MOREHEAD CITY — Despite opposition from numerous property owners in Spooners Creek and other nearby neighborhoods, the Morehead City Planning Board gave its recommendation of approval for a rezoning request that could eventually lead to the development of a marine retailer and an independent senior living community.
The planning board met via Zoom Tuesday evening to consider the conditional rezoning request for 301 Highway 24, submitted by Bryan Starling on behalf of the current property owner, Mary Lynn Osteen. The request, to change the zoning of the roughly 23-acre parcel from single-family residential district to commercial and multi-family residential districts, was the board’s only item of business Tuesday, but it sparked an extensive discussion on the potential effects of the proposed developments.
Specifically, Mr. Starling is requesting the rezoning so he can expand his marine wholesale company, Starling Marine, on half of the property. The other half would be developed by Ridge Care Senior Living, a regional company which is proposing construction of an independent senior living community with around 70 units.
“We feel it is very important to invest in our community and help support all aspects of our great town. We also feel it is important to invest in our business … and always look for ways to improve our experience for our customers,” Mr. Starling said Tuesday. “The piece of property we are here tonight to discuss does both.”
The rezoning request was originally submitted in November, but before it got to the planning board, Mr. Starling requested it be postponed due to significant pushback from neighbors, many of whom live in Spooners Creek and other nearby areas. The review was moved to December, at which point Mr. Starling withdrew it altogether.
In response to the outcry, Mr. Starling said he held several community meetings to help raise awareness about the project, and he also set up a website with detailed information and visuals, including architect’s renderings and site plans. When he submitted the request again in February, it was as a conditional rezoning, which allows the applicant and city staff to add conditions tied to the property as part of the rezoning.
“We have submitted a plan for consideration that is transparent and clear, a plan that has been developed from facts and research documented by licensed professionals and a plan that addresses solutions with conditions to confirm our commitment to the project,” he said.
Despite the community outreach, around half a dozen Spooners Creek and other nearby residents showed up virtually Tuesday to voice their opposition, and many more submitted letters to the city. Steve Walters with the Spooners Creek North Homeowners Association summarized many of those concerns in a slideshow he presented to the planning board.
He said nearby residents are concerned about the environmental impact of the development, especially related to stormwater runoff and flooding potential. Further, he said it represents encroaching commercialization into an area that was historically residential.
“We certainly agree that the economic development, as well as encouraging good neighbors, as the Starlings have always been, is something that we would support,” Mr. Walters said. “Our only concern is that we would like it to be on properties that are better suited for commercial zoning.”
Another main concern of Mr. Walters and others, including some members of the planning board, is the potential for increased traffic on Highway 24, which many already consider a dangerous thoroughfare. The proposed development would be located across the busy road from Walmart, and some worry it could add more traffic to the area, leading to an increase in accidents.
“As a physician in this community, the traffic safety thing is a huge issue,” said Dr. Bob Coles, who also lives nearby.
Mr. Starling said if his proposal goes through, he would like to work with the surrounding community to petition the N.C. Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit on the road. At the suggestion of Mr. Walters, the planning board also encouraged the applicants to consider doing traffic impact study for the area, but did not require it as a condition of granting the request.
Going against the grain, one Spooners Creek resident, James Cummings, spoke in support of the proposal, saying he believed the development could actually benefit the area.
After a nearly three-hour long discussion, including a relatively short deliberation period, the board voted 4-2 to recommend the rezoning request. Members Diana Tootle and Tom Saunders cast the dissenting votes, and one member, Matt Johnson, recused himself from deliberations and voting because he spoke in favor of the applicant.
The Morehead City Council will hold a public hearing and make a final determination on the rezoning request at its meeting Tuesday, March 9.
Reporter's note: This article was updated at 11:41 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, with more information.
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.