Tuesday, December 28, 2010

County to discuss limits and guidelines for Corolla area buildings

In an attempt to stem some of the development in the historic areas of Corolla, Currituck County is seeking input on how best to preserve what is left of the "village" going forward. Below is an article from the Virginia Pilot with some meeting times for upcoming meetings. For a tour of the Corolla Village, click here

County may write guide for historic Corolla development
By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© December 26, 2010

A plan to guide development in historic Corolla could guard against "eyesores" and "monstrosities" but raises concerns of giving Currituck County too much control.

The county wants to write a small area plan for 322 acres surrounding the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the historic Whalehead Club.

The original historic village, west of N.C. 12, still has about a dozen structures built decades ago, including a school house and homes converted into shops.

On the east side is a modern subdivision known as Corolla Village developed since the 1980s.

Similar to the countywide land-use plan, a small area plan concentrates on a single community with guidance from an advisory committee of local residents and county staff members.

"A house on pilings with a swimming pool, a big-box store, a go-cart track would completely alter the village quality," said Sharon Twiddy, a member of the advisory committee. "Architectural guidelines that suggest ways of building that are consistent with existing homes and businesses would be welcome."

The Twiddys, owners of Twiddy & Co. Realtors in Corolla, have restored old buildings in the historic village.

A survey of about 50 Corolla residents who attended an October meeting showed that the top priority is keeping the historic village unchanged, with plenty of trees and open space.

One respondent wrote, "Keep it tranquil and wonderful as is, no city style."

Another wanted tight restrictions to "get rid of eyesores and the Wings monstrosities" and lamented "vagrants" and "day trippers who come to drive onto the beach and get drunk, pollute the beach and contribute nothing to the local economy."

The latest meeting was held Dec. 7. No date is set for another meeting planned for early January.

Expected to be finished next year, the small area plan would be a nonbinding guide for the Currituck County Board of Commissioners and the planning staff on issues of rezoning and permit applications, said Holly White, senior planner for Currituck County.

"This would not be regulatory," White said. "It is a community-driven plan."

But such plans can evolve into more controlling documents as boards and staff change, said Corolla native Norris Austin.

"Most people in the old village who I know are against it," Austin said. "It's not really historic anymore. It's nothing like it was when I was growing up."

Austin's family has lived in Corolla since the late 1800s. Austin grew up there in the 1940s and remembers the community having only a handful of people who farmed, hunted, fished and worked in local government jobs when available.

Mail and supplies for a post office/country store run by Austin's father came largely by boat. Austin took over for his father as the Corolla postmaster and worked there for decades.

As late as the 1970s, there were fewer than two dozen people living in Corolla, with no paved roads and few amenities. Austin has told his stories of old Corolla in books and as a volunteer at the Whalehead Club, a restored hunt club built in the 1920s.

A developer in the 1970s built a paved road that was gated, allowing only property owners to pass.

In 1984, the state took control, opened the paved road, and heavy development followed for the next 20 years. Corolla morphed into a busy and almost completely developed resort, with one posh subdivision after another.

"If you don't have some type of plan in place, then anything can happen," said Gary McGee of Corolla Light neighborhood, near Corolla Village. "We do see that anything can happen in other parts of Corolla."

The county still seeks public input and will advertise upcoming meetings. White is asking people to bring old photos of the village to the next meeting.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Winds of Change may be Coming....

As we approach 2011 with a new all-Republican Board of Commissioners in Currituck County, they will (hopefully) be tackling a host of issues that will directly impact the 4x4 areas. For a preview, the Virginia-Pilot's Jeff Hampton wrote the following article:

Decision time: Currituck to tackle big issues in '11
By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© December 12, 2010

A new Currituck County Board of Commissioners sworn in Monday faces a tough slate of decisions, including highway corridor development, home sizes on the Outer Banks and congestion on the four-wheel-drive beaches.

For the first time, the Currituck County board is all Republican after a wave of straight-party voting in the November election.

Democratic incumbents Gene Gregory, Janet Taylor and Barry Nelms were replaced by Republicans Paul Martin, Marion Gilbert and Butch Petrey, who join the remaining four Republican incumbents.

Elected two years ago, Vance Aydlett of Knotts Island was voted in as the new chairman of the board Monday, with John Rorer as vice chairman.

"We're all Republican, yet we're probably as diverse as ever," Rorer said.

The new board has approaching deadlines to settle difficult issues, said Ben Woody, director of the Currituck County Planning Department.

"They are going to be really busy in early 2011," Woody said.

Mid-Currituck County Bridge: The North Carolina Turnpike Authority is expected to announce a decision early next year on whether to build a five- to seven-mile bridge from Aydlett to Corolla at a cost of about $1 billion.

Aydlett and Corolla residents oppose the project, but most officials support it.

The project is too far along to stop, they say. Commissioners will have to zone for development on the highway approaching the bridge, which is expected to attract 30 to 40 businesses, including a hotel on the mainland side, according to an economic development study done two years ago. That area south of Coinjock is rural now.

Home sizes, Currituck County is undergoing a rewrite of its development ordinance, the first in more than 20 years. Among other things it could set standards on home sizes on the Outer Banks. Begun late last year, the ordinance rewrite is expected to be completed by late next summer.

Outer Banks homes could be restricted to 5,000 square feet, a rule proposed in part after construction of a 23-bedroom mansion earlier this year. The home is an attraction for large wedding parties where dozens of people can stay. But it falls under residential law rather than commercial laws that require safety measures such as sprinkler systems, Aydlett said. He wants commissioners to consider home size restrictions.

"I'm looking at it from a public safety standpoint," said Aydlett, who is a retired fire fighter. "I don't want to be reading about a disaster in the newspaper."

Signs in Corolla: Last spring, commissioners allowed 3-foot-tall sandwich signs along N.C. 12 in Corolla during the summer season. It was a temporary experiment to see whether they would be effective or unsightly.

In 2007, commissioners passed a sign ordinance that prohibited sandwich boards from being used during the tourist season after a committee of residents and shop owners agreed to a compromise. Sandwich boards were allowed from Oct. 1 to April 30.

New commissioner Martin believes businesses benefited from the signs. Commissioners will decide on sandwich boards before the new tourist season begins.

"Maybe that's something that's going to have to stay," Martin said.

Congestion in the four-wheel-drive area: Traffic in the northern Currituck Outer Banks is getting worse, according to locals and officials. Over the years, citizen groups have proposed methods of restricting the number of vehicles to protect wild horse habitat and enhance safety for those using the beach. So far, commissioners have rejected limits.

In the middle of the summer, vehicles park on the beach almost nonstop from the entry point to the Virginia line 12 miles north. Families with children play close to the surf where traffic tends to run. Locals travel up and down daily. Construction trucks rumble within feet of children playing in the sand.

"That is a nightmare for the Sheriff's Office," Martin said. "It is really a problem, and we're going to look at that quickly."

Corridor development: Development along the 43-mile highway corridor has been debated for

more than 20 years. Rules have been put in place, but clutter and disjointed construction remains a problem. Commissioners plan to address corridor development as part of the new development ordinance.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

More Speculation that the Mid-Currituck Bridge may not be such a "done deal".

Below is an article from the Virginia Pilot. It appears that the "Public" financing portion of the Public-Private Partnership may be in jeopardy.

Don't U-turn on Currituck bridge

The Virginian-Pilot
© November 28, 2010
After decades of debate, it appeared this spring that North Carolina officials were ready to proceed with construction of a toll bridge linking Currituck County's mainland and the Outer Banks village of Corolla. But the project may be headed for a traffic jam in Raleigh.

Republican lawmakers won control of the General Assembly in this month's elections, and - as The Pilot's Jeff Hampton recently reported - the search for potential budget cuts is leading some folks to the proposed bridge over Currituck Sound.

The connector has long been championed by Marc Basnight, a Democrat who'll lose his influential position as president of the state Senate next year. He's played a key role in steering money toward a public-private partnership to build and maintain the bridge.

The legislature needs to close a projected $3 billion to $4 billion deficit in its next session, and some lawmakers see the bridge as a potential savings. Current plans call for initial funding of $15 million annually, with the figure rising to $28 million a year in 2013 and continuing as long as 40 years.

The funding dispute fuels an already long-running controversy over whether the bridge should be built and, if so, where it should go. Residents on both sides of the bridge route are concerned about disruptions to their neighborhoods, and federal officials have expressed concerns about potential environmental damage.

Even supporters would agree the bridge isn't an ideal way to ease the summertime crawl to the beaches. But it's certainly preferable to the status quo, and it appears to be a more effective option than widening existing roads.

The bridge - which would begin near Aydlett, about 25 miles south of the Virginia-North Carolina line - would cut travel time for folks headed to the northern end of the Outer Banks.

The nearest existing crossing is the Wright Memorial Bridge, about 20 miles south of Aydlett. To get to Duck and Corolla, travelers have to go south toward Nags Head, then make a U-turn and head north another 10 to 20 miles.

The convoluted route has long been a source of safety concerns. A new bridge is expected to reduce evacuation times, boost tourism on both sides of the sound and curb pollution from idling vehicles.

There are potential downsides, most notably the effects on Aydlett and Corolla if precautions aren't taken to minimize disruptions and limit development that would undermine the benefits of a new bridge.

The push to re-examine the cost of the bridge is understandable, given tough economic times.

But North Carolina officials should bear in mind two things that their Virginia counterparts often neglect. First, the cost of construction is not likely to drop any lower than today. Second, talking endlessly about chronic transportation problems doesn't bring a solution any closer.