Beaufort Town Council members are scheduled to discuss and possibly approve a major update to the town’s Land Use Plan but in so doing they may be overlooking one very important component - the impact on residents, visitors and the economic future of the town.

Carteret County towns as well as the county offices have been reviewing and reworking their Land Use Plans (LUP) as required by the state’s Coastal Area Management Act covering the state’s 20 coastal counties. Under that act, mandated by the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, coastal communities are required to develop plans and oversight of coastal development to protect and preserve, as much as practical, coastal resources such as clean water and natural habitat.

All of the plans are reviewed by the Coastal Resources Commission, which includes coastal residents nominated by local governments and an advisory council from each of coastal counties and municipalities. Despite resistance from a variety of quarters including developers, land use plans have become a standard that the coastal communities have begrudgingly accepted with a certain degree of skepticism.

Land Use Plans are taking on more importance and influence as coastal populations continue to increase, resulting in a heightened awareness of environmental issues such as clean water, protection of natural habitat for fish and wildlife, and the ever present concerns of sea rise and storm water runoff.

In Beaufort’s LUP there is significant focus on concerns with sea level rise, and as a result large swaths of land either within the town limits or its extra-territorial jurisdiction along the highway 70 corridor are proposed to be designated as a “Non-Intensification Zone.” This zone, according to the town’s revised plan, “describes an area where future development should be limited and public infrastructure should not continue to be intensified unless significant protective measures are put in place to ensure infrastructure and investments are adopted to probable future conditions.”

That description raises questions as to what are those protective measures, which are open to interpretation, not to mention the conclusion of what will be “probable future conditions.” Based on those questions alone, the potential of development within this zone declines quickly.

The problem with this designation is not that it is without basis since the town is experiencing increased tidal events that are clearly indicative of sea level rise, but it is vague in its conclusion as to how the land can be used. The property owners who are subject to this designation need and deserve a better understanding of just what can be done with their property if this LUP is approved.

There is a far greater impact on some of the land areas included in the NIZ - it will remove possible properties from consideration of high density development, which is the intention of the zoning. The potential loss of these land areas to possible high density, apartment development should be a major concern for town officials and businesses.

Beaufort has become an expensive and exclusive residential community that is pricing the average wage earner out of the market. Recently, two houses in the town each sold for over $4 million. In another case a single story, 1940’s wood frame house, not located on the water, is being advertised for over $1million.

Although these are unique cases for either the location or construction of the houses involved, they are indicative of a housing market that is entirely too expensive for the average wage earner in the town or the county.

One newspaper reporting on the Federal Reserve’s annual summer conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, noted the irony of a group of bankers concerned with the financial conditions of the average wage earner meeting in a city that has to import its labor force from other areas to work in the businesses located in the town. This same situation exists in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where many of the tourist-related businesses have resorted to busing in their employees from other regions where housing is more affordable.

Beaufort, like Myrtle Beach and Jackson Hole, is a destination for tourists and retirees and as a result the primary industry is retail and service related. And like those two towns, Beaufort’s real estate has become very attractive to outside investors who are bidding the prices up. The result is that the price of a modest home now exceeds the capacity of an average wage earner in the town as well as the county.

The town’s land use plan justifiably addresses environmental concerns, but it fails to address the long-term impacts of some of the its proposals, particularly the prospect of removing large land areas from any future development.

The county, and particularly Beaufort, are already feeling the impact of the growth in the Raleigh-Triangle market, with increased tourist traffic and interest in the area as a real estate investment opportunity. Once I-42 is complete, the county and town will see even great impacts.

There is no question the stress of rising waters is a concern for the town’s future, but so too is the impact of declining land areas for development that will only increase the cost of living.

Before the town council puts its signature on this plan it should review the potential impact on the town’s demographics and its economic future. There is no question land planning is beneficial in the long run, but the planning should also include the human component- how and where do our year-round residents live.

(3) comments

Sailorbuoy

New construction in these area will NOT be affordable housing.

drewski

As folks continue to flock to the coast, housing costs skyrocket. in a major city it is called " gentrification" The end result is the same prices increase taxes increase and the working poor are forced out. You can expect a housing boom in more inland counties, say jones county in the next 20 yrs. right now you can get a LOT more house and land there for the same 200k a modest house will get you on the coast.

El Mochilero

The NIZ corresponds to the 100 year flood zone, which has already flooded several times in the past year. While not a regulatory document, the CAMA Land Use Plan is a guideline to the town and residents of Beaufort. It makes sense that the town should use extreme caution in approving development in this zone, especially concerning town provided utilities, roads, sewer, water, etc. As a resident of Beaufort I would not want to see my future taxes used to repair/replace costly infrastructure damaged in storms or flooding in areas where we know this is going to happen. Development must be discouraged, or restricted in these areas. To imply that this will affect future low income housing means that we do not care if "those people" get flooded out. The development should not be allowed there in the first place.

If the NIZ is not included or is weakened substantially by the Town Commissioners, it will open the town to legal jeopardy when folks unknowingly purchase property and lose it, when it never should have been built, and the town knew this. The teeth, with the specific language will de developed later. The Town Commissioners always have the ability to approve any appropriate development, such as a marina in the NIZ.

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