Ignoring appropriate concerns and recommendations of Morehead City Councilmen David Horton and Bill Taylor, the remaining three members of the city’s town board voted Wednesday evening to rezone 23 acres of Highway 24 frontage in the Spooners Creek residential community. The two opposing council members sought to delay the decision until the city’s land use plan was revised to address the city’s growth.
Within minutes after the final comments were made in the four-hour public hearing in the Crystal Coast Civic Center, the board voted 3 to 2 to change the zoning of the 23-acre lot on Highway 24 from (R-20) single home residential to (CH-CZ) for one portion of the acreage to allow for a new Starling Marine retail shop. Another portion of the acreage was rezoned to (RMF-CZ) to allow the construction of a multi-family independent senior living facility. Both changes are conditional approvals, requiring significant investment on the part of the developer to meet safety and environmental concerns.
Both the developer seeking the zoning change and the homeowners who opposed it made well organized and professional presentations for their arguments. The developers however, provided a very polished and compelling argument that swayed the town board to approve the rezoning request.
But the rezoning issue overwhelmed the more important decisions that were also on the agenda. In addition to the rezoning question the public hearing involved both a change in the town’s Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) land use plan and tangentially an amendment to that plan’s consistency in the rezoning decision.
Both Mr. Horton and Mr. Taylor asked important questions related to these issues but were ignored as the three other council members rushed to a conclusion.
Those two items were simply lumped into a confusing motion of approval presented by council member Diane Warrender as she read from several pages of prepared notes. After discerning her intent, town attorney Derek Taylor amended the motion with Ms. Warrender’s approval, creating an omnibus motion compressing all three items into one decisive vote.
Mr. Horton voted no to the resolution, correctly noting that this decision ignores the intent of the land use plan and opens the door to changes that have not been fully considered. He argued that the town should first address the land use plan and the long term future of Morehead City’s growth and then address the rezoning opportunities. He also argued that the rezoning issue ignored the existing land use plan which designates property on the south side of the highway as residential and that inconsistency should be addressed before the rezoning request.
Mr. Taylor, who also serves on the eastern region’s highway Rural Planning Organization (RPO), voted no after expressing concerns with the growing traffic counts in the city and the lack of highway funding available to address current congestion and the anticipated traffic resulting from the conclusion of I-42, which will terminate just outside the city limits on U.S. 70.
The councilman also noted that the town’s growth will eventually lead to decisions about residential density involving high rise structures and that these issues needed attention in the city’s land use and consistency plan.
In spite of these longer term concerns, the remaining board members moved ahead with the rezoning request, arguing that the two companies will be an asset to the community. There is no question about the quality of their operations and based on the presentations made during the hearing, little doubt about their sincerity to build quality structures.
They property owners and developer were not, and are not, the issue. The issue is the lack of long term planning that should have been done for the developers and the town before the rezoning decision was to be made. Councilmen Taylor and Horton are to be commended for asking the hard questions that needed to be addressed but were glossed over as the remaining board members made snap decisions without considering the long term impacts.
Now that this issue of rezoning has been temporarily handled it is time for the town to review the comments and concerns that Mr. Taylor and Mr. Horton presented. The city and county are experiencing growth in spite of the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic. And unless the town aggressively tackles the complex and uncomfortable planning that is required there will continue to be disputes on land use that will be costly and politically disruptive.