Morehead City’s rezoning and land use plan public hearing scheduled for Wednesday evening at the Crystal Coast Civic Center should be a significant concern for all the residents of Morehead City if not for the entire county. The city council’s decisions regarding a request to rezone 23 acres on Highway 24, just outside the city limits, from residential to conditional commercial-highway, and the subsequent change in the city’s current land use plan, will set the tone for development and land planning in the western portion of the town in preparation for the construction of I-42 within the next ten years.
As currently planned, I-42 will end in the vicinity of Newport and western Morehead City. Once the interstate highway is completed it will create a tidal wave of traffic flooding into that portion of the county that will cause serious safety issues. These safety issue will not only impact Morehead City but by extension other towns such as Beaufort and the beach municipalities that will be among the destinations for many of the travelers.
There is also the possibility of increased commercial traffic to the Morehead City State Port to be considered since it also will benefit from opportunities provided by highway improvement.
The impact of this interstate cannot be overstated and the planning for the flood of traffic that will result must begin immediately. Ten years in the world of community planning is not a long time. Consider the impact I-40 had on Wilmington, which was woefully ill-prepared for the resulting traffic flows. Within a year after that interstate was opened the city, along with the state and federal highway commissions, began planning a bypass to alleviate the traffic nightmare the interstate highway created for local businesses and residents.
Morehead City, and in fact all of Carteret county, is a peninsula, surrounded by water so there is no possibility of a bypass to alleviate the anticipated traffic nightmare that will occur once I-42 is constructed.
Traffic in the county, in spite of reduction in visitations due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has continued to rise and will continue to do so as portions of I-42 continue to bypass towns between here and Raleigh. The recent announcements of Apple’s plans to add 3,000 jobs and Google’s 1000 jobs in Raleigh, and Amazon’s plans for a 500 job addition in Smithfield will have an impact on Morehead City and the county as well as those immediate cities. Many of these new employees, along with the hundreds of thousands current residents of these communities, will be only two hours or less from the county and our outstanding coastal amenities once I-42 is complete. We can count on these employees and their families being regular visitors and they’ll be coming by car down I-42 or Highway 24 headed to Morehead City, Beaufort, the beaches, and points east. The resulting traffic flow will create travel issues for both residents and visitors and more importantly, significant safety concerns as experienced in Wilmington.
This Wednesday, starting at 5:30, the Morehead City town council will consider public comments and finally decide on a zoning request involving 23 acres of property in the Spooners Creek residential community that fronts Highway 24. The property is currently zoned (R-20) for single family residential use only. The owners, along with a potential buyer of the plat, are seeking to change the zoning to conditional-highway commercial (CH-CZ)) to allow for a marine-boat retailer, Starling Marine, and (RMF-CZ) to allow the construction of a multi-family independent senior living facility.
Citing highway safety issues as well as non-conformity of the proposed land use, nearby residents in and around Spooners Creek have contested this zoning request since it was first proposed in November of last year. Over the past eight months, the request has been withdrawn twice from consideration by either the town’s planning board or the town council, and because of conflicts and confusion about process and land use regulations, the town has cancelled previous public hearings.
And even now there is confusion. In several public notices the town has announced there will be a public hearing on the city’s land use plan and another regarding the zoning request. A most recent public notice only referenced one public hearing.
This zoning issue is a subset of a far greater concern and that is, how will Morehead City plan to safely and effectively handle the addition of thousands of cars converging from both Highway 70/I-42 and Highway 24 on to Arendell Street. The town is aware of this problem and is working with the N.C. Department of Transportation seeking to lengthen Bridges Street to connect west of the city’s town limits in the vicinity of Carl Garner road.
Likewise, the city sees the need to provide traffic relief for Highway 24 with plans to open up a connector to Highway 70 on Little Nine Drive just beyond the Walmart Super Center.
N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is also concerned about the traffic flow on Highway 24 and is planning to construct a superstreet starting at the White Oak River all the way to the Highway 70 intersection in Morehead City. According to traffic experts, the superstreet design, as has been constructed in Havelock, which replaces the fifth or center turning lane with a hard median, will go a long way in improving both traffic flow and safety.
All of these issues and the ensuing discussions beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Morehead City’s public hearing Wednesday at the civic center should take into consideration what is known and what is yet to be known about the highway development in Carteret County. What can be determined confidently is that Wednesday’s decision will significantly impact the growth and safety of the county’s transportation system, which should concern us all.