Carteret County’s future is being determined piecemeal, town by town, as local boards take on rezoning and land use plans without a consistent and cohesive vision, as our peninsular county faces unprecedented growth with the soon to be completed I-42 connecting the Raleigh-Triangle market to the county. Growth pains are already impacting the heritage and culture of the county as its 11 incorporated municipalities deal independently with demands for commercial and residential development that have broader impacts countywide.
With a year-round population of just over 69,000 that explodes to over 250,000 during a summer weekend, the county finds itself stressed to handle the demands for commercial services and subsequent housing for those who supply the labor for local business. These stresses are happening rapidly due to growing interest in our area for both permanent and temporary housing which in turn drives up the cost of living in a county that is heavily dependent on a low paying service industry- tourism.
These issues are now coming home to roost as developers are looking at both the need and potential of housing investments creating major disruptions through rezoning requests that have long term ramifications environmentally, economically and politically.
Last week Cape Carteret, Beaufort and Newport town councils were challenged to address competing issues that reflect the growing pressures of affordable housing and land development.
Monday evening May 8, Cape Carteret commissioners voted unanimously to rezone a 2.3-acre lot to allow construction of a 12-unit townhouse project despite concerns of nearby neighbors. Opponents of the development argued that it was inconsistent with the single-family homes in the area, that it would increase traffic as well as setting a precedent for more of the same type of construction in the neighborhood. Describing the issue as a “slippery slope,” resident Jennifer Parrish challenged the board saying, “Nobody wants this. You don’t listen.”
Earlier that same day, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Division of Coastal Management, meeting in Morehead City, took comments regarding the possible designation of Gibbs Creek in Beaufort, as an Area of Environmental Concern (AEC). If the designation is approved it will restrict the development of a 46 lot subdivision by Salt Wynd, previously approved two years ago by both Beaufort’s planning board and town commissioners.
The opponents of the plan who are seeking the AEC designation, nearby residents and environmental groups, contend the project will damage what they describe as a primary fishery and shellfish nursery area. The CAMA commissioners will now review the information provided and make a final determination on how the property can be developed.
That same evening the Beaufort Commissioners ‘kicked the can down the road,’ delaying a decision to amend the town’s charter to create a new affordable housing district at the request of two private entities, the Beaufort Housing Authority and Winn Developers. At stake is a request to allow for up to 300 new housing units, described as “affordable.” The affordable housing district, which will also include some low-income or Section 8 housing, would only apply to properties owned by the Housing Authority and the Federal Government (HUD).
Thursday evening, Newport’s town council made the decision to accept a request by Ray Murdoch to rezone 43-acres of a 108-acre tract from R-20 single family to R-15, which allows for higher density housing development. That decision pitted the long term residents Ray Murdoch against his neighbors, Alton and Robert Willis, who are operating a successful 70-year-old farm that abuts the proposed development.
The Willis brothers contend that development of the Murdoch property will increase storm water drainage across their farm and another nearby farm owned by Larry Land, Morehead City, endangering their production, which might put them out of business. After impassioned presentations from both sides, the town’s council voted 4 to 1 to approve the change. When all was said and done, the Murdoch and the Willis brothers shook hands amicably, concluding that they would work together to find a solution.
While it is commendable that the principals in the Newport dispute are working for a common solution, those options and opportunities often elude other land disputes, which is the reason for a consistent land use plan to guide property owners on how they can utilize their land while being sensitive to their neighbors and the impact on the community at large.
The county’s municipalities as well as the county itself are required by the Coastal Area Management Act to periodically update their land use plans (LUP) to guide land development to assure consistency the state environmental directives. The county and the municipalities had a chance two years ago to create a coordinated plan but the opportunity was squandered.
In 2021 the county reviewed and rewrote its LUP for the rural regions of the county, including the towns of Bogue and Peletier, but did little to nothing to engage the other nine municipalities.
While it is easy to fault the county for not including the towns in its planning process, blame also belongs to the various towns for not insisting that they be involved.
Now the process is happening piecemeal with each town working on its own plan independently, without regard to the impact on the whole county. The result is a consistent droning of rezoning request followed by rezoning request that is only exacerbating a growing frustration and anger among the county’s current residents. The only alternatives for opponents to these efforts are to initiate legal action to delay or alter the rezoning requests and to eventually pursue changes in governance on the various town boards.
Although the legal challenges and changes in governance may temporarily slow down the rezoning actions, they won’t resolve the overall problem. The growth the county is experiencing is a tsunami, with the force of hundreds of thousands of tourists and potential long term residents flooding in on I-42, and resistance only slows it down - it does not provide sustainable solutions.
What is needed is a coordinated vision or plan for the county that involves establishing understandings and agreements with the municipalities and the county as to how the growth will be directed and then begin to develop the infrastructure to support the growth. But with less than 10 years to go before local and state officials cut the proverbial ribbon opening I-42, there is little time to wait for establishing a sustainable plan for the county.
One size does not fit all, but I agree there needs to be an overall county wide land use plan. We have mother in law apts being considered in MHC, Townhouses going in in Cape Carteret, pending " low income housing" in Beaufort, and lets not forget the county commissioners "rv" parks, that bear no resemblance to what most people consider Rv's. High density parks for tiny homes that maximise rental income, using the RV park designation to circumvent lot size restrictions for Mobile home parks. Its all about density, more people, more cars, more parking more crowds, more water coming from the wells and more sewer to be dealt with, unless the developer has connections, in which case septic tanks& leach fields next to the waterway is OK.
The changes in carteret the last 40 yrs are simply amazing, i shudder to think what the next 40 will bring Strip malls on 70 from otway to newbern, smog and gridlock, no swimming in the polluted sound,county budget 2.3 billion?
Written by someone that has reported on our whole county with the foresight to know what's coming. Most importantly the good editor offers a method to anticipate the growth through coordinated CAMA plans and entices all to implement sustainable solutions. Well done!
As for infrastructure, the County Transportation Plan is currently being worked on and this article makes me wonder if the municipalities and county will learn from the past and coordinate better than the CAMA plans.
Welcome to the discussion.
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