick House share a few laughs as they confirm they are not related. “Although, you look a little like my older brother,” the engineer House said.

Right after that, our feed of the meeting via Youtube dropped out. Please stand by and we will resume our live blog as soon as it comes back up.

9:30 p.m.
Rick House, the engineer on the project, has been sworn in to testify, and he is going through the site plan under questioning by the applicant’s attorney.

Chairman Woodard asked if a turn lane into the development had been considered, and House said they felt it can been added following the public comments they heard tonight.

Woodard also asked some technical questions about the type of wastewater treatment system that will be used. Commissioner Couch also had a question regarding emergency capacity, which House said is 24 hours if the entire development is occupied.

Vice Chair Wally Overman asked about ownership of the wastewater system, which House said would be the homeowners association.

9:18 p.m.
Commissioner Ross asked about stormwater issues and ingress/egress that were mentioned in public comment, which Alexander said that both will be addressed in testimony from stormwater and traffic experts later in the hearing.

Commissioner Steve House asked Alexander to clarify that he had never stated that it would be affordable or market-rate housing, although affordable is mentioned in the special use permit application.

“It’s going to be as affordable as it can be in Dare County,” Alexander said.

House also asked about the closeness of the structures, and would residential sprinkler systems be used. Alexander said he has not examined that, and noted that a 20-bedroom house he is building and a sprinkler system for that structure would run between $40-and-$50,000.

9:12 p.m.
Hatteras Island Commissioner Danny Couch relates a story of a similar development designed for workforce housing that ended up being short-term, seasonal rentals.

“What kind of assurances can we have, and this may have to be drawn up by the homeowners association, I’m asking you that it is your intent and in the spirit of workforce housing that this will be…for people who make our economy go?” Couch asked.

“100 percent,” Alexander said. “If I had any other thoughts of making it any other way I would have not made it offered to make it a minimum one year lease.”

Commissioner Rob Ross asked if that would carry over to a new owner, and Alexander said it would under the tenants of a sale.

Alexander’s counsel told commissioners that it would be put into the special use permit that would have that tenant in perpetuity.

9:04 p.m.
The Board of Commissioners now have some questions for Alexander.

“It’s been said numerous times, ‘mobile home on stilts’,” said Chairman Woodard. “This is no way a mobile home on stilts?”

“These will all be stick built houses,” Alexander said.

9:00 p.m.
One of the many concerns of residents about the development is that it will be comprised mostly of short-term rentals. Asked to define “long-term” occupancy by Smith, Alexander said “31 days or more.”

“Someone spoke (during public comment) to what I said at the Planning Board that I would be willing to put in the sale of the property that (the occupancy minimum) would be six months or more, and I have no problem with that,” Alexander said.

“There’s been a lot of statements that I am planning on renting all of the properties, and that is not true,” Alexander said. “I do retain the right to rent some if they don’t sell as fast as I want them to.”

“But before we start, there will be pre-construction prices to start to sell them, and if they all sell, we we will sell all of them,” Alexander said.

The proposal calls for 24 two-bedroom houses of 960 square feet and 36 three-bed room units 1,120 square feet.

Alexander said the starting price will be $299,000 for the two-bedroom units and $329,000 for the three-bedroom, and the prices are the lowest rate of any new construction in Dare County.

He also said that they have to built to the county’s 140 mph wind code.

8:48 p.m.

Brad Alexander answering specific questions from his attorney Lloyd C. Smith, Jr., that describe the application regarding the land purchase, construction of the structures in the development, and other pertinent information.

8:43 p.m.
Following questioning on procedural matters with the application by the petitioners attorney, the board of commissioners had no questions, and there was no attorney representing the community present to question Gillam.

Brad Alexander, owner of CEO of Aria Construction, has now been called to testify.

8:30 p.m.
The public comment period has come to an end, and the public hearing is now beginning. County Manager/Attorney Bobby Outten reminds those in attendance that this is a quasi-judicial hearing.

Outten explains that, by law, only evidence presented at the hearing can be used by the board to act as a jury on the decision.

“From the onset, I’ve had an opinion and I’ve voiced that opinion,” said Commissioner Ervin Bateman as he requested to be recused from the hearing. “I did not know at the time that it was wrong to do that.”

A motion to accept the recusal was approved, leaving five members of the board to hear the evidence, due to Bateman’s recusal and Commissioner Jim Tobin absent due to illness.

Planning Director Noah Gillam has been sworn in after being called as the first witness by Lloyd C. Smith, Jr., who represents the developer Brad Alexander.

8:25 p.m.
Attorney Kathryn Fagan related her experience with a development near her home adjacent to the Dare County Regional Airport on northern Roanoke Island and compared the issues she has experienced with the proposal in Wanchese.

“The only person that’s going to reap any benefits from this plan is Mr. Alexander and his crowd,” Fagan said. “This community is going to lose, they are going to lose big. They are going to lose the quality of community they have, and they are going to lose environmentally.”

“Please study what this trailer park in the sky is going to do to this community,” Fagan said.

8:00 p.m.
Public comment is continuing as the meeting enters its fourth hour. The public hearing on the proposal, where testimony will be given not only by the applicants but also those who may be directly effected such as adjacent property owners, is still to follow.

Several of the recent commenters have quoted from the county’s zoning ordinance change in 2018-19 that the cluster home development “protecting the heritage” and “consistent with existing neighborhood patterns of development”.

All of the comment since the recess ended has been against the proposal.

7:45 p.m.
Board Chairman Bob Woodard has gaveled the meeting back into order, and the public comment session is continuing.

7:35 p.m.
Prior to a recess, Robin Mann spoke to the Board of Commissioners.

She served on the 2007 zoning commission for Manns Harbor and Mashoes, and spoke on the process and the discussions that went on with natives and residents at that time.

Mann criticized the process that occured in 2018-19 to change the zoning regulations in unincorporated Dare County that opened the way for cluster homes.

“We chose back in 2007 to be a novel, protected community,” Mann said. “Our approved and acquired zoning has been taken away from us without any community involvement…A small notice in the newspaper is not sufficient for us.”

“I request that you do not approve this cluster housing development that is passionately opposed by all of the citizens Wanchese, and some of Manns Harbor and Manteo here tonight,” Mann said. “I request on behalf our Manns Harbor community that you also consider undoing the cluster housing development (changes) that came about (in 2018-19) in MH-A and MH-B (districts).”

7:05 p.m.
Comments continue from Wanchese residents opposing the development, remarking on various challenges it will bring to their village, especially on emergency medical services. The closest EMS station is in Manteo.

6:55 p.m.
“It’s not just (the) developer…he has a right to a return on his investment,” said Wanchese resident Ken Mann, in commenting on the traffic and emergency service limitations in Wanchese, home to the largest industrial park in the county. “If he doesn’t get that, somebody’s going to have to pay. But if he does get it, we’re gonna have to pay. Somebody’s gonna have to pay, we just need to pay the right way.”

6:45 p.m.
Mitchell Bateman brought up that in 2006 the Board of Commissioners at the time allowed Wanchese village residents to write their own zoning regulations, known as VR-1 (Village Residential), over a two year process.

“The effort that the people put in to do that seems to have been stripped away,” Bateman said about the changes made in 2019.

Bateman asked the board if the process can be used again to reverse the changes that took place to prevent a similar proposal from happening again.

6:40 p.m.
Jeanine Emory is also in favor of the development, commenting on the recent lack of success in getting workforce housing developments approved in Manteo and Nags Head.

“I find it really disheartening,” Emory said. “Its important to realize when we talk about having something like this, having teachers, nurses and EMTs…all of the support staff.

“We don’t want these people to be our neighbors?” Emory said, noting the process that has gone on for over the last three-plus years.

6:35 p.m.
Lifelong resident Joey Daniels commented on the process of zoning changes made in 2018 that allowed for the addition of cluster homes developments in certain areas.

“Maybe it was done legally, it wasn’t done the right way,” Daniels said. Opponents to the project have claimed throughout that they were not aware of the changes that were made to the zoning ordinance.

Dare County Planning Director Noah Gillam noted last month that amendments to the zoning regulations to allow cluster homes went through several public hearings during commissioners meetings, and was eventually approved in 2019 for 32 zoning districts in the county including 10 districts in Wanchese as special uses.

6:25 p.m.
“You say you want to work with the people of Wanchese, right?” said Wanchese native and podcaster Justin Bateman, looking at the project’s developer, Brad Alexander of Aria Construction. “Then here is your chance…I’m humbly asking you to please stop the development of the cluster homes in Wanchese.”

Bateman’s comments drew an enthusiastic response from many in the audience.

Speaking in support of the proposal was Tom Stewart, who acknowledged he may be one of the few in support of the proposal, and runs a local business with his wife.

“We have a constant conversation in our place of business about workforce housing, workers, where are people going to come from,” Stewart said. “When Brad proposed his development in Wanchese I said to myself, ‘Isn’t this great’, we’ve got the (commissioners), the county and private enterprise saying, ‘I can think I can help you with this.'”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if some of those people, could live in these homes, and became part of this community…the people that educate our children, the people that take care of us?” Stewart said.

6 p.m.
Following approval of several resolutions, and then expenditures recommended by the Dare County Tourism Board to assist funding the Fourth of July fireworks shows and purchase of a sound system for The Lost Colony, the public comment period is ready to begin.

County Manager and Attorney Bobby Outten is explaining the rules for the public hearing, which limits who can comment as set under state law. Many of those in attendance tonight that want to speak in opposition to the Wanchese cluster home project, and will only be allowed to speak during public comment.

Outten is also explaining that state laws prevent a common request from the public to “just change the ordinance”, and that state law also does not allow the implementation of a moratorium on residential projects.

Public comment will be limited to five minutes, with no exceptions, due to the number of people signed up to speak.

5:30 p.m.
Eric Collins, Director of Government Affairs for Charter Communications, who is giving commissioners an update on their services in Dare County. We will have a story on this presentation soon.

5:25 p.m.
The board is hearing presentations on county employees who have earned service pins and the Employee of the Month award. We will have full details on those recipients later this week.

5:10 p.m.

It is standing-room only in the Commissioners Meeting Room tonight, and overflow seating has been provided in the large conference room inside the Dare County Government Center building.

5:05 p.m.
Public comment for tonight’s meeting has been shifted to item 9 on the agenda, and other items were moved up so they can be acted on by the board before what is expected to be a lengthy public comment period and hearing on the cluster home project.

5 p.m.
Board Chairman Bob Woodard has gaveled the meeting to order. Commissioner Jim Tobin is absent this evening, as he continues to receive medical treatment.

The Wanchese cluster home proposal public hearing is item 10 on the agenda. Regular public comment is the fourth, but those who want to talk about the proposal will likely be requested to hold their comments for the hearing.

Brad Alexander of Aria Construction has submitted the proposal to construct 60 two- and three-bedroom units, ranging from 960 to 1,120 square feet, on a 10.53 acre parcel at the intersection of Old Wharf and Pugh roads.

Plans for a two-bedroom unit.
Three-bedroom unit plan.

Under Dare County’s Zoning Ordinance, a cluster home development is defined as a “residential group development project consisting of more than one residential dwelling on one parcel of land whereby the dwellings are occupied on a long-term basis.”

Long-term occupancy is considered a period of 31 days or more.

During the Dare County Planning Board’s Feburary 7 meeting (click to read minutes of the meeting), the public comment section ran nearly two hours with a majority of the speakers against the proposal, many saying they were unaware that cluster homes could be built in the village.

At that meeting, Dare County Planning Director Noah Gillam presented the history of work on allowing cluster home developments, which began in 2018 at the request of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce to help address the shortage of essential worker housing.

Gillam said amendments to the zoning regulations to allow cluster homes went through several public hearings during commissioners meetings, and was eventually approved in 2019 for 32 zoning districts in the county including 10 districts in Wanchese as special uses.

Another concern from residents is that The Villages at Old Wharf Road will irreparable harm the character of the village, and will feature mostly short-term vacation rentals that increase traffic and the number of people in-and-out of Wanchese on a regular basis.

During questioning by the planning board, Alexander said that renting out units by the week is not his intention of the development.

While board members noted the proposal met the requirements of Dare County ordinances, they encouraged Alexander to work with the community while also ensuring the development will meet the goal of the cluster home language to provide a long-term housing solution, and voted

The planning board voted to forward the proposal to the Dare County Board of Commissioners for their consideration. A legally-required sign about the public hearing has been posted at the site of the proposal.

A sign about the public hearing was posted March 21, 2023 at the site of the proposed development. [submitted photo]
Since the proposal came to the attention of residents over the winter, many in the Wanchese community have been outspoken in their opposition on social media, even posting a billboard entering the village, with yard signs and bumper stickers coming soon.

A billboard was erected March 21, 2023, that opposes the cluster home proposal. [submitted photo]
A website, www.wanchesepreservation.org, and affiliated Facebook group Wanchese Preservation Trust has been posting updated information about residents’ efforts to block the proposal.

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