Zoning is becoming a very contentious issue for Carteret County and its eleven municipalities and with the rapid growth of both population and businesses services the challenges this issue presents will only increase as businesses and developers respond to growing demands.
Despite the economic slowdown created by the COVID-19 pandemic the county’s economy has been growing steadily. The housing market is booming, new businesses are either moving in or building along the county’s major highway arteries, N.C. 24, 58 and U.S. 70 are soon to become I-42, all of which are threatening traffic safety and the environment on these, the county’s primary roadways.
Two zoning issues to be decided next week, one by the county commissioners and the other by the Morehead City town council, are indicative of the disruption that zoning and rezoning is causing. In both cases the underlying issues are safety and environmental impact which are key components of the region’s current land use plans.
Spooners Creek residents and other nearby homeowners are contesting a requested zoning change in a 23-acre parcel within that community from R-20 single family homes, to Residential Multifamily Conditional Zoning, to allow for a boat dealership operation and a multi-family independent senior living facility. The Morehead City town board will conduct a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday April 13 to change its land use plan first so that the board can then follow with a public hearing and decide on the rezoning request.
This needed first step exemplifies the haphazard nature and speed of changes that are occurring. Had the town’s planning board been cognizant of the town’s land use plan they would have advised the petitioners that their request was not allowed under the city’s land use plan. That didn’t happen and the planning board voted 4-2 approving the rezoning request. This error, which the town must first fix to consider the rezoning request, shows the need for planning boards and even elected boards to become more knowledgeable about land use planning.
The other zoning dispute involves a change for a 156-acre parcel on Highway 58, in Peletier, from R-20 single family residential to RCP, recreational camper park district. The opponents of the change are concerned that the zoning change allowing 19 living units per acre, in the form of campers, versus the current zoning of two units per acre, will overwhelm the roads and other public services in the area.
The final decision on this rezoning request will be made by the county commissioners following a public hearing scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday April 12.
Both of these rezoning requests are contested by nearby property owners on the basis that the proposed changes will increase traffic, resulting in unsafe conditions and will significantly change the land use plan, thereby diminishing their investments.
There is no question that with or without these changes traffic will increase. As noted, the traffic is growing quickly because of the county’s coastal resources and other quality of life advantages.
The real question is how prepared are these areas to handle not only increased traffic but the increase in ingress and egress that will result from their operations?
Traffic studies are needed now and preferably before any zoning changes are made. The North Carolina Department of Transportation, (NCDOT) is dealing with a variety of plans for the county but due to financial hardships within that department, there is little chance at this point that remedial action can be taken quickly to adjust for increased traffic congestion.
Rushing into zoning conclusions now, without a clear plan for the years ahead, will only heighten problems down the road (pardon the pun) for future development and make any improvements or corrections far more costly and contentious.
Considering the speed and the resulting complexities of the county’s growth it would be best for the county and its municipalities to take a methodical approach to all rezoning requests. At the same time work should begin now reviewing current traffic studies and future expectations that the DOT and state Department of Commerce can provide, and then incorporate community involvement. The ultimate goal is a thoughtful long range plan that will direct zoning and building codes to enhance current and future investments in the county.