NEWPORT – Newport’s council chambers were packed Monday evening as the council grappled with the issues of rezoning 43 acres of a larger 108-acre tract of land off Willis Farm Road from R-20 to R-15. The town council members, seeking information prior to a public hearing on the proposed zoning changes, took comments from concerned citizens. At times exchanges were a little heated, with town manager William Shanahan Jr. stepping in to bring the meeting back into focus.

Ray Murdoch of Salt Creek Holdings, LLC wants to develop a portion of the property to accommodate a 62 lot residential single family subdivision which will tie in to another single family development that he developed over ten years ago, at Graceland Park. He is currently under contract with the James R. Murdoch family to purchase the entire 108 acres of land.

The council voted to annex the entire tract into the town during April’s council meeting. Thursday’s public hearing will be to consider changing the zoning from R-20 to R-15.

Concerns were voiced because the planned development would involve land clearing and subsequent coverage of the land with impervious surfaces in the form of roads, driveways and houses.

Murdoch plans to build a low density development with build upon area (BUA) calculation allowances of 24%, which means a developer can cover up to 24% of a property with driveways, garages and the home. In contrast the BUA for the current zoning of R-20 would consist of 50 lots at an average of 5,000 square feet, which is how Graceland Park was designed and developed.

Most of the attention on the flooding impacts the development could have on nearby Willis Farm, which borders the planned development site.

Brothers and owners of Willis Farm, Alan and Rodney, spoke very passionately about what they fear is going to happen to their farm because of this development and the severe consequences of rezoning it to R-15.

Last spring, the James R. Murdoch Trust, administered by Debra Dalby, timbered a portion of this land as they have done in the past. “I’ve seen that woods timbered three times in my lifetime and we’ve been flooded every time,” said Alan. “We have never complained because we knew it was going to get better when the woods grew back. Now, it’s never gonna get better if this subdivision is built.”

W.F. Parker, owner of W.F. Parker & Company, said rezoning to R15 would be catastrophic. He showed photos of the farm when it flooded on a 3.5 inch rain last July. The water flooded the irrigation pond, spilling it out across Willis Farm Road and through the culvert there, sending a very swift deluge of water to the railroad culvert, filling it to the top of the two 36 inch pipes leading under the railroad that sends it on out to the Newport River.

“You can see those pipes are full on a three inch rain,” said Parker. “This soil will not accept all this water and absorb it. There is a drainage issue there downstream from this property and it is backing up under the railroad.”

Parker explained that before they timbered the land there was no runoff and the pine straw helped absorb the water as did the trees. He said the water from this subdivision is going to shed right through Willis Farm and it is going to exacerbate this issue as evidenced by the topography maps that clearly show the water shed and roughly a 12-foot drop from the proposed subdivision, through the farm and out to the river.

“The state will approve the permits and the developer and his engineer will do a good a job, but the fact of the matter is, this town knows they have a problem here,” Parker said. “It has been shown to them and they have walked it.”

Parker says this land is going to be developed and the town took this property in at R-20 and knew the parameters of what R-20 brought to the table. At R-15 he says there is going to be a lot harder surface.

“You can’t stop development,” Parker says. “But you can’t close your eyes and keep on building thinking everything is going to run through that 36 inch pipe under the railroad. It’s not going to happen.”

Parker says that is his biggest concern, the culvert under the railroad, which was designed for water culverts many years ago and things have changed.

“If that water backs up on a large rain and saturates that road base under that railroad and a train comes through loaded, it could possibly cause a train accident,” he said. “We don’t have enough money in Carteret County to pay that tab. I have done work where I have had to bore under the railroad. You have to put up a bond and it takes a year to get a permit from the railroad, but it’s possible.”

Parker says the best solution is to let the developer put a box culvert under the track and to purchase a drainage right-of-way from the farm and cut a drainage ditch all the way to the river and control the quality of water at the discharge.

Councilwoman Rhonda Shinn echoed Parker’s sentiment about the farm’s irrigation ponds being built in a different time when there was very little growth and that it is the responsibility of the Willis’ to address their pond flooding and bring the drainage up to today’s standard. That did not set well with the Willis brothers.

“My system works for me and it always has,” said Alan. “Is it my responsibility to change my system to accommodate something that is proposed to come along?”

Councilman Danny Fornes told other members of council that an engineer needs to go out to the big irrigation pond near the river and take a look at the dam that was installed back in the 60s.

“They put this dam in to flood this and use for irrigation water,” said Fornes. “It has a spillway and is it working the way it’s supposed too? Is it large enough to let the volume of water out that needs to? Could we do something there to improve the drainage?”

Murdoch was in agreement that an engineer should look at the irrigation ponds to determine what, if anything, needs to be done to them to prevent flooding. Murdoch and his engineer, Ron Cullipher of the Cullipher Group, Inc. in Morehead City have not been on the Willis property to look at these ponds and culverts.

“If you didn’t want your place flooded and could add culvert tiles to alleviate the pressure, I would think you would do that,” Murdoch said. “I would.”

Murdoch thinks the entire drainage system through the farm and out to the river is clogged and that is what has caused the flooding on a big rain and not the timbering of the property. The issue is the cost of having an engineer come out and address the drainage and offer solutions. The Willis’ have asked the town to hire an engineer. The council and Murdoch feel it is Willis Farm’s responsibility as the land owner to hire an engineer.

“I just don’t know how to answer who pays for the cost,” said Murdoch. “They have not to my knowledge hired an engineer to look at their ponds. Can my engineer and I go out there and walk it to see if we could put a bigger culvert in to alleviate this problem? If other property owners have done something to impede the drainage of other property, whose responsibility is it ?”

Either way, Murdoch plans to develop this property and he will be under very strict state guidelines for development. Shinn told the council that County Commissioner Chuck Shinn has asked Gene Foxworth, assistant county manager, to come out and take a look at the railroad culvert and reach out to the railroad to get its input. She said the effects of this development on the railroad and the farm are of great concern to her, but she, as well as other council members, was elected to do what is in Newport’s best interest for the town and all of its citizens.

Newport’s council will hold this public hearing on Thursday, May 11, 6 p.m. in council chambers at town hall to vote on Murdoch’s rezoning request for this 43-acre tract currently in the James R Murdoch Trust.

(4) comments


We as a county, are just beginning to see what development looks like. Preserving our heritage and natural resources should be a priority in the municipalities and unincorporated areas.

Despite the overall feeling of flooding in this article, it's a matter of what can be built in the 43 acres. The state sets the BUA and stormwater permits. Contrary to the article the BUA is 24% for both R-15 and R-20 and Gracelyn Park is R-15. It's a decision of having home sizes and uses similar to it's residential neighbors or something that could be very different. Could Winn Developers walk away from Beaufort for Newport? HUD Certified Manufactured homes are allowed in Newport's R-20 and there's 65 more acres remaining of this parcel.

Throughout the multiple rezonings reported in The News-Times, it's always a similar story; drainage, runoff, or changing the character of the neighborhood. If we as citizens, don't advocate to get language into our towns and county documents that legally preserves the farm land, open space and wetlands, much more will surely be lost to a developer with a stormwater permit in hand. Please get involved before it's your neighbor's proposal to fight against.


The Willis Farm should, without a doubt, be given high consideration on this proposal. That working farm has been there for generations and should not have to fight to exist just because a contractor wants to build a new housing development. Once it's build they will hall buggy and leave any mess behind. If I were the Willis Family I would fight tooth and nail against this. The town of Newport needs to bring that "courtesy" word back into existence. It's been missing for a long, long time. In fact, it should be removed from our town sign. It's all about the money; not the people. I have had to fight them on issues with my property and believe me it's not easy. If only Darryl Garner were back in office. You would see quite a difference. He cared about the town. We don't have that any longer.


That would be a shame. I was born and raised in Newport, and although we live in Virginia now (for work) we always make it a point to stop by The Willis Farm to get good produce while we're visiting family.


I totally agree with everything you are saying!!!!

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