May 22, 2010 – A request to bring commercial development to the Currituck Off-Road Beaches will be heard once again by the Currituck County Board of Commissioners at their June 7, 2010, meeting.
Presented by Bissell Professional Group for developer Gerald Friedman of Swan Beach Corolla, LLC, the proposal — closely resembling two previous requests in 2005 and 2008 — has taken the form of a rezoning request from Residential to General Business – Conditional District. Two parcels in Swan Beach, totaling 37.36 acres, would be rezoned from residential to commercial. If passed, the proposed map amendment could set precedent and allow rezoning to commercial throughout Currituck Off Road beaches.
The Proposal would permit construction of a 320-unit inn and accessory uses, 19,200 square feet of neighborhood commercial, a wellness center, a fishing pier with accessory structures, and outdoor recreational facilities. A chapel, school, and fire station are also included in the request.
Two similar proposals appeared before the Currituck County Board of Commissioners (BOC). In 2005, the item was removed from the agenda, following advisement by the Currituck Planning Board to deny the request. In 2008, a similar request for an “Off Road Historic Village Commercial Overlay District” was denied by the county, based on recommendations of denial by the Planning Staff and Planning Board, and after considering statements in opposition from residents, property owners, business owners, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, NC Coastal Federation, US Fish & Wildlife, and others.
Both times the denial was based on concerns about the inability of the area to support commercial development, and the inconsistency with the comprehensive plan for the county — the 1990 and updated 2006 Land Use Plan — and the County’s Unified Development Ordinance. The denial was also based on concerns for the public health, safety and welfare, given the density, traffic, and shared resources, and the provision of public services available.
Commercial zoning in the off road area is clearly prohibited in the UDO and Land Use Plan.
In the current UDO, commercialization of the Off-Road area is clearly prohibited, consistent with the county’s development standards of promoting “health, safety, and the general welfare of the public.” The UDO also established an Outer Banks Overlay District for the entire outer Banks. “The purpose of the Outer Banks Overlay District is to preserve and protect unique aspects of the Outer Banks area that do not exist anywhere else in Currituck County….”
The current Land Use Plan strongly states that “concerning the Off-Road area of the Outer Banks, Currituck County shall not permit or encourage the provision of growth-inducing facilities and services to these areas, including for example, commercial services, centralized sewage treatment and hard surface roads.” (LUP OB7) In keeping with its overall goals “to protect and conserve the area’s natural beauty and coastal resources as the County’s greatest asset for economic development and a high quality of life”, and “to avoid taking or approving actions related to infrastructure and the provision of services that could induce intensive development in environmentally fragile areas; examples include the northern beaches of the outer banks…” the Plan further states that “the best means of minimizing adverse impacts is by holding firm on policies against providing infrastructure and commercial services to the (four wheel drive) area.”
Historically and consistently, commercial development in the 4wd has been met with opposition by property owners and residents of the area. A significant majority of Off-Road residents and property owners have not requested, are not requesting, and do want the alleged services that the developer is proposing. Opponents contend that commercialization will have a negative impact on public safety and health, the environment, and wildlife.
In addition, preference surveys of tourist have indicated that visitors come specifically for the relatively undisturbed environment, remoteness, pristine beaches, solitude, waterfowl and wildlife, and the freedom of the wild horses. Several tourists — from Maine to Florida, California to the East Coast — have recorded pleas to the county to keep the off road area as it is — a place where they would like to return. Several have indicated that they will not return if the off road has commercial development. Given the significant revenues that the county enjoys from the occupancy tax of its tourists, and the relatively limited expenditures necessary for services given the nature of the off road area, many residents wonder why the county would even consider commercial development that would kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and require increased revenue be taken from the mainland to support the necessary services for commercial in the off road.
It will detract from the area’s appeal for many of the county’s residents and tourists by changing the character of the Off-Road beaches. These beaches, this environment, draw thousands of tourists to the area and millions of dollars to Currituck County. Opponents contend that the economic value of the four wheel drive area and its position in the tourist industry (and ultimately its contribution to the county’s tax base) can be maximized by preserving its unique environment.
Commercialization will bring increased density, increased demand on water resources and land utilization, and accelerated growth. It will threaten the freedom of the wild horses, and jeopardize the habitat of local waterfowl and wildlife.
Citizens of the Northern Currituck Outer Banks have posted a blog where more information can be obtained. Go to www.saveobx.com for more information.