Monday, June 28, 2010

Currituck to Consider Moratorium on Wild Horse Tours


As someone who spending every working day in the off-road area and works at a "stop on the tour", I am glad to see a review of policy on this. Hopefully a practical solution can be explored and realized. Below is an article from Jeff Hampton of the VA Pilot:

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 27, 2010

Currituck County may limit tours to see wild horses, one of the biggest attractions on the Outer Banks.

So far this summer, eight companies with 45 vehicles carrying as many as 324 people are operating under the county's new permit system.

Another company with two 52-person capacity monster buses also seeks a permit.

Permitted tour businesses include a golf cart tour in Corolla, two kayak tours along the Currituck Sound shoreline, and two Segway tours - one in Corolla and one in the four-wheel-drive area.

"We are having a difficult time permitting and enforcing all these tours up there," said Ben Woody, director of the Currituck County Planning Department. "It is getting a little overwhelming."

Commissioners are considering a moratorium on new horse tours.

"We want some time to look at it," said Commissioner Vance Aydlett. "We want to take a look at the number of people and the number of vehicles."

The Currituck Outer Banks is among the few places where people can see wild horses roaming along the dunes.

The herd totals about 100 horses, but they typically travel in small groups. A stallion and a few mares can show up on the beach and attract a hundred people in moments.

Tour companies ride up the beach a few miles before crossing the dunes onto the rough unpaved roads that run through the neighborhoods.

Over the years, approximately 100 permanent residents have complained of speeding, noise, trespassing and harassment of the horses.

The county has attempted to write ordinances that balance the complaints with the demand for seeing the horses, the unique attraction that separates it from the Dare County beaches. Wild horses are featured on the county website and in tourism literature.

"At least they are guided now," said resident Kimberlee Hoey. "That helps, because you don't have as many wild cowboys driving around."

The market controls some of the problem, said Richard Brown, owner of Wild Horse Adventure Tours, the largest tour company there.

"There are only so many customers," Brown said. "If they don't give customers what they want, they're not going to stay in business anyway."

On Monday, the Board of Commissioners turned down a request by a Carova couple to operate an airboat tour along the Currituck shoreline.

Residents there opposed the tours, and both the planning board and planning staff recommended denial. Noise, safety and turbidity in the water were among the objections. The tour would have operated from a residential area on Teal Road in Carova along a canal.

"I have no problem with the tour," Aydlett said. "It's just the place."

But owners David and Polly McMillan said the denial was arbitrary and wrong. As they progressed through the permit process, the McMillans complied with every request, Polly McMillan said.

A noise test taken by a Currituck County deputy from 25 feet showed the boat put out 61 decibels idling and 70 decibels when under way. At 50 feet, the engine put out 84 decibels at high speed from feet 50 away. A vacuum cleaner measures about 70 decibels, according to a chart by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

An airboat engine is above water and creates less turbidity than a motor boat, David McMillan said. Regarding the commercial activity in a home district, many other small businesses operate within Carova, he said.

"I'm not asking for something special," McMillan said. "I just want equal treatment. We've put a whole lot of work into this. It kind of destroys your faith in the system."

New permit requirements, first mandated this year, mostly control wild horse tours. Companies must have adequate parking at their base. A guide certified by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund must lead the tour. Each vehicle must have an identification sign on it. Permits must be renewed each year. Violators will be subject to a fine up to $500.

Despite the limits, the horse tour business is thriving this year. Bookings are already what they would normally be in peak weeks in July, Brown said. He typically runs five lead vehicles and five "tag-along" vehicles carrying up to 65 people. He started this business four years ago with two old vehicles.

In the parking lot just before a tour began, Wild Horse Adventure Tours guide Jeremy Winegardner explained some of the rules: Avoid the large mud holes in the unpaved roads, stay out of the ocean surf and stay 100 feet from the wild horses. The county ordinance says 50 feet, but Brown's guides are told to double that distance.

William and Tena Bishop, of Hickory, N.C., listened carefully. Celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, the Bishops were here to see wild horses.

"This is something I've always wanted to do," she said.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Off-Road Commercial Zoning request pulled from Agenda

In the 11th hour, the Developer pulls the request from the BOC agenda. Below is the article from the Daily Advance's Cindy Beamon

By Cindy Beamon
Staff writer
Monday, June 7, 2010
The developer of a proposed 302-unit inn on one of Currituck’s remote beaches has withdrawn his rezoning application amid outcry by nearby property owners that the project would spoil the landscape and strain scarce resources.

A public hearing on rezoning 37 acres in Swan Beach for the inn was scheduled for Monday but canceled at the request of Chip Friedman, owner of Swan Beach Corolla. Friedman, who notified The Daily Advance by e-mail of his decision Sunday, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Property owners identified as the “Currituck Off Road Community” had protested plans for the inn, claiming it was out of character with nearby residential housing and the natural surroundings.

The proposed project’s proximity to the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, a Natural Heritage Area, was of particular concern to county planners who had recommended denial of the rezoning request. Planners were also concerned about the project’s impact on the delicate Outer Banks eco-system and unpaved roadways.

Friedman’s decision apparently halts the developer’s third attempt to bring commercial development to the off-road beach area.

In 2004, the developer requested that almost 19 acres be rezoned from residential to general business. The request was denied by commissioners. In 2008, another request that would have created an overlay district for the property was heavily opposed by nearby residents and also denied.

Friedman said earlier that the inn would have no greater impact than the “mega-homes” currently built in the area.

“If we build 12 mega-homes, like what is occurring right now, there will be a much higher intensive use of resources and far less conservation,” he said in an e-mail last week.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Off-Road Commercial Development plan meeting local and County opposition

Passions are being ignited as the Board of Commissioners meeting draws near to approve or deny a rezoning request for commercial development in Swan Beach. Below is an article in the Daily Advance by Cindy Beamon:

By Cindy Beamon
Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010
A plan to build an inn on one of Currituck’s most remote beaches has evoked stiff resistance from county officials and a citizen’s group that asserts the project will spoil the landscape, drain scarce resources and threaten plants and wildlife.

Swan Beach Corolla is seeking to rezone 37 acres in Swan Beach from residential to commercial for a 302-unit inn, recreational facilities, indoor pool and helicopter landing pad. The proposed project would be located near the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, a Natural Heritage Area designed to protect plants and animals in environmentally sensitive areas.

The county Planning Board has recommended denial of the project after reviewing a long list of objections from the county’s planning staff. The Currituck Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider the request on Monday.

County planners stated that the proposed plan would be incompatible with the off-road community’s surroundings, encouraging traffic and commercial services in an area designed to discourage both.

The developer argues that the project would have no greater impact than building “mega-homes” on the site, and that the project would generate more tax revenue for the county.

Another major concern of the county planning staff was the proposed project’s proximity to the National Wildlife Refuge that should be “preserved and protected” from outside disturbance, planners said in a case analysis report.

In addition, the project would be ineligible for federal flood insurance within the high hazard area. Concerns about erosion, availability of fresh water, traffic and septic system management were also cited.

Also objecting to the rezoning request is a group identifying itself as the “Currituck Off Road Community.” Lynne Wilson, speaking for the group, said opposition to the proposed rezoning is “enormous.”

“The Currituck Off Road Community is just that, a community of people who live here and own property here. It is not a formal organization,” Wilson said in an e-mail response to The Daily Advance.

“The Currituck Off Road consists of thousands of privately owned lots and properties,” Wilson said. “Of those thousands, those who have expressed their opinion on this request to bring commercial zoning to the Off Road, the majority are opposed.”

In an e-mail that Chip Friedman, owner of Swan Beach Corolla, said was against his attorney’s advice, Friedman said, “As it stands, if we accept the County’s position, we could construct 12 homes with a total of 288 bedrooms on these same lots. What we are proposing is a resort which will have 302 bedrooms that will give the County more tax revenue, more jobs, and less traffic because our guests will be shuttled to the resort.”

The e-mail further states, “If we build 12 mega-homes, like what is occurring right now, there will be a much higher intensive use of resources and far less conservation. Furthermore, we have removed the fishing pier from the project. If the County wants to support sprawling development, it will reject our project”

The rezoning request is not the first submitted by Swan Beach Corolla. In 2004, the developer requested that almost 19 acres be rezoned from residential to general business. The request was denied by commissioners. In 2008, another request that would have created an overlay district for the property was also denied.

“The repeated requests by the developer is to commercialize an area whose greatest value, both intrinsic and extrinsic, lies in its remote nature and its unique character, its rare beauty attributable to its noncommercial character,” Wilson said.

The rezoning request must be approved by commissioners because the property is currently zoned for residential use and is located within a Limited Service Area, which discourages commercial and road development.

Wild Horses to become NC State Horse

According the the article by Virginia Pilot's Jeff Hampton below, a bill is awaiting the governor's signature to make the Spanish Mustang the State Horse.

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 3, 2010
Corolla’s wild horses and others like them are expected to become the official state horse of North Carolina.

The General Assembly ratified a bill today naming Colonial Spanish mustangs as the state horse. The governor is expected to sign the bill into law.

Believed to be descended from Spanish mustangs that arrived here in the 1500s, about 100 wild horses live in the four-wheel drive area of the Currituck County Outer Banks. Another 120 live in Shackleford Banks in Carteret County.

The Corolla herd naturally divides into smaller groups of a lead stallion, a few mares and young horses. Groups can be seen frolicking on the beaches or grazing in the yards of homes behind the dunes. Wild horses are among the most popular tourist attractions on the Outer Banks.

The idea for the legislation came from students at Shawboro Elementary School in Currituck County