Monday, November 21, 2011

Currituck Commmissioners working on beach driving solution

Below are a couple recent articles on efforts to address beach traffic issues...

OBX residents: ‘Safe zone’ for beach road unsafe

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday, November 19, 2011

CAROVA BEACH — Residents on the Currituck Outer Banks say creating a “safe zone” to veer off-road traffic away from the shoreline will be anything but safe.

The idea of a safe zone sounds good, admits Lynne Wilson, one of 30 off-road residents who met to discuss the proposal last week at the Carova Fire and Rescue station. But residents who drive the beach daily know it will not work, she said. A vote by show of hands indicated the entire group agreed.

“Forcing vehicles to drive along the dune line is a nightmare solution,” said off-road residents Cheryl and Robert Ford. “Not only does it guarantee absolute gridlock for everyone ... but it is also damaging to the fragile environment.”

Residents say creating the safe zone will steer traffic to soft, deep sand near the dunes. They predict inexperienced drivers will get stuck and cause a chain reaction as vehicles following behind lose traction when forced to stop. They say not only will traffic back up, but response times for emergency vehicles will suffer.

Donnie Tadlock of Carova Fire and Rescue said most accidents already happen near the dune line. In one case, a person got stuck in the soft sand and was injured as another vehicle circled around.

The safe zone is one of several changes being considered by Currituck commissioners to relieve heavy traffic and safety concerns on crowded off-road beaches during the height of tourist season. The safe zone would steer traffic away from one or two miles of shoreline so beach-goers do not have to cross traffic to swim.

Under present conditions, traffic on the 11-mile stretch of beach travels hard-packed sand near the foreshore and softer sand along the dune line while vehicles park in between. Sunbathers going for a swim have to cross traffic to reach the water.

Residents said the change in traffic pattern will not solve the problem.

“The problem is the volume of cars,” said Marie Long, who lives at Milepost 14.5, a location suggested for the proposed safe zone.

She’s counted 200 tightly packed vehicles lining less than a mile of beach in July. That many cars makes it difficult for residents, and even those who rent beach homes, to access the beach, which should be their right, she said.

Long said watching vehicles from her oceanfront home would convince anyone that redirecting traffic near the dune line would be a disaster.

“All you have to do is see it,” she said.

Long said the gridlock could cause motorists to damage dunes as they try to veer around traffic.

The residents said rather than creating a safe zone, the county should focus on two other solutions. One would be stricter enforcement of existing rules.

The county ordinance states that lawn chairs, coolers, fishing lines and people cannot block traffic driving on the foreshore.

Rufus Baldwin said beach-goers set up “tent cities” and other obstacles that block traffic, but the law is not always enforced. Instead, beach-goers wave him to go around or yell when he drives along the shoreline on his way home.

Rusty Thrasher said he was threatened after his radio antenna snagged a fishing line straddling the beach road.

“Word has gotten out they don’t have to follow the rules,” Long said of beach-goers.

The other solution suggested by residents — a permit system — has drawn the most criticism from some commissioners and businessmen, who say it will hurt tourism.

The debate over permits is nothing new. Thrasher pulled out a newspaper clipping from 13 years ago when residents petitioned the county to consider a permit system. Off-road residents do not appear to have changed their minds over the past decade. All the residents at last week’s meeting said they favored permits.

A big part of the conflict is the road is used both as a highway and a beach. Residents drive the road to work, and business vehicles — including cement trucks and bucket trucks from Dominion Power — pound the beach to access houses on the off-road.

There is no alternate route, except a system of sand roads behind the dunes, but they are rutted, flood often and are ill-suited for through-traffic, residents said. County officials have sought to upgrade Ocean Pearl Road, which has potholes big enough to swamp a truck, but could only secure approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a three-mile stretch.

The traffic problem flares in the summer, when residents and businesses share the beach with vacationers, tour vehicles and “day-trippers,” visitors who spend the day at the beach and leave.

Residents have long pushed for a permit system to limit the growing number of vehicles on the beach, but some county commissioners and businesses said keeping the road open to visitors helps the county’s multi-million dollar tourist industry.

Greg Wilson was among members of the Beach Driving Committee that recently suggested a traffic study to see if permits are needed.

Wilson said he doesn’t think issuing permits would cause traffic backups on the off-road ramp as some critics suggest. He said the county could issue permits online like one Georgia beach does. Deputies can check permits on the beach and issue tickets for violations there, so there would be no holdup for motorists getting on the beach, he said.

Any permit system, safe zone or other change to the traffic pattern on the beach road will require a ordinance change, public hearing and formal approval from commissioners.

The Associated Press
© November 20, 2011

Currituck County commissioners may consider designating a safe zone on off-road beaches in the summer so that sunbathers won't have to cross traffic.

The proposal is one of several that county staffers have proposed to relieve heavy traffic and safety concerns on an 11-mile stretch of beach road on the northern Outer Banks.

The staff is recommending a change to traffic patterns on the beach during tourist season. The safe zone would push parked cars and sunbathers closer to the shore and steer traffic behind them.

Any change to the existing beach traffic patterns would require an ordinance change, a public hearing and approval from commissioners.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Currituck Commissioners hold work session and discuss beach traffic

Taking suggestions from a beach driving task force, the Currituck County Commissioners discussed several options for addressing the competing interests on the 4x4 beaches with beach goers and vehicles using the beach. Below is an article from the Daily Advance's Cindy Beamon:

Currituck eyes ‘safe zone’ for beach-goers

By Cindy Beamon

Staff Writer

Friday, November 11, 2011

CURRITUCK — Currituck may designate a “safe zone” on off-road beaches in the summer months so that sunbathers will not have to cross traffic to go for a swim. The safe zone would steer traffic away from one or two miles of shoreline so beach-goers do not have to contend with traffic.

The county staff suggested the idea Monday at a work session, and commissioners appear ready to consider it formally in coming months. Any change to the existing beach traffic pattern will require an ordinance change, public hearing and approval from commissioners.

As it is now, beach traffic drives on the foreshore and near the dune line with parked cars in between. Beach-goers have to cross traffic to get to the ocean. A Beach Driving Committee said in September the dangerous mix of pedestrians and traffic warrants a study to determine if the county should limit the number of vehicles on the beach.

But even the hint of a permit system has been unpopular with some commissioners and businesses. A recent Chamber of Commerce poll indicated that many businesses had questions about how the practice would affect tourism.

County staff did not consider that option in its recommendations to commissioners earlier this week.

Instead, the staff is recommending a change to traffic pattern on the beach during tourist season. The safe zone, possibly from mileposts 16-18, would push parked cars and sunbathers closer to the shore and steer traffic behind them.

Under the proposal, vehicles would access off-road beaches at milepost 12 and drive the existing route past state and federal property where parking is not allowed. The traffic pattern would change to a safe zone north of those properties near milepost 16, suggested Planning Director Ben Woody. After the safe zone, the old traffic pattern would resume, under the staff recommendation.

Woody said changing the traffic pattern will require more signs and manpower to redirect vehicles in the right direction. The details of how that would work have not been decided, but Woody suggested that a courtesy patrol could be formed to provide that service.

The safe zone is one of several changes county staff is suggesting to relieve heavy traffic and safety concerns on an 11-mile stretch of beach road on the northern Outer Banks.

Some of the recommended changes are designed to encourage more beach-goers to stop south of the four-wheel drive area. Woody said making two parking lots in Whalehead subdivision more attractive may encourage more visitors to park there. Landscaping and replacing asphalt with gravel would cost about $160,000, he estimated. One resident, countered, however, that the parking lots in Whalehead subdivision are frequently used as overflow parking by residents.

Woody said the county could also designate roadsides where vehicles can deflate tires, a practice to prevent drivers from getting stuck in sand and to prevent beach roads from forming ruts. The staff also recommended the county create an air-up station, where vehicles can inflate tires once they return to paved roads.

Other suggestions included:

• Creating a courtesy patrol equipped with all-terrain vehicles to convey information and direct traffic on the off-road beaches.

• Regularly updating county radio broadcasts at the beach.

• Adding another antenna to expand the radio coverage area.

• Setting up a website that is smart-phone friendly to convey information to vacationers.

• Adding more signs directing traffic to on-road public parking.

• Continuing to seek state approval for a new rest room at the end of Corolla Village Road.

• Expanding public parking on Corolla Village Road.

Monday, October 17, 2011

County to finally get started on maintaining Carova Roads

After a longer than anticipated permit process, the county is finally getting approvals to improve the Ocean Pearl Road. It's a start. Below is an article from the Virginia Pilot's Jeff Hampton.

N.C. county to spend $300K to tame massive potholes

Ocean Pearl Road, the unpaved artery of the four-wheel-drive area in the northern Outer Banks, was built in the 1960s. One three-mile section has about 75 potholes. After years of wrangling, Currituck County plans to spend $300,000 on repairs, with the blessing of the Army Corps of Engineers. Related
•On N.C. road, potholes are so big, they're wetlands - Jan. 9

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© October 15, 2011

Talk about tough road work.

Currituck County has the job of filling 75 potholes - but not your typical dips in the road that do little more than throw off the alignment on your front end. Some of these are big enough to swallow a truck and vintage enough to be classified as landmarks.

After at least 20 years of trying, the county finally plans to spend about $300,000 to fill and grade a three-mile section of Ocean Pearl Road, an unpaved primary route within the four-wheel-drive area of the Currituck Outer Banks.

"I can sum it up in one word," said Currituck Commissioner Vance Aydlett: "Hallelujah."

The Army Corps of Engineers anticipates issuing a permit for the work soon, corps spokesman Hank Heusinkveld said.

Built in the 1960s, Ocean Pearl runs parallel to the dunes past the community's only cluster of mailboxes and the only fire station.

One after another, potholes developed and then grew - some 50 feet wide, 50 feet long and up to 4 feet deep - making the road impassable after a hard rainstorm. Even large four-wheel-drive trucks stalled out and became partially submerged.

One pothole recognized as the granddaddy of them all is at the intersection of Ocean Pearl and Bluefish Lane. It measures nearly a tenth of an acre. Four-wheeling enthusiasts test their trucks against the depth and breadth of this chasm.

Over the years, full-time residents have resisted supporting road projects. Instead, they put up with pond-size potholes specifically so the area would remain difficult to traverse and, thus, less accessible to outsiders. More recently, federal wetlands regulations have hampered upgrades.

But after Tropical Storm Ernesto in 2006, dozens of renters were stranded and emergency vehicles could not get through. Afterward, underground phone lines surfaced and were crushed beneath the big tires of vehicles, knocking out service to several homes.

Carova residents, many of them retired and with health concerns, have come around and now are willing to see part of Ocean Pearl repaired.

"You just can't get anyplace fast," said Sonia Mays, an emergency medical employee and volunteer firefighter. "We need Ocean Pearl fixed for rescues and evacuation."

Other parallel roads, such as Sandfiddler and Sandpiper, are more narrow than Ocean Pearl and flood just as badly. Short roads running east and west are no more than single-lane dirt paths often blocked by limbs of wild live-oak trees.

Locals have used heavy equipment to scrape the road themselves several times over the years, but without a better base the holes return quickly, Mays said.

The county broke the stalemate with the corps by limiting wetlands disturbance and doing away with designs to drain the road to nearby creeks, Aydlett said.

Even so, a 150-foot section marked as wetlands within the three-mile project will be left unimproved. On top of that, Ocean Pearl south of where the project ends at Wild Horse Lane may never get upgraded. The corps has declared that section - where there are more potholes than high ground - almost entirely wetlands, vexing locals and the county.

"Heaven forbid if a cattail grows in the middle of the road; it becomes a wetland," Mays said.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

County trying to identify best direction for growing number of visitors on off-road Carova beaches

Still tackling a growing safety concern and multiple agendas, the County is seeking input from all over on how best to protect-enjoy-promote-restrict-capitalize-develop-preserve-drive-sit on the Northern Beaches. Below is an article from the Daily Advance on this issue. Despite the inconvenience and extra wear and tear on the vehicles, I am with Sheriff Johnson as a start to this effort...which will not be solved by any one measure but a series of adjustments and efforts requiring a sacrifice and an acknowledgement of all people (local and visiting alike) who enjoy, live, and work on those beaches.

Poll: Beach permits a concern

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Monday, October 10, 2011

CURRITUCK — A recent poll of Currituck businesses reportedly reflects “a lot of concerns and questions” about any future permit system for the county’s off-road beaches.

Currituck Chamber of Commerce president Josh Bass asked for members’ input after a Beach Driving Committee last month recommended studying the possibility of a permit system for off-road beaches. About 70 businesses from both the mainland and the Outer Banks responded.

Some business owners were strongly against the idea, but most had questions about a proposed permit system for the off-road beaches, Bass said. Some wanted to know how permits might be issued and who would get them.

Commissioner Butch Petrey, who said a permit system would negatively affect tourism, asked a similar question.

“Who is going to stand at the gate and have people turn around?” Petrey asked.

The Beach Driving Committee advised commissioners to study the possibility of issuing permits during peak weekends to alleviate traffic problems. The committee suggested limiting the number of day-trippers who do not live, work or rent vacation homes on Currituck’s northern beaches.

The committee reported that about 2,000 day-trippers drive the 11-mile beach road each summer weekend. The added vehicles contribute to a dangerous mix of pedestrians and heavy traffic during vacation season, committee members said.

Bass said one of his chief concerns is making sure the community does not view “day-trippers” negatively. Visitors who spend the day on the county’s northern beaches without lodging there contribute to the local economy each time they stop to shop, eat out and buy gas, he said.

Short visits are also good for advertising the resort, he said. Day-long visitors may like what they see and decide to stay longer the next time — or may even consider investing in a second home, he said. Events at the Whalehead Club that draw vacationers and Currituck residents alike bring business to nearby shops and restaurants in Corolla, he said.

“My question is how do we promote day-trippers in one area of the county and not another?” Bass said.

The Beach Driving Committee also suggested other ways to relieve traffic problems on the beach road. Better directions for on-road parking and stepped-up efforts to educate drivers about airing-down tires and driving on the beach would help, committee members said.

Those options were the focus of a recent county staff meeting, two participants said. During that discussion, permits were “off the table,” but other ways to solve traffic issues on the beach were considered. Commissioners are expected to hear the staff recommendations on Nov. 7.

Tourism director Diane Nordstrom said educating vacationers about driving rules and where to park will probably be the biggest help.

Nordstrom, like Bass, was concerned about how day-trippers may be perceived.

“I think day-trippers may be getting a bad rap,” she said.

She said a majority of those day-trippers appear to be Currituck vacationers staying in rental homes south of the off-road area. A poll of vacationers at the Corolla Visitors Centers revealed that only 10 out of 150 each day will not spend the night in Currituck, she said.

Some day-trippers come from Dare County to see the wild horses or visit the lighthouse — which may whet their desire to come back, said Nordstrom.

“Once they find out how nice it is, they may decide to spend their next vacation in Corolla or Carova,” she said.

Sheriff Susan Johnson said changing the traffic pattern on the beach road can solve a lot of safety issues. She said a permit system would be difficult to enforce with the department’s current work force.

“I have been saying for years we have a public safety issue at the beach,” said Johnson.

She said beach-goers have to weave through vehicles driving on the foreshore to reach the water. She’s recommending traffic be moved behind the beach-goers and their parked cars to eliminate that hazard.

Johnson said she knows the change may result in more cars getting stuck in the powdery sand near the dune line, but that’s already a problem for motorists not used to beach driving.

Once the traffic pattern is changed, it will be easier to assess if too many vehicles are driving the beach road, she said.

Bass said he understands traffic may get congested on the beach, but the rest of Currituck is dealing with the same issue.

“That’s part of being a tourist destination. We all deal with traffic on Saturday,” he said.

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Currituck Horse in Carova a Mystery

At last Aerial count of the herd, the herd numbers jumped up to a level even the Corolla Wild Horse Fund cannot explain. See the detailed article below.

Corolla's wild herd surge baffles advocates

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Thursday, October 6, 2011

COROLLA — Too many wild horses on the Currituck Outer Banks has the non-profit that protects them baffled.

An aerial count of the herd a few weeks ago revealed 23 more horses in the Carova area 
than last year.

That’s not natural, says Karen McCalpin, executive director for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

Births cannot account for the rapid rise in horse numbers in one location. In fact, the Wild Horse Fund has been giving the mares contraceptives to keep the herd’s number down. So that many births in one year would be “physically impossible,” McCalpin said.

The sudden population change in the northern section of beaches has McCalpin perplexed.

Every year, for the past five years, the aerial count has matched numbers kept by herd manager Wesley Stallings. The herd count on average has numbered 103.

This year was different. By helicopter, 144 horses were spotted. Stallings, who spends 30 hours a week tracking the herd and documenting their behavior, counted 115 last year.

The number is not consistent

with previous years, Stallings said. Either all the previous counts were wrong or something has happened. Stallings said his job is to keep objective data and he didn’t want to speculate about the sudden anomaly.

“These horses came from somewhere but we’re not sure where,” McCalpin said.

One possibility may be the horses migrated from up north. The horses may have been living in the 21,000-acre False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, Va., and crossed over into new territory, she said.

Besides that theory, the extra horses remain a mystery.

The big jump “doesn’t make any sense” after five years of consistent data, McCalpin said.

Since the aerial count, Stallings has noticed a few of the “strangers” in Carova. The horses have some of the same features as the Spanish mustangs he’s been following for years, he said.

Their colors — chestnut, brown, black — match the existing herd, but from a distance they appear to look different, McCalpin said.

In the next couple weeks, Stallings will be taking photographs and getting close enough to examine the newcomers. Without genetics testing it may be impossible to know for sure if they are the same breed, he said.

Ironically, the extra horses may require the Wild Horse Fund to thin out the herd it has been fighting to enlarge.

This week, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act won approval of the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill next goes to the floor of Congress for further consideration.

McCalpin said committee approval of HR-306 is a big victory for supporters of Corolla Wild Horses.

“There’s still a long road to go (before the bill is approved by the full Congress) but that was a huge hurdle,” she said.

The legislation would allow the herd size previously limited to 60 horses to slightly more than double. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., provides for a new management plan for expanding the gene pool of the herd. The horses are too closely related would be destined for genetic collapse without the plan, said McCalpin.

She said the Wild Horse Fund will comply with the new legislation and trim back the herd to the 120-130 as required.

A dozen or more of the most human-friendly horses may be selected over time for saddle-training and become part of an adoption program that stretches from Texas to Maine, McCalpin said. Saddle-training for the naturally intelligent, mild-mannered breed should not be difficult, she said.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Traffic rules being looked at on Carova Beaches

Way overdue. Let's hope a sensible balance can be achieved realizing people come to enjoy the beach (while most providing income to the local economy) while others need to use it for transit to provide services for those visiting. No easy solutions to this one, but necessary for long term preservation. Below is an article from the VA Pilot.

Currituck beaches face traffic issue
By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© September 25, 2011

On a beach where the sand is a playground, a highway and a refuge, the question is who gets priority - a 3-year-old girl with her plastic bucket, a 30-ton cement truck or a herd of wild horses?

Currituck County officials have labored over the problem for nearly 20 years, passing ordinances to limit speed and establish parking areas. Still, traffic on the beach north of Corolla gets thicker and conflicts persist.

Now comes the latest attempt to keep the peace.

A citizens committee appointed by the Currituck County Board of Commissioners has made several recommendations, including putting up more signs, establishing safe places to deflate and inflate tires and performing a study on a permit system, the most controversial option.

"We're just trying to find out what we can do," said Vance Aydlett, chairman of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners. "We've got to get our act together and figure out how we're going to skin this cat. There are no easy solutions."

During the summer, thousands of people drive off the end of N.C. 12 just north of Corolla and into deep sand that is the beginning of an 11-mile beach strand stretching to the Virginia line.

A local population drives back and forth daily to work and shop. Construction trucks rumble through constantly. Lines of vehicles in wild-horse tours pass through regularly. They all prefer to drive near the surf on the hard sand left behind at low tide.

Meanwhile, the hard sand known as the foreshore is also where children play, families set up umbrellas and beach chairs and anglers cast lines in the water. Some are there for the week, renting beach homes. Others come just for the day. Occasionally, wild horses gather right in the middle of it all.

At high tide, the hard sand is under water, people move back, and traffic has to travel in rough, deeper sand closer to the dunes. That sand is a bumpy ride, tough on vehicles and where inexperienced drivers get stuck.

Since at least 1994, county officials have established ordinances to attempt control. Sunbathers are supposed to leave the foreshore open. Vehicles should park perpendicular to the ocean in the middle of the beach between the surf and the dunes. Drivers should go only 15 miles per hour when within 300 feet of people; otherwise, the speed limit is 35. Everybody is supposed to stay at least 50 feet away from wild horses.

During the summer, deputies on all-terrain vehicles try to enforce it all.

"Two deputies go back and forth up there 10 hours a day," said Lt. Jason Banks with the Currituck County Sheriff's Office. "They're busy the whole time."

The most controversial option is to establish a permit system that could limit how many vehicles may drive onto the beach. The committee recommended a study to see how that would work. Many other beaches use permit systems, but they don't have the same situation where people are driving for work and for recreation on the same beach. Commissioners are mixed on that plan.

"I will never vote for a permit," said Butch Petrey, a Currituck County commissioner.

But Aydlett and Commissioner Paul Martin could support a permit system, they said.

Tourism is Currituck's most lucrative industry; it's been called the county's golden-egg-laying goose. In Corolla, real estate and rental companies, restaurants and other stores with hundreds of employees depend on the visitors.

The question comes up often: Is leaving the situation alone bad for business, or would a permit system and tighter controls drive people away?

"That's all to be determined," Aydlett said.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Officials hold meeting for Design ideas for Mid-Currituck Bridge

See the article below from the Daily Advance regarind a meeting being held to discuss some design elements for the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge.

Locals discuss bridge design

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Sunday, September 18, 2011

CURRITUCK — Business people and local leaders were recently part of an “idea gathering meeting” for the design of a mid-county bridge in Currituck.

The meeting, hosted earlier this month by the N.C. Turnpike Authority in Currituck, focused mostly on what the bridge may look like. The type of materials — tile, brick, concrete — were among the options discussed for the eight-mile span from Currituck’s mainland across Currituck Sound to the Outer Banks.

Plans for the bridge have it crossing the sound with landing points near Aydlett and Corolla.

The group discussed if the bridge should look modern or traditional. Or if the toll plaza should resemble the Whalehead Club or the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

“It appears to me that they are trying to incorporate things that are important to Currituck’s history into the design,” Currituck Commissioner Paul O’Neal, who attended the meeting, said in a phone interview.

O’Neal said the group leaned toward a low-profile bridge to reduce interference with ducks and other waterfowl. Most liked a non-intrusive design with low lighting to minimize the impact on Aydlett and surrounding areas, he said.

The groups also discussed how quickly the N.C. Turnpike Authority was moving toward construction, said Commissioner Butch Petrey, who also attended the meeting.

The project still needs official approval from the N.C. Department of Transportation, although plans for financing and design of the $660 million span have been advancing over the past year. The Turnpike Authority is expected to release its environmental impact statement this month and make its final decision on the project this fall.

According to Turnpike Authority, construction is tentatively scheduled to begin on the bridge in either late summer-early fall of next year and the span is slated to open to traffic in the fall-winter 2017.

Several in the group were concerned that plans for the bridge were moving too slowly, Petrey said.

State Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, was among those pushing for the project to move faster.

“We need to get it under construction as soon as possible,” said Owens, noting the bridge almost lost funding during budget deliberations in the General Assembly this year. Legislation to build the bridge passed in 1996, but the more time that lapses, the more difficult it becomes to ensure funding, Owens said in a telephone interview.

Financing for the bridge is expected to come from a mix of state and private dollars. The state agreed to pay $15 million a year for three years and $28 million thereafter for up to 50 years to keep the cost of tolls down. Construction and financing for the bridge would come from private investors who plan to recoup their investment by charging tolls, estimated to range from $6 to $12 one way. A recent study said one-way tolls could go as high as $28 during peak days of the tourist season.

The Turnpike Authority plans to use ideas from the meeting to develop design plans for the bridge, said Greer Beaty, communications director for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

A public meeting on the bridge’s design will be scheduled later, she said.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Charter School could become reality for Corolla

A recent article from the VA Pilot's Jeff Hampton:

Nonprofit to apply to open charter school in Corolla

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© September 11, 2011

By next fall, Corolla could open the first school on the isolated Currituck Outer Banks in more than 50 years.

The Corolla Education Foundation plans in November to apply for a charter school fast-track approval that would allow organizers to get trained and open the doors by September 2012, said Meghan Agresto, a parent and one of the founders of the nonprofit.

Corolla parents have been trying to open a school there for years. This summer, the North Carolina General Assembly opened the way by lifting the cap of 100 charter schools in the state.

Corolla would have fewer than 30 students, fewer than typically allowed for charter schools, but state officials could approve Corolla's request based on its isolation. Currituck County school officials support the plan, Agresto said.

A few Corolla students catch a bus before dawn under the flash of the Currituck lighthouse and ride for two hours or more to attend Currituck mainland schools. They arrive home after dark. Some parents drive their children to either Dare County or Currituck County schools.

The Corolla school would get approximately $8,000 per student from the state and county. An exact count of how many would attend is still uncertain, Agresto said.

"I've had people from Duck say they would come," she said.

The Corolla school would open a single small building and hold courses in core subjects with an emphasis on environmental sciences, including studies and field trips to nearby freshwater marshes, maritime forests and to see the wild horses.

Corolla's last small school closed in 1957 after the student population dropped following World War II.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mid-Currituck Bridge Decision expected to come soon

A recent article posted by the Daily Advance and a large document released by the NC Turnpike Authority indicate that we may soon know the answer to whether the Bridge could become a reality or not. Click here for the Turnpike document. Below is the article:

Bridge decision expected

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday,September 3,2011

For more than a decade,Currituck residents have been hearing about a mid-county bridge,but with no final authorization to launch the project. That may change soon.

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority is expected to release an environmental impact statement this month and make a final decision by fall on building the proposed seven-mile span linking the mainland with the Outer Banks.

The EIS could be ready in weeks,said Jennifer Harris,director of planning and environmental studies for the Turnpike Authority. All responses from state and federal agencies are in,except for one,said Harris. The Turnpike Authority is still awaiting comments from the Federal Highway Commission before releasing the EIS.

“It’s getting very close,” said Harris.

Once the EIS is released,state and federal agencies and the public will have another chance to comment. Next comes the state’s record of decision — the final approval needed for the project.

Although a final decision has not been made,the state has already invested heavily in the project.

Currituck Development Group,a group of 17 private contractors,was awarded a $5 million contract for preliminary designs of a span stretching across the Currituck Sound from near Aydlett to just south of Corolla.

The preliminary work included a study to determine how much money the toll road would collect. The study released in July will be used to secure financing for the $660 million project,said Harris. The report concluded more than a million cars would cross the bridge and generate $13 million from tolls the first year it opens.

CDG also hired geotechnical engineers to collect soil samples from the Currituck Sound in June to aid in the bridge’s design.

Construction of the bridge will be funded with a combination of private and public funding,state officials have planned.

This spring,the state’s share of that funding appeared to be on shaky ground.

In 2010,the General Assembly approved $15 million a year for the bridge,but a power shift in the General Assembly and proposed budget cuts appeared to endanger the project. By the end of the session,however,the funding was restored.

Private investors have proposed to finance and construct the bridge,using tolls to pay for it.

The state funds would be used to subsidize construction so that tolls will not go above what motorists are willing to pay.

The state still needs to award a construction contract,but CDG appears to be the likely choice.

The state began financing negotiations last year with the limited liability company’s main contractor ACS Infrastructure Development,a major bridge-building company.

If the project goes according to the schedule,the bridge could be open to traffic by 2016.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Currituck County tries to rewrite UDO to classify and restrict 4x4 area by itself

New suggestions have been brought up by the Currituck County planning board for consideration on the 4x4 beaches to restrict the limitations of the lot coverage, permitted uses, and lot sizes. The County has gone so far as to suggest requiring land owners with adjacent property to combine their lots before being able to build just one structure. I think this may go down a very slippery slope towards violating property rights. Below is a piece of the discussion and also the full document with meeting times for the next meeting. This is no small thing...

Single-Family Residential Outer Banks-Limited Access Remote(SFLR)

The SFR district is the re-named Outer Banks Limited Access Residential (RO2) district, and is the only zoning designation for the northern outer banks beyond the terminus of Highway 12. This portion of the county has no paved roads, water or sewer infrastructure, and vehicular access to lots is obtained from the beach. There are federal wildlife refuges, wild horse habitat, and several thousand platted lots (most of which are vacant) in the area. The district allows single-family dwellings, family care homes, public safety uses, churches, marinas, offices, campgrounds, landfills, agriculture, silviculture, airports, utilities, telecommunications, and wind energy facilities. The 2006 Land Use Plan contains clear guidance that this area is not intended for paved roads, water or sewer infrastructure, commercial development, (other than the development authorized under the approved subdivisions). As a result, the range of allowable uses will be reduced in the SFR district to single-family detached dwellings, public safety uses, and utilities (the current district also allows family care homes, churches, marinas, offices, campgrounds, landfills, agriculture, and airports). The current RO2 district has a minimum lot size of 120,000 square feet (2.75 acres), though most of the platted lots are considerably smaller. It currently allows conservation subdivision-style development with a minimum lot size of 65,340 square feet (1.5 acres), and family subdivisions, provided a minimum lot size of 120,000 square feet is maintained. The new SFR district will continue to allow single-family development on lots platted before April 2,1989, that do not meet the minimum lot area requirements for the district (this includes approximately 90% of the lots in the district). However, it limits the ability to use the conservation subdivision process (as mentioned on Page 2.36 of the Code Assessment), and requires vacant lots under common ownership to be recombined (as a means of achieving compliance with the zoning district dimensional standards, to the maximum possible extent) prior to development. The current RO2 district has a maximum lot coverage figure of 30 percent. The new UDO includes requirements for on-site stormwater treatment for uses with lot coverages of 25 percent or more. The SFL district will continue to be subject to special dune, maritime forest, and exterior lighting provisions that were included in the former Outer Banks Overlay district that has now been incorporated into the development standards in Chapter 5 of the new UDO. Discussions to this point considered the application of special design standards to homes over 5,000 square feet in size, however, the Legislature may pre-empt the application of design standards to single-family homes during the 2011 legislative session. As a result, these standards will not be included in the UDO.

Sadly, this may be a well intended plan but with drastic impositions placed on individual property owners. Will see how this develops. For a copy of the entire UDO re-write and the next meeting times, I have included the email from Planning director Ben Woody below:

The Planning Board will review Module 2 of the new UDO at their September meeting. A digital copy is posted on the county website. The meeting is open to the public and scheduled for Tuesday, September 13 at 7:00pm in the Historic Currituck Courthouse.

Please send comments or questions to my attention via email, or in writing at: 153 Courthouse Road, Suite 110, Currituck, NC 27929.

Thank you.

Ben E. Woody, AICP

Planning Director

Currituck County

153 Courthouse Road, Suite 110

Currituck, North Carolina 27929

(252) 232.6029

Monday, August 15, 2011

Corolla towing problem may be soon solved

Here is an update article from the Daily Advance on the A-1 Towing operation for those of you who have been following

Corolla towing problem may be soon solved

By Cindy Beamon

Staff Writer

Monday, August 15, 2011

CURRITUCK — Towed vehicles in Corolla and the off-road beaches of northern Currituck had nowhere to go but Kitty Hawk this summer, but the problem may be resolved soon.

A-1 Towing — Corolla’s only towing company — lost its special use permit last December and was not allowed to operate its impound lot in Villages at Ocean Hill this summer.

Since then, Dare County has became the closest destination for broken-down and wrecked vehicles, or those impounded after driving-while-impaired arrests.

A-1 Towing is seeking a new permit to reopen its impound lot after it was shut down by the county. The request won approval from the Currituck Planning Board on condition that the property owner build a new access road to the property. In addition to the impound lot, the company is also seeking approval of two equipment storage/stockpile areas on the site.

For the past 10 years, the towing company has used Ponton Lane, off N.C. Highway 12, to access its impound lot, said Midlantic manager Jim Bickford.

The access was not part of the original plan, but the adjacent property owner Gerald Friedman allowed the company to pass on his property.

A “squabble” between the two businessmen has brought that agreement to an end, said Bickford.

In September, the county granted A-1 Towing an extension of its special use permit to create another access north of Ponton Lane. When nothing happened, the county shut down the operation.

On Friday, the A-1 tow truck was parked in Carova, and Bickford said the operator was still towing vehicles but had no place to take them in Currituck.

Under the terms of the new special use permit, Bickford will have a year to get the new access built.

As a temporary fix, Friedman has agreed to let A-1 Towing use Ponton Lane for another year.

Once that agreement expires, however, A-1 Towing has no other way to reach its impound lot unless Midlantic builds an access where it originally planned.

Building the access will take some time, said Bickford, because the small 30-foot easement crosses wetlands, which will require a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

County planners said Midlantic will also need to improve the dirt road leading back to the impound lot if it wants to use the site for equipment storage and stockpiling. Otherwise, the site can only be used as an impound lot without the road improvements.

Bickford said he was willing to make the investment in the road because of the community’s need for the services.

Karen Ish, representing the Ocean Hill Property Owners Association, attended last week’s Planning Board meeting to oppose any possibility that the Coral Lane stub would be used as an access. Ish said the stub is part of the subdivision’s stormwater management system and should not be part of the towing operation’s route.

Currituck commissioners are scheduled to consider the special use permit request in September.

Monday, July 25, 2011

NEW UPDATE 8/4: Horse Tours To Be Regulated Further By County

Here is a recap of the consideration of regulating the Horse Tours from the Daily Advance:

Currituck mulls limits on wild horse tours

By Cindy Beamon

CURRITUCK — New limits on horse tours along Currituck’s northern beaches need to strike a balance between being safe and being profitable, county officials say.

Protecting the wild horses and vacationers at the crowded resort is one aim of a new ordinance Currituck commissioners are considering.

On the other hand, commissioners say they don’t want to harm what has become an advertising trademark and a big money-maker for the county.

Earlier this week, commissioners considered a new ordinance that limits the number of tour vehicles and operators on the four-wheel drive beaches. If approved, only eight companies would be allowed to operate a maximum of four vehicles each. The new regulations would essentially cut the number of tour vehicles from 43 this year to 32.

The new limits are intended to reduce traffic on the 11-mile stretch of sand road, but some tour operators and commissioners have questioned if the new ordinance will have that effect.

Commissioner Paul O’Neal said vacationers may opt to rent four-wheel drive vehicles in Dare County rather than take the professional tours, he said. Under current regulations, Currituck businesses cannot rent four-wheel drive vehicles without a tour guide, but Dare County rentals have no such restrictions.

Tour operator Bob White said in a telephone interview that day-trippers already create more traffic problems than the guided tours.

The only real solution to the problem is to restrict traffic on the northern beaches, said Board of Commissioners Chairman Vance Aydlett. But so far, the board has not moved in that direction.

The new ordinance takes aim at tour operators only. On Monday, commissioners discussed how to make the regulations more business-friendly.

At question is how quickly the county should reduce the number of tour vehicles. For White, the new restrictions would mean cutting his fleet from 13 vehicles to four, a 60 percent reduction in business.

White said he could switch from Jeeps to larger “safari vehicles” that seat 15 passengers to offset his losses, but he will need a couple years to make he change.

He has asked for the county to phase in the new regulations to give tour operators time to pare down their fleets.

Commissioners are also examining how the county will choose what companies are granted licenses.

At present, the county has issued special permits to eight companies on the Outer Banks. Under existing regulations, the county cannot limit permits, but the new regulations would cap the number of tour operators to eight licenses that would be renewed annually.

O’Neal questioned if the same eight businesses now operating would be granted licenses or if other companies could also apply.

“Are you going to let these eight companies have the market cornered?” O’Neal asked.

County Attorney Ike McRee said the proposed ordinance grants licenses on a first-come, first-served basis, but some commissioners questioned what would happen if newcomers apply.

Commissioners discussed other options — including bids, a drawing or an auction to determine what company is given a license.

For now, the issue is unresolved. Commissioners plan to look at a revised draft of the ordinance in September.

Commissioners Butch Petrey and John Rorer also voiced concerns over how the county would enforce regulations and keep people from “gaming the system.”

Rorer suggested using GPS tracking to make sure tour operators are following specified hours and routes while others suggested the county may need to pay for additional law enforcement.

Commissioners also questioned if the county should limit hours of operation beyond the sunrise-to-sunset hours outlined in the draft ordinance.

O’Neal and Petrey said they were afraid too many regulations would be “overkill” and burden business owners.

Commissioner Paul Martin agreed.

“We do not want to make it so difficult that the service cannot operate because of government regulations,” he said.


I have certainly welcomed this move more than most, let's hope the County produces a sensible set of Rules. Below is an article from the VA Pilot's Jeff Hampton.

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© July 24, 2011
The booming business of Corolla wild horse tours could have a little less boom next year, as county officials are set to impose more limits.

Beginning next year, Currituck County plans to require tour operators to get a license each year, and the county plans to eventually restrict the number of vehicles per tour to four, a big drop from the dozen or so Jeeps currently seen traveling in a line up the beach and through the crowds along the surf.

Commissioners could vote on the new ordinance by September.

Complaints from residents and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund prompted county officials to draft a new ordinance less than two years after the board passed an ordinance aimed at bridling the tours.

"It's all day every day," said north beach resident and Corolla Wild Horse Fund Vice President Phyllis Castelli. "There's never really a time of day when there's not a tour group going by. It's completely out of balance."

Castelli saw two wild horses on the beach last week surrounded by people from three different tours.

"If I feel this way, imagine how the horses feel," she said.

Corolla's herd of about 110 wild horses roaming freely in the four-wheel-drive area is one of the biggest attractions of the Currituck Outer Banks. During the summer, hundreds of people a day pay about $50 each to ride up the beach in hopes of seeing even one horse and getting a photo. Tours are job creators and economic engines.

"Tours are not bad things," said Ben Woody, director of the Currituck County Planning Department. "There's a lot of good in tours."

In the new license ordinance, limiting vehicles to four would likely be phased in over two or three years, Woody said.

On the positive side for operators, the number of licenses issued would be limited to eight companies that must be based in Currituck County, Woody said. That would eliminate companies from Raleigh and Charlotte that have expressed interest, he said.

Other requirements include:

- Vehicles would have to be registered with the county, with a photo included for each one.

- Each vehicle would get a number and must have a sign on the side with lettering at least 3 inches tall showing the ID number and the company name.

- All vehicles would have guides, instead of one guide leading several vehicles.

- More than one violation of the ordinance in a month could mean being shut down for a day or more.

A county law already requires people to stay 50 feet away from wild horses.

Operators could still carry a similar number of passengers by using vehicles with larger capacities, Woody said.

Officials are considering whether to limit tour times. Now they travel dawn to dusk. Residents want hours limited to something like 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"I'm in favor of this, believe or not," said Jay Bender, owner of Corolla Outback Adventures. "It's in the best interest of the horses and in the best interest of everybody over the long haul to keep some sort of control over it."

But too many restrictions could push people to rent SUVs and drive themselves or use their own vehicles, a worse scenario than taking a guided tour, said Richard Brown, owner of Wild Horse Adventure Tours.

"I think everyone would agree the guided tour is the best way," Brown said.

The county's earlier action, in 2009, involved the passage of a zoning law that required each tour operator get a special use permit, to be renewed each year. It required adequate parking at each operator's base, and a guide certified by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund to lead each tour. It also stipulated that each vehicle must have an identification sign.

But the law, which went into effect in the 2010 season, set no limit on the number of vehicles.

The county issued eight permits last year, including one to theCorolla Wild Horse Fund. Someoperators have more than one permit.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

BOOM BOOMS get rescheduled for Whalehead Club

July 11, 2011

Currituck Reschedules Fireworks Show

Currituck County will hold a special "Festival of Fireworks" on August 2, 2011 to replace the fireworks show that was cancelled due to inclement weather during the July 4 Independence Day Celebration. The Festival of Fireworks will be held at Currituck Heritage Park, in Corolla.

This event will open at 7:00 p.m., with activities to include a cornhole tournament. Food and refreshment vendors will be on site. The fireworks show is scheduled to begin at approximately 9:00 p.m.

As with the Independence Day Celebration, parking will be available inside Currituck Heritage Park on a first-come basis until all spaces are full. No alcohol will be permitted within the park and the Whalehead Club boat ramp will be closed all day on August 2, 2011.

For complete event information, contact the Currituck Tourism Department at 435-2947.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Investigative Work being done in the Sound for Mid-Currituck Bridge

There are some very interesting time tables within this article from the Daily Avance. Have a look.

Firm to collect soil samples for bridge

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A company will be collecting soil samples in the Currituck Sound and inland through next month to aid the design of the mid-county bridge.

Golder Associates in Raleigh began its geotechnical investigation of the sound and property near the proposed seven-mile span about a week ago.

The work involves drilling into the ground’s subsurface to determine soil types. Analysts can then determine what type of foundation is needed for the bridge, said Tim Griffin, operations manager for Golder.

He said the six-man team is using a cone penetrometer to collect the data. The instrument is hydraulically pushed into the ground with up to 40,000 pounds of pressure. Sensors at the tip determine the physical properties of the floor bottom of the sound.

The company notified about 20 property owners last fall about where the work on land would be done. The $660 million bridge would connect the county’s mainland near Aydlett to the Outer Banks at Corolla.

The geotechnical investigation is expected to take until July 23.

The construction consulting company will then analyze the data and recommend what size, depth, width and number of pilings are needed to hold up the bridge.

The information will be used in to determine a final design for the project, said Jennifer Harris, director of planning and environmental studies for the N.C. Turnpike Authority, the state agency overseeing the bridge’s development and construction.

Harris said Golder is a subcontractor for Currituck Development Group, a group of 17 private companies that has contracted with the state for the pre-construction phase of the project. The project’s major contractor ACS Infrastructure Development has signed a $5 million contract with the Turnpike Authority for the pre-development work.

Harris said the next step in the bridge project will be winding up environmental negotiations with state and federal agencies and the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement by the end of summer.

The Turnpike Authority is aiming to have a record of decision by fall, which would allow the Turnpike Authority to proceed with final design plans and to obtain construction permits.

If the project goes according to schedule, the bridge could be open to traffic by 2016, Harris said.

Under the proposed timetable, right-of-way acquisition could begin by late 2012. According to preliminary plans, an estimated eight residences and businesses would be displaced by the construction project. Other properties would also be affected but would not require displacement. The number of affected properties may change, however, after plans are finalized.

Last winter, the Turnpike Authority announced its preferred route for the bridge. On the mainland, the plan calls for a U.S. Highway 158 toll plaza interchange north of Aydlett. The approach would include a two-lane bridge over Maple Swamp.

In Corolla, the approach would intersect N.C. Highway 12 between the first phase of Corolla Bay subdivision and the northern end of Monteray Shores about 300 feet away from homes and lots west of N.C. 12.

Harris said no other site work at the bridge site is currently scheduled.

Friday, June 10, 2011

4WD Area Refuge Expanding Off-Limits Zone to 1.5 miles from Ramp

The Army Corps of Engineers have expanded the no parking area on the beach in front of the refuge to MP 14. Below is an article from the AP citing the rationale.

Public ban expanded for portions of Currituck refuge

The Associated Press
© June 9, 2011

Army Corps of Engineers officials are expanding a ban on public visits to portions of the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge due to the danger of unexploded ammunition at the site.

Refuge Manager Mike Hoff said today that signs warning motorists to stay away from the area known as the Monkey Island Unit did not deter 650 trespassers from attempting to visit there last year.

The unit, named for a former hunting club, once served as a Navy gunnery practice site.

Currituck County has historically had a no parking and no stopping zone beginning about a half-mile north of Corolla.

This year, the zone will be extended southward to run continuously from the town of Corolla to a point 1 ½ miles north, identified as Mile Post 14.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Property Values to be reassessed for Jan 1, 2013

Currituck residents enjoy a very reasonable tax rate compared to many other Counties and Towns across the country as we can depend on visitors infusing the County with money via sales tax, occupancy tax, second/rental home property tax, and a demand for services that fuels employment needs. This luxury relieves the county (mostly) of having to internally generate these revenue streams like so many other counties that don't have a high visitor base to help foot the bill for services, schools, etc..

The County reassesses the real estate property values every 8 years, the last being in 2005, where values were at their peak. The Currituck Outer Banks values shot up the most, thus the majority of the tax revenues came from the vacation homes. With the reassessment of property values set to occur Jan 1, 2013, those same beach properties will likely be assessed much lower since they have fallen considerably in value during the downward shift in the economy. Two things will likely occur, mainland Currituck will account for a larger portion of the revenue percentage and the tax rate will go up to cover the spread on the budget in 2013. Cindy Beamon of the Daily Advance has picked up on some of this and her article is below

Currituck land values likely to decline in new valuation

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Friday, June 3, 2011

More New property valuations will not take effect in Currituck until 2013, but the process starts this summer to update land appraisals.

Landowners can expect appraisers to begin visiting properties in July or August, said County Manager Dan Scanlon. The process will take about a year, and by next summer, residents should be mailed the new values. Residents will then have a chance to appeal the evaluations before they take effect, Scanlon said.

Even before the new appraisals begin, county officials are predicting that land values will be down. The county’s last evaluation eight years ago was at the height of a housing boom, and property values have dropped significantly since then.

Property values on the Outer Banks, harder hit by the real estate market’s decline, are expected to drop more dramatically than on the mainland.

The uneven drop in property values is likely to shift more of the tax burden to the mainland, Scanlon predicted. At present, Corolla provides about 56 percent of the county’s property tax income, but the steep drop in values on the Outer Banks is likely to reduce that percentage, he said. The overall effect will be that property owners on the mainland will be paying a greater portion of property taxes in the county.

Another possible effect of the decreased property values would be an increase in the county tax rate.

At present, property owners pay 32 cents per $100 valuation. For a property owner with land valued at $100,000, the tax would be $320. If the landowner’s property value drops 20 percent with the new valuation, the same property valued at $80,000 would generate $256 in taxes.

The overall effect countywide, would be less income for governmental services. To compensate for the loss, the county will need to raise property taxes to generate the same revenue, Scanlon explained.

“We would have to raise the tax rate to maintain the same level of services,” he said.

The effect on individual taxpayers would depend on the new tax rate and how much their property decreases in value.

Property owners on the Outer Banks where land values are expected to drop the most are less likely to see their bills go up as the tax rate goes up.

Property owners on the mainland where values are expected drop less dramatically are more likely to see their tax bills go up as the tax rate rises.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mid-Currituck Bridge funding put back in proposed budget

Some tough negotiations on behalf of our local public figures have (thus far) restored the funding for the Bridge. Below is an article from the Virginia Pilot:

N.C. budget plan restores funding for Currituck bridge

The newest version of the Senate budget would allocate $15 million annually for the next two years for "gap funding" toward a $660 million toll bridge across the Currituck Sound.

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 1, 2011

The North Carolina Senate budget of $19.7 billion released today restores funding for the mid-Currituck bridge and the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City.

The budget would allocate $15 million annually for the next two years for gap funding toward a $660 million toll bridge across the Currituck Sound from Aydlett to Corolla. County officials in Dare and Currituck have supported the project, but many Aydlett and Corolla residents oppose it. Private contractors are set to build and operate the bridge and charge tolls to help pay the costs.

Two years ago the General Assembly set aside $15 million annually to fill the gap that tolls would not cover, but bridge construction was delayed. The latest budget reallocates the $30 million set aside over the last two years to buy school buses.

Last week a version from the Senate eliminated funding for the bridge and other projects and institutions in the northeast.

“Rep. (Tim) Spear and I worked real hard to get this funding back,” said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank.

The new budget also restores $959,000 in salaries and benefits for 15 full-time employees of the Museum of the Albemarle. Last week’s budget eliminated all the positions and would have forced closure of the 50,000-square-foot museum on the Elizabeth City waterfront. Five positions were cut last year, museum Director Ed Merrell said. About 40,000 people visit the museum each year, he said.

The Currituck and Ocracoke ferries will not be required to charge a toll, Owens said. Also restored was small-schools funding used in Camden, Tyrrell and other rural counties with small populations, he said.

The Senate budget is expected to go before the House by the end of the week and to the governor next week, Owens said.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bridge Funding gets eliminated in "Proposed" Budget from Senate Appropriations Committee

While not official, the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge gap funding from the State has been eliminated in the recent budget proposal in Raleigh. Below is an article from the Daily Advance on the matter.

Senate budget closes MOA, ends bridge project

By Reggie Ponder and Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More The $19.4 billion budget proposal unveiled by the North Carolina Senate Tuesday calls for closing the Museum of the Albemarle and ending development of the long-awaited Mid-Currituck Bridge.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Report on the Continuation, Expansion and Capital Budgets, posted Tuesday on the official website of the N.C. General Assembly, lists as item 58 on page J-19 “close Museum of the Albemarle.” The item goes on to specify that it “closes the Museum of the Albemarle and eliminates salaries and benefits of 15 filled positions.”

The cut is estimated to save nearly $959,000, according to the committee report.

Museum of the Albemarle Director Ed Merrell noted Tuesday afternoon that the state budget is far from final.

“This is a draft budget proposal in the Senate,” he said, pointing out the museum closing was not included in the budget passed by the House of Representatives.

“It’s still got a lot of steps to go through,” Merrell said. “Our position is that we have a museum to operate and we’re going to keep on operating it until somebody tells us to stop.”

Merrell said he got a call Tuesday morning from his supervisor at the Department of Cultural Resources letting him know that the closure was listed in the Senate budget proposal.

He said he and the rest of the Museum of the Albemarle staff believe the museum serves an important role in the community.

“It is important,” Merrell said. “It’s an important asset to the community, the county, to the region as a whole, and in some respects to the state as a whole.”

He mentioned the work the museum does with school systems in the region and its involvement in the Civil War Sesquicentennial, which is expected to bring many visitors to the state.

“We feel very strongly that we are an important asset to the community as a museum and as a tourist draw,” he said.

Merrell said the museum staff hears positive comments about the museum from visitors and people in the community.

According to The Associated Press, the proposed Senate budget also ends development of at least two major road projects: the $900 million proposed Garden Parkway connecting western Gaston County over the Catawba River to the Charlotte airport; and the $600 million Mid-Currituck Bridge. The plan also shifts $50 million in “gap funding” for road projects to purchasing school buses and constructing urban loops.

Like Merrell, Currituck Commissioner Owen Etheridge cautioned that the Senate plan unveiled Tuesday won’t be the state’s final spending plan.

Etheridge, who was in Raleigh Tuesday, said budget negotiations have just begun in the Senate, and he is “cautiously optimistic” that the mid-county bridge will be reinstated during deliberations.

“This is when the real negotiations come into play,” Etheridge said, noting that much debate is still ahead on the spending plan.

Commissioner Paul O’Neal agreed.

“It’s not the end until the final budget is voted on,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal said the votes of state Reps. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, and Tim Spear, D-Washington, may be key in securing funding for the $600 million bridge project.

Both House members’ votes are needed by the Republican majority to veto-proof the final budget, and the mid-county bridge could be part of the bargain in securing those votes, O’Neal said.

“We are still pretty confident that Bill and Tim will be able to keep it alive when it goes to conference because it’s in the House budget,” said O’Neal.

Last year, the General Assembly earmarked “gap funding” for the project that would be used to subsidize construction costs so that tolls are not too high. The budget plan called for the state to provide $15 million a year in gap funds for the first three years of the project and $28 million after that for up to 50 years.

Under the proposed 2012 House budget, the gap funds are still earmarked but payment could be delayed a year. Earlier this year, a spokesman for the N.C. Turnpike Authority estimated that a delay in funding could push back the project’s proposed 2016 completion date by a year or two.

The proposed Senate budget redirects those gap funds to other projects.

State Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, whose district also includes Pasquotank and Currituck counties, could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The Turnpike Authority was set to release its Final Environmental Impact Statement this summer for the 7-mile span connecting Currituck’s mainland to the Outer Banks. Plans for financing the state’s first public-private venture have been ongoing.

The state has been negotiating a contract with private company ACS Dragados to construct and help finance the $660 million project

Friday, May 20, 2011

Currituck County budget keeps property taxes the same for 2010

Ahh, a piece of good news, NO TAX INCREASE. Credit (somewhat) County officials fiscal responsibility. Also, don't forget to thank the visitors we invite here every year whose occupancy and sales tax payments keep the county fiscally afloat without having to reach deeper into our own pockets. They provide a living to most residents as well. This particular luxury is often forgotten by residents when they are stuck in traffic, going 25mph in a 45mph zone, grocery store is all sold out, etc...

Below is an article for the Daily Advance on the budget proposal.

No tax hike in Currituck budget

By Cindy Beamon

Staff Writer

Thursday, May 12, 2011

CURRITUCK — A draft spending plan for Currituck County includes no property tax increase and some big-ticket purchases for water and sewer upgrades, economic development, and a new emergency communications system.

During a budget work session Wednesday, County Manager Dan Scanlon recommended no change to the county’s 32 cents per $100 valuation tax rate.

If approved by commissioners, the tax rate would remain the same it’s been since 2005 when the county revalued property. For a property owner with land valued at $100,000, taxes would remain at $320 next year.

Scanlon is also recommending the purchase of a new $4 million communications system over the next two years. The 800-megahertz system would replace towers and update equipment for law enforcement, emergency services and other county offices, he said.

To pay for the upgrade, the county could suspend saving $1 million each year for new school buildings over the next two years, Scanlon said. He said the school system has no immediate building plans, and the upgrade is needed because of “critical public safety concerns.”

Another shift in funding would create new dollars for economic development incentives. During the budget work session, Currituck commissioners agreed to shift $2 million earmarked earlier for county land purchases and farmland preservation to a new economic development fund.

For the past 10 years, the county has saved $100,000 toward a federally supported program for preserving farmland. However, no farmer has taken advantage of the program over the past 10 years, Scanlon said. The program essentially allows farmers to sell their rights for developing their property.

Now, the $1 million in reserves and annual $100,000 payments once earmarked for farmland preservation would be used to extend water or sewer lines or install new fire hydrants. Commissioners said the county could “sweeten the deal” for new businesses to locate in Currituck by offering those incentives.

The budget draft would also include allowances toward big infrastructure projects in Moyock, Maple and the Currituck Outer Banks.

Scanlon has proposed using the county’s portion of the state sales tax to pay for roads and stormwater drainage at the new Maple Commerce Park. Prepping the site will allow the county to market the property to potential businesses, he said.

The county has also earmarked funds for a new wastewater treatment plant to serve the commerce park, the new YMCA/Community Center, and the surrounding area. The low bid for the plant set its construction cost at $1.94 million.

The proposed budget also allocates funds for designing a new aviation training facility in the same area. The county recently announced plans to partner with College of The Albemarle in building the facility near the county airport on U.S. Highway 158.

In addition to improvements in Maple, the county budget also includes financing plans for user-paid water and sewer systems on the Outer Banks and in Moyock.

In Moyock, the county has begun design plans for a new $3.3 million sewer system to serve businesses at the northern end of the county along N.C. Highway 168. On the Outer Banks, the county is considering options for replacing the aging Ocean Sands sewer system at an estimated cost of $13 million. The county plans to borrow money for the upgrades, but users — not other taxpayers — will be responsible for paying back the debt, Scanlon said.

In addition, the county is awaiting approval from the state Utility Commission for its purchase of two water systems on the Currituck Outer Banks. That $5.5 million purchase would make the county the sole water-provider for the area. The county is also planning a $5 million upgrade of its reverse-osmosis plant to serve the new customers. Water customers will be expected to pay the cost for the water system purchases and upgrade, Scanlon said.

During Wednesday’s work session, Scanlon said he will formally present his recommended budget in June after receiving input from commissioners.

Mid Currituck Bridge Update

Gap Funding for the Mid-Currituck Bridge is still the subject of NC Senate negotiations and reconciliation of both chambers’ versions. Final voting is expected in June by the Legislature, and then to the Governor. As you know, without the funding, the project would languish in delay and existing contracts may be at risk.

Citizens’ groups are lobbying hard on both sides of the issue, working diligently to organize support or opposition to the Bridge and have made a big push with the Senate in the past week.

Interested parties – residents, visitors, homeowners, business associates in Corolla, and really anyone who will be impacted by the project - are encouraged to voice their opinion by contacting key legislators. The following links provide specific information. enables advocates to take action and send letters to both county commissioners as well as state officials right from the website. enables opponents to take action, sign a petition, and email various officials

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Follow up article on Commercial Development

The Daily Advance posted a detailed article on the recent Commissioners meeting, see below:

Currituck denies OBX commercial project

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

CURRITUCK — A ban on building businesses along Currituck’s remote beaches remains intact after a developer’s challenge fell in the face of heavy opposition Monday night.

Before a standing-room-only crowd, commissioners unanimously voted down a developer’s plans to build a cluster of cottage suites and businesses in the four-wheel drive area. The decision upholds a 30-year-old policy to restrict business and discourage development in the northern Outer Banks.

The proposal was developer Chip Friedman’s third attempt to rezone property in Swan Beach since 2004. Planning director Ben Woody said the developer’s request is the 10th challenge to the ban since 1980s.

Local residents had feared approval of the project would lead to more commercial growth along the remote stretch of beach. Lynne Wilson, spokeswoman for the Off-Roads Community, said the “domino effect of commercial rezoning requests” would commercialize the area and endanger the wild horse habitat, fast shrinking as development presses north on the Outer Banks.

In recent months, Friedman had pointed to home-based businesses in the area as evidence that more commercial services were needed. Friedman also charged that the county was “turning a blind eye” to existing illegal businesses while blocking commercial use of his property.

Friedman’s charges prompted a county investigation of 27 properties and resulted in citations for nine violations, Woody said.

An attorney for Outer Banks residents argued that the investigation should not be grounds for opening up commercial growth in the area. Attorney Lars Simonsen said “mere laxity in enforcement” was not the same as discrimination against the developer and encouraged the county to deny the rezoning and continue enforcing rules for home-based businesses.

The debate has raised questions about how the county should regulate needed services — like trash collection — in the off-road area.

Before voting against the project, county commissioners discussed the need for a study to direct growth in the area. At question is how the county can restrict development while allowing necessary services in the residential-only district.

At Monday’s meeting, attorneys for both Friedman and property owners in Swan Beach faced off with a variety of arguments about the project.

Simonsen argued that the developer’s request equated to “illegal spot zoning,” and would give the developer an unfair advantage over existing landowners restricted to residential use of their properties.

He also said widespread opposition to the project should also factor into the board’s decision. One Carova resident said that opposition included a petition with 1,000 signatures.

John Morrison, an attorney for Friedman, countered that the conditional rezoning would actually give the county more control over development of the property. He said the commercial project would be subject to more scrutiny than an ordinary residence.

“You know exactly what the property will be used for,” Morrison said.

He acknowledged the request was “politically unpopular” but argued the project would have no more impact than “beach mansions” with 20-plus bedrooms.

“Ultimately this comes down to an issue of fairness. Can you distinguish between what these folks want to do and what is already up there and allowable now?” Morrison asked.

Swan Beach residents disputed that claim, however. Several said the impact of the commercial development would be different from a house — even a very big house.

Jane Overstreet of Swan Beach argued that the big beach homes are on 10-acre lots and would not yield the same density as the 294-unit project on 37 acres that Friedman was proposing.

Mike Long of Corolla said the cottage suites would also attract a different type of vacationer. Families are more inclined to rent the larger homes, Long said. The off-road community also includes permanent residences and investment homes for people hoping to retire there, he said.

Long said the cottage suites would attract smaller groups who demand more entertainment and services outside of their smaller-scale lodging. The result would be more demand for commercial services in an area where growth should be discouraged, he said.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Commissioners to Commercial Development: Nope.

Amidst a packed courthouse of committed locals and friends of the 4x4 beaches Monday, the Currituck County Commissioners could sense the conviction of the public and unanimously denied the Commercial rezoning request yet again in Swan Beach. A video post of the Commissioners meeting should be available by Wednesday or Thursday on the Currituck county website or this blog. Congratulations to all of those who's support and organization brought forth the preservation of one of the most unique areas on the East Coast.

Below is an article just posted by the Virginia Pilot's Jeff Hampton

Currituck officials reject hotel and shops in wild-horse area

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© May 17, 2011

Currituck County commissioners turned down a rezoning request Monday that would have allowed a hotel and shops in the four-wheel drive area. Developer Gerald Friedman requested the county rezone 37.4 acres in Swan Beach to general business from residential.

More than 100 people showed up to Monday’s meeting opposing the project, which has been turned down at least two other times by county officials going back to 2004. Earlier applications listed the project at 25.8 acres.

If one property was granted commercial status others would follow, said Vance Aydlett, chairman of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners. The vote was unanimous.

“Once you open that Pandora’s box it’s over with,” Aydlett said Tuesday morning.

County planning staff and the planning board recommended denial. The county’s land use plan calls for limited development in the four-wheel drive area, where a herd of about 100 wild horses roams. No roads are paved and access is difficult. Currituck’s northern Outer Banks falls under the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act which discourages development. The northern Outer Banks was zoned residential in the mid 1970s.

Friedman has contended that the northern Outer Banks communities first platted more than 40 years ago included sections for business. Friedman’s tract in Swan Beach was set aside for commercial on an original plat dated Sept. 2, 1969, and signed by the county chairman of the Board of Commissioners. Friedman also said his project is no more intrusive than the 23-bedroom house used for weddings and many home businesses operating in Swan Beach and Carova.

Home businesses are allowed under certain restrictions, Aydlett said.

But in response to Friedman ’s charges, county inspectors found nine home businesses not in compliance. Most are cleaning up their sites to meet county ordinance, but at least two have not responded, said Ben Woody, director of the Currituck County Planning Department.

Friday, April 29, 2011

No Action on Horse Tours from County Commissioners

Well, despite local pressure for action by the Currituck County Commissioners, we have another 'study' to review the Wild Hourse Tour operations for another year. Below is an article from the Daily Advance.

Daily Advance
By Cindy Beamon

Staff Writer

CURRITUCK — Currituck commissioners want the impact of horse tours on off-road areas studied but don’t think a moratorium on tour operations is necessary.

Commissioners directed county staff Monday to study the tours’ impact and make recommendations before next year’s tourist season. The board stopped short, however, of declaring a moratorium that would block new businesses from starting tours and limit existing businesses from adding more tour vehicles.

The county first began regulating the tours this year following complaints from residents. Officials are concerned that the tours are negatively affecting the Outer Banks’ eco-system, including the wild horses in Corolla, a popular attraction for tourists.

In addition to the study, stricter enforcement of existing policies is needed, some commissioners say. Besides tour vehicles operating without a permit, reported violations include speeding tour vehicles and improper use of public rest-room facilities, especially at the park in Carova.

Tour operators are supposed to provide private bathroom facilities, but instead they are using those facilities at the park. Long lines, used-up supplies, and a backed-up septic system have resulted, said Planning Director Ben Woody.

Commissioner Vance Aydlett said he was concerned about “multiple violations amongst tour operators.”

Woody responded that the county has been “building a rap sheet on some of these guys.”

Woody said some tour companies are closely following county policy while others are operating unmarked vehicles or illegally operating more vehicles than specified on their permits.

Aydlett said speeding has also been an issue. Deputies have been asked to identify the tour company on tickets so that the county can keep track of violations, he said.

For years, residents have complained about the impact of tours on their neighborhoods, particularly trespassing tourists and blocked roads. The constant stream of tour vehicles may be degrading the unpaved roads, some residents argue.

In addition, the Wild Horse Fund, the nonprofit that manages the wild herd on the Currituck Outer Banks, is concerned about how the wild horses are affected by the constant stream of onlookers.

Until last year, Currituck County had not regulated tours and had no record of how many tour vehicles were operating. This year for the first time, tour operators were required to apply for special-use permits so the county could more closely monitor and regulate tours.

At present, the eight permitted companies operate a total of 45 vehicles with a 325-person capacity. Each tour vehicle may conduct tours six to eight times a day, multiplying the impact of the tours on off-road areas.

One permit application is still pending. For a second time, commissioners delayed a decision on a special use permit for OBX Monster Bus and Limo for a 26-seat “monster bus.” Commissioners asked applicant Jennifer Marshall to resolve issues about parking for the bus and ownership of the business before they consider the request at their next meeting.

Some commissioners were concerned that other businesses may apply for permits before the study is completed. With the tourist season half over and no new applications on file, the possibility appears less likely, but commissioners discussed how to address the issue without a moratorium.

“My concern is ... we don’t need to have any more operators this year,” said Aydlett, who proposed the moratorium.

Other commissioners were concerned about the legal issues surrounding a moratorium, particularly if an extension was needed. In the end, commissioners asked county staff to prepare recommendations before early spring so that the county would be prepared before tour operators begin renewing or applying for special-use permits next year.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Developer pointing finger at home based businesses in Carova

In an article in the Daily Advance, the County Commissioners have quite a situation on their hands. They may be forced to address all of Carova Beach and the direction that it needs/wants/should go....this will be very interesting to watch in the coming month.

Currituck investigates Carova home businesses

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A developer’s complaints have prompted Currituck officials to investigate if some Carova property owners are illegally operating businesses out of their homes.

More than three decades ago, Currituck officials banned commercial development on the four-wheel drive beach area, where access is limited to a sand road and county water and sewer services are non-existent.

Developer Chip Friedman said the illegal businesses are a sign that the county needs to loosen its commercial ban in Carova.

Friedman recently charged the county is turning a blind eye to illegal home-based businesses in Carova while denying him the same rights for his Swan Beach property, where he wants to build a 302-unit inn. Friedman said he has a county-approved plat from 1969 that includes business parcels, but the county will not allow him to develop them.

The county is already investigating Friedman’s charges, said Planning Director Ben Woody. He said the county has inspected up to 30 suspect properties and plans to issue six violation notices this week. Four other suspected businesses will need further investigation, he said.

All property in Carova beach, including the 600 existing residences, are zoned for residential use only. Home businesses are allowed but limited. No more than one vehicle can be used for commercial use. From the outside, there can be little or no visible evidence that a business is being conducted. No signs are allowed.

Woody said the number of violations were not unusually high in Carova. A sweep of any similar-sized neighborhood in Currituck would probably yield the same number of violations, he said.

Friedman said the violations indicate pent-up demand for services in an area cut off from commercial development.

“We have been patiently waiting for the county to realize what chaos such zoning creates and to accept the fact that our original business areas are needed for the community’s health, safety and vitality. .. there’s isn’t even an area for a hospital helicopter to land to save lives,” Friedman said in an e-mail statement.

Last year, Friedman sought rezoning for 37 acres in Swan Beach to build a 302-unit inn, recreational facilities, indoor pool, and helicopter landing pad. The proposal was hotly protested by nearby residents who said an inn would be out of character with the remote resort and the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge nearby.

Friedman dropped the request after the county planning staff recommended denial, but he is scheduled to resubmit a similar plan to Currituck commissioners on May 16.

Although Friedman has sought the rezoning, he asserts his 1969 plat already designates business areas for development.

Woody said a series of events prompted the county to forbid commercial development after the 1969 plat was recorded. Access to paved roads to the north was cut off by False Cape State Park. Funding for roads was halted under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, which basically blocked any federal assistance to the area deemed by the government as unsuitable for development. Woody said Carova was singled out on the barrier island because of its high erosion rate and hurricane-carved inlets.

Despite the limitations, the beach resort has continued to grow and appears to have plenty of room for more. Roughly a third of Carova’s 3,100 platted lots are developed.

Growth has already posed some problems. The county has plans to repair the pot-hole ridden sand road along the remote stretch of beach. The planning staff is also drafting rules to stem the construction of mega-beach homes with 20-plus rooms.

Woody said commercial growth would only compound the demand for county services along the fragile stretch of beach.

Friedman disagrees, however. He said commercial growth is needed to help serve the area’s growing needs.

“It would be unconscionable to have an area of this size and density without business/commercial areas,” his e-mail reads.

Friedman’s lawyer has asked the county to consider a development agreement to allow new business at the Swan Beach site. The offer could halt an otherwise “inevitable lawsuit,” Virginia Attorney J. Bryan Plumlee wrote in a March 30 correspondence to County Attorney Ike McRee

Commercial Development back on the table

Again the Friedman's are taking their fight to the County Commissioners for their large acreage to be zoned commercial. This time they have brought attention to others operating businesses out of their homes. Below is an article by the Virginia Pilot's Jeff Hampton.

Developer renews fight to build in Outer Banks

Developer Gerald Friedman’s tract in Swan Beach was set aside for commercial use in 1969. The four-wheel-drive area was then zoned residential in the 1970s, and that takes precedence over the original plats, according to the county.

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© April 17, 2011

A developer plans another try at building a motel and shops where the wild horses roam in Currituck County's northern Outer Banks.

Longtime Outer Banks developer Gerald Friedman seeks to get nearly 26 acres rezoned for business in the Swan Beach community for a project he's attempted at least two other times. The rezoning request goes before county commissioners May 16.

"Frankly, I am astonished at the continued position of the County to deny my client his right to construct buildings for commercial use on his business parcels," Bryan Plumlee, a Chesapeake attorney representing Friedman, wrote in an email to the county March 30.

Over the years, Friedman has contended the northern Outer Banks communities, first platted more than 40 years ago, included sections for business.

Friedman's tract in Swan Beach was set aside for commercial use on an original plat dated Sept. 2, 1969, and signed by the chairman of the county's Board of Commissioners, the register of deeds and the clerk to the board, said Friedman's son, Chip, who also is a developer.

The four-wheel-drive area was zoned residential in the 1970s, and that takes precedence over the original plats, said Ben Woody, director of the Currituck County Planning Department. The area falls under the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act, which discourages development. The area also falls under the county's land-use plan, which limits business growth.

The Army Corps of Engineers is even balking at allowing the county to grade large mud holes along one of the main unpaved roads. The mud holes are considered wetlands.

"At some point you have to say this area is not viable for commercial," Woody said.

But in his letter, Plumlee named several home-based businesses in the area, including sand mining, excavating, crane operation and the 23-bedroom home used for weddings.

Residential zoning in the four-wheel-drive area allows home-based businesses, but some violate the ordinance, Woody acknowledged.

"We have to determine when has a home-based business gone too far," he said.

Home-based businesses are allowed one commercial vehicle. Since getting Plumlee's letter, Woody and a code officer have canvassed the area and found at least six home businesses violating the ordinance. They will be cited, he said.

For the area originally platted with a total of 3,150 lots in the late 1960s and early 1970s, records show 661 homes in communities including Carova Beach, Swan Beach and North Swan Beach. The entire area encompasses more than 7,000 acres on a strip a mile wide and about 12 miles long to the Virginia line. Wild horses roam in preserved tracts such as the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge and among homes, at times grazing in people's front yards.

In the 1960s, developers expected paved roads would come through. But Virginia established False Cape State Park, and beyond that the federal government created Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The establishment of those preserves prevented paved roads from the north. Currituck National Wildlife Refuge and the Currituck Banks North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve stand in the way of paved roads from Corolla at the south.