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.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Article In Daily Advance address potential cuts for Ferry & Bridge

Interesting article...

Ferry, Bridge Could Be Cut
Ferry, bridge could be cut
By Cindy Beamon
The Daily Advance

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The proposed mid-county bridge and the Knotts Island ferry in Currituck could be on the chopping block.

Both are included in a newly released list of possible spending cuts that state legislators plan to consider during upcoming budget deliberations.

State Sen. Stan White said he received the 100-page list of reduction options from the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Monday night. Among the possible cuts would be eliminating the Knotts Island ferry altogether and cutting state “gap” funding for the mid-county bridge.
White, D-Dare, said those projects and a broad range of other “devastating” budget cuts may be up for consideration as the Republican-controlled Legislature eyes ways to cut costs during a tight budget year.

Currituck County officials plan to meet with top-ranking Republicans and appropriations committee members this week to lobby against the possible cuts.

Vance Aydlett, chairman of the Currituck Board of Commissioners, said eliminating the ferry would have a “devastating effect on school children,” as buses would be forced to drive the more time-consuming route through Virginia. Aydlett, a Knotts Island resident, said the hour-and-a-half drive on narrow two-lane roads through Virginia Beach and Chesapeake is also a safety concern.

Possible cuts to funding for the mid-county bridge have also prompted Currituck officials to rally support for the span that would cross the Currituck Sound from the mainland to the Outer Banks. Last year, the General Assembly, at the recommendation of now-retired Senate leader Marc Basnight, approved gap funds needed to keep down tolls in the public-private venture.

The first installment of the $15 million a year was set to begin this year, but a Republican takeover of the legislature and a $2.4 billion state budget deficit have threatened the project.

Currituck commissioners recently reaffirmed their support of the bridge.

In addition, the Currituck Chamber of Commerce has alerted interest groups to send letters to state legislators in support of the span, estimated to cost between $600 million and $800 million.

Jim Owens, member of the Chamber’s Legislative Affairs Committee, said the span has long been supported by area businesses and a majority of local residents. He said the Chamber was prompted to act because of upcoming budget deliberations and because of the “culture change in Raleigh.”

“This year there could be some members (in the legislature) who are not favorable to the Currituck bridge, so we have to be vigilant to make sure that we cover the bases,” he said.

Aydlett said cuts in gap funding would end a project that has gained strong community support over more than two decades.

“It would be a blow to the vision that has been supported by a majority of residents of Currituck County for 25 years,” he said.

State Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, said critics of the bridge need to understand the long history of the proposed project and its importance to the county and the region. He said the meeting between lawmakers and county officials will be aimed at clearing up “misunderstandings” about how the project was funded.

Cutting the projects would have an adverse effect on the local economy, local officials said.

The mid-county bridge promises to open up business opportunities on Currituck’s mainland, Bill Owens said.

Aydlett said eliminating the ferry would hurt Knotts Island economically by cutting it off from the rest of North Carolina. He said motorists enjoy taking the ferry across the sound and visiting the two wineries and restaurant on Knotts Island. Area residents also use the ferry to conduct business and attend meetings at the county governmental complex, he said.

Without the ferry, “Knotts Island would be a dead-end road to nowhere,” Aydlett said.

According to the N.C. Ferry Division, almost 28,000 vehicles and 85,000 passengers — including two buses loaded with students each school day — crossed the Currituck Sound by ferry in 2009.

The list of possible state budget cuts also includes other changes in ferry operations and hours along the state’s coast. Another proposal would require tolls for all ferries, including those on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.

White said the ferry changes were among other “huge cuts” in transportation that would adversely affect the lesser populated counties.