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What on Earth is Going on with the Frisco UFO?

Friday 23 June 2017 at 11:29 pm.

Late last week Jim Bagwell, (owner of the property where the Frisco UFO has landed), and LeRoy Reynolds, (the UFO’s resident alien), approached a local building inspector to see if they could do some repairs and refurbishments to the iconic local structure.

Per Reynolds, they initially received the verbal OK to proceed, but were then contacted by the Dare County Planning Department and were told that the UFO could not be altered in any way, per an already established agreement from 2006.

And then social media got involved, the floodgates opened, and everyone started to wonder what on earth is happening with the Frisco UFO.

It’s not unusual for a somewhat controversial topic to garner a wave of interest, rumors, and story variations on Hatteras Island. One of my favorite lifelong locals once told me that “If you break wind in Rodanthe, by the time they hear about it in Hatteras, it’s a damn hurricane.”

But since this particular topic first landed on the Facebook social scene last weekend, it’s become a force of nature.

An online petition addressed to the Dare County Board of Commissioners had roughly 2,000 signatures within a week, and online comments are circulating about establishing a GoFundMe page for the UFO.

And this initial worry and fury regarding the future of the UFO is understandable. The UFO is well-known as one of the most photographed landmarks on Hatteras Island – second only to the lighthouse according to several sources – and it has a number of devout followers that have fond memories of shooting pics of the site while on vacation as a kid. (Yours truly included.)

But just like any viral sensation, there’s also some misleading or at least confusing information out there about what’s actually happening.

So what’s going on? The answer is at the same time somewhat more sedate, and more complicated, than what may initially appear in the Facebook news feed.

You can skim ahead to get the details of the current controversy, but if you’re not familiar with the UFO, then you’ll want a primer on this iconic structure.

Let’s Start with the Basics – What is the Frisco UFO?

In case you are actually paying attention to the road while driving along N.C. Highway 12, and not looking around constantly as most of us do, the Frisco UFO is one of the island’s most famous roadside attractions.

The UFO has been highlighted in a number of news segments and magazines over the years, and even landed a spot on Our State magazine’s list of “100 Places We Love on the Carolina Coast” in the current June 2017 issue.

Anne Bowers actually wrote a great feature on the UFO for the Island Free Press in 2012, but as a synopsis, the UFO, also known in some local circles as the “Frisco Disco,” is a Futuro House, which was an innovative prefabricated house that was designed in the 1960s.

Initially brought to life by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, less than 100 of these flying-saucer like homes were actually built during the late '60s and '70s, and only 18 of them are left, according to Reynolds.

There are websites and blogs dedicated to these time-capsule homes, (like the site http://www.thefuturohouse.com/) and the Frisco Futuro house – which has been owned by Bagwell for more than 20 years – has been on the Hatteras Island shoreline for roughly four decades.

It was originally bought and relocated to the oceanside more than 40 years ago by a couple who used it as a beach retreat, and since being purchased by Bagwell, it has lived in several Frisco locations – which includes the grounds of the Scotch Bonnet Marina, and its current location about a mile south of there. In the past 20 years, the UFO has been leased as a flea market, an office, and even an “Out of this World” hotdog stand.

In the past few years, however, it has been more or less a shell, where resident alien Leroy Reynolds hangs out to surprise the visitors who stop by for a photo op.

And it is arguably this friendly alien – as well as the rarity of the Futuro house itself – which has catapulted this 26-foot wide and 13-foot high structure to fame.

About Frisco’s Resident Alien

The phrase “Labor of Love” was designed for Leroy Reynolds.

A 55-year-old veteran of the Marine Corps who has visited Hatteras Island for decades, (and who remembers being bored to death and eaten alive by mosquitoes when he visited as a kid), Leroy has – like so many transplanted locals – found a home on Hatteras Island.

And he’s also found a unique role and a passion as the resident Frisco Alien.

“It was all a joke and a lark at the beginning,” he says of the original spaceship endeavor. “Nobody wanted to mess with it... All my friends said ‘Why did you buy a spaceship?’ and I replied ‘Oh, well you’re really going to like this… I’m going to dress up like an alien, too.’”

Leroy was true to his word. And because of this dedication, countless visitors who have pulled over on the side of N.C. Highway 12 have been surprised, and delighted, to find a green alien greet them soon after their arrival.

“I’ve always tried to make it educational and fun for the kids,” he says. “That’s why I do it. I don’t make any money off of it – (and if I didn’t make my wife laugh on a regular basis she would have been done with me by now) - but I love to see people smile.”

Leroy has certainly developed a big fan base because of his devotion as well.

He’s met famous celebrities, race car drivers, and actresses during his tenure as an alien, and while he discreetly doesn’t share a lot of names, he does mention how he recently helped the keyboardist of Three Dog Night find an island home.

“We started talking, and eventually I hopped in the car with him so we could look at property in Hatteras village,” he says. “He bought a house that day.”

Leroy has also kept up with the current trends, making the UFO a geo-cache spot, and in 2016, helping visitors who were on the hunt for the special “UFO Pokémon” in the popular Pokémon Go game.

But there are some drawbacks to the job to be sure.

“Driving back and forth to [my home in] Buxton to use the bathroom is hard – especially in an alien suit,” he says. “I joke that if I sell one T-shirt, it may cover my gas money for the day.”

This is why Leroy’s primary request entails adding a port-a-potty to the site, and adding a souvenir shed as well.

But it’s evidently clear that Leroy isn’t in it for the money.

He’s in it because people love the UFO, and he loves them back.

“I have a grandson who is 14, and he loves the thing,” says Leroy. “I would love for him to have it someday, but for now, I want to keep making people laugh and smile.”

He notes that since his Facebook page has become a viral sensation, he’s gotten offers to move the spaceship to lots in Caswell County and Raleigh – on someone else’s dime, no less. But he attests that he wants it to stay put, on the island that he considers home.

“I make nothing, but I do it for the fun,” he says. “I don’t think you will find anyone more committed to having fun, and to making people smile.”

He is absolutely right about that.

Examining the Current UFO Controversy

There are rumors circulating like crazy that the Frisco UFO is on the brink of being shut down or destroyed for good.

Even the online petition alludes to this scenario, and states the following:

“Please sign this petition demanding that the Dare county Board of Commissioners cease and desist their efforts at removing the Frisco UFO from its place on the side of highway 12 and insist they let it remain where it is, in its rightful place as part of the uniqueness and charm of the NC Outer Banks.”

It’s a heartfelt plea to be sure, but it is not necessarily accurate.

For one thing, the Dare County Board of Commissioners has little to do with the potential removal of the structure. For another, the UFO is not in immediate danger of being destroyed or removed.

Dare County Planning Department Director Donna Creef summarizes the situation as follows:

“The structure doesn’t meet any building codes or fire codes,” she said in a recent interview. “This was conveyed to [the owner] last Friday afternoon, and also in 2006 when he wanted to occupy it at that time.”

“In 2006 we told him then it didn’t meet the code, and that he needed to do X, Y, and Z to proceed… At this point, he is trying to do the same, or refurbish it and have people go into the structure, but we cannot allow that because it’s still an unsafe structure.”

Most importantly for the current concerns that the structure will be destroyed, Planning Director Creef noted the following:

“We haven’t told him that he needs to move it, or that it needs to be demolished.”

The minutes from a March 2005 Planning Board meeting, where this issue was seemingly first brought to public light, provides a bit more insight on what’s required to bring the structure up to snuff. The PDF of the minutes can be viewed here - https://boc.darecountync.gov/board_minutes/planning/2005/2005Plan0314Minutes.pdf - and the minutes from this meeting were verified as accurate by at least one person who served as a board member at the time.

Here are the minutes from that meeting:

Planner Ryan Simons presented staff comments. He told the Board that Mr. Bagwell has submitted a site plan and conditional use application to construct some improvements on his property in Frisco. He stated that the site plan also includes a proposal to use an existing “flying saucer” structure as a storage unit. Mr. Simons stated after discussion, staff recommended that this issue be resolved before any additional action or review take place on the site plan.

Mr. Simons told the Board that on previous occasions Mr. Bagwell has attempted to occupy this structure as one use or another. Currently the structure is used as a road side attraction, signage or a concession feature and this is the use that the staff recommends the structure be used for now.

Mr. Simons told the Board that if Mr. Bagwell wishes to continue to use the structure as a roadside attraction, or signage feature the following issues will need to be addressed:

1. An engineered foundation plan prepared by a NC licensed engineer for the structure should be submitted to ensure the structural stability of the feature. The structure should be secured in conformance with the NC State Building Codes and Flood plan regulations.

2. Access to the interior of the structure should be eliminated by permanently sealing or removing the entrance.

3. An off street parking plan should be prepared to eliminate any potential traffic hazards along highway 12. Delineation of parking in the gravel area should be depicted on a revised site plan.

4. Removal of all equipment that might facilitate use of the interior of the structure including any heating/air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical.

Mr. Simons suggested that the use of this unit should be resolved prior to any additional action or review by the Planning Board on the proposed Conditional Use Permit application. This item was considered a sketch plan; no action taken.

In addition, there is a Memorandum of Understanding that dates back to 2006 which is signed by Ryan W. Simons, Dare County Planner, and Mr. Bagwell, property owner.

It states that the Planning Department will permit the existing “flying saucer,” as well as a proposed retail shop and restaurant, to be located at the property, pursuant to the following conditions:

1. The “flying saucer” structure will be allowed to remain on the property, as approved by the Dare County Building Inspector. The structure shall at no time be occupied. All entrance(s) shall be permanently sealed or removed. All apparatuses which have the potential to facilitate occupancy shall be removed.

2. A revised site plan should be submitted to the Planning Staff indicating the “flying saucer” only as an “ornamental feature.” Because the structure will not be occupied for any other purpose, it shall not be indicated as an “existing storage space,” etc.;

3. The site plan is subject to further review by the Dare County Planning Department;

4. The proposed retail / restaurant will be in one structure. Any further structures will be subject to Conditional Use Permit review;

5. All parking spaces should be clearly delineated by partitions (i.e. – concrete blocks, railroad ties, etc.);

6. A visual buffer should be installed around the perimeter of the property;

7. The borrow pit area at the rear of the property should be considered a hazardous area and access will be restricted by opaque fencing and signage;

8. The site will be maintained in a fashion not to constitute a nuisance. The site will be subject to routine inspections by the Dare County Planning Department to ensure compliance;

So this is not a new issue. It’s just a pot that has been stirred to the point of boiling.

And it should be noted that at this time the UFO can stay at its current site, so long as it is closed off and people are not allowed to enter. The safety concerns of entering this prefabricated structure from 50+ years ago are certainly valid, and there is currently no septic system in place – (hence the port-a-potty request) – which is another can of worms on the commercial front.

Simply put, at this juncture, people should not be allowed to enter the spaceship, and the Planning Department has a valid point of view that the site can be continually used for its ongoing ornamental use, but that additional steps are needed to make it a museum or any other commercial venture.

The safety hazard aspect is impossible to ignore, and is a genuine concern for a structure that is in dire need of repairs.

So there is nothing on the books that says the UFO will be torn down. The public outcry about the UFO being reduced to rubbish is misguided, albeit understandable if this was indeed the case. The UFO simply has to be closed up, remain as it is, and not be repaired until certain requirements are met.

But this is where things get very tricky, and where personally I have been scratching my head trying to find a way out of this Catch-22.

Our Local UFO will Continue to Stand, but There’s Still a Problem

Leroy Reynold’s ultimate goal is to create a museum – similar to the one that’s found at the Futuro House in Finland, which is also the home country of the UFO structure’s designer.

But he also notes that he would be satisfied with a few concessions that don’t necessarily involve the interior.

“It needs some structural repairs – it has a crack in the back of it, and I would like to turn it back to what it was – the original Futuro House.”

And when asked if he would be content with his primary request for an outside souvenir shed and port-a-potty, Leroy concurs that the granting of this request would help.

“It would definitely loosen the grip… I am sure I would back down a little,” he says.

The problem is that at this point, an engineered report detailing foundation plans and refurbishment of the interior to allow occupancy is needed in order to conduct repairs and potential additions. And the UFO house is an uninhabitable structure, so finding an engineer to give their blessing may be a very difficult task. So, it is indeed a bit of a Catch-22.

And several sources have indicated that the site could potentially add the souvenir shed and the port-a-potty via other means, but at this point, you start getting into commercial rules – which can be difficult terrain to navigate.

There’s also the valid argument that without repairs, the UFO will simply deteriorate on its own.

It stayed put during Irene and Matthew, but continual wear and tear from the elements has its effects. “I have sent seven plats to the planning board, but they shut me out,” says owner Bagwell. “They are saying the spaceship can sit there, but I am not allowed to work on it and fix it. What I want to do is fix it up and make it presentable.”

But one aspect that may be missed in the social media realm is that everyone – (or at least everyone I talked to) – is rooting for the UFO.

Simply put, the petition to the commissioners is misguided, because the commissioners and many county officials completely recognize the value of this local icon.

“What has served Hatteras Island well has been the quaint type of attractions, just like the UFO,” says County Commissioner Danny Couch. “It’s not that anyone is opposed to it – that’s what we want. People at some point will reject the big box stores of the island, because it’s the local feel that attracts people here. This local [aesthetic] works in Duck, Manteo, and Ocracoke, and it works here as well.”

"I just wish this process started 20 years ago, to avoid this moment now altogether. It may be too late.”

At its core, this is not a problem with an obvious answer. But it does have a ton of folks who want to find a solution… aided by a vocal public who want the same thing, and who are watching.

There may be tensions between a few individuals at this point, but the UFO is a local endeavor that adds mass interest to our island, and is a structure that no one wants to see fail, moved, or demolished.

From our local government to our resident alien, the importance of the UFO was highlighted in every single conversation that I personally had about this controversy. (And heaven knows, there were a lot of them.)

There’s an escalated sense on social media that there is a miscarriage of justice underway, or even worse, a domineering Big Brother that is out to ruin this iconic structure. It’s understandable, too, that there is some mistrust of government – such is the era that we live in.

But in this case, at least for now, there are many people who are rooting for the UFO. And while there’s no obvious answer, there are hopefully options for compromise.

"The space ship is not as complicated as it appears or is being made out to be,” says Couch. “By anyone's standards, it's in a dangerous state of disrepair. It's not a habitable structure - not even close - in its existing condition…

“Building codes are time-tested on the island and the county, and ensure that the general public is not put at risk, and protects the property owner as well. They are there for a reason and are supported by professional building contractors, tradespeople, and the residents.

“No one is trying or wants to see it go. However, that doesn't change the fact that a significant influx of money is necessary to make it safe,” he adds. “I personally would love to see Leroy succeed commercially there, but in order to do so, it has be permitted as all other businesses are in Dare Co. in such a way to protect the general public and the owners on all levels. His commercial insurance will insist on this, as will any entity that puts up money to restore it.”

“Stay tuned,” says Couch. “If Leroy and his supporters can get the space ship up to code and signed off on, I'm confident that not just the community, but the people in county administration as well will do everything possible to help see it ‘fly, and fly high!’"

eleven comments

william turner

i live in De and have 2 of them closes to me 1 is a residents in HOUSTON DE And the oTher one is at the HOUDSON FIELDS near LEWIS DE I see nothing wrong with them

william turner - 24-06-’17 04:08
Hondo7

it took 25 years for the Bonner bridge replacement with all the lawsuits and permits, based on that, it might take a thousand years to save the saucer

Hondo7 - 24-06-’17 04:52
alien thinking

I’d like to see it go. It’s a pile of junk surrounded by acres of junk and piles of excavated sand, excavation equipment and neglected sheds. This is no way to keep our county and state commitment to making the highway a more scenic route that shows off our best side. The whole area needs a privacy fence. It’s like an ugly construction site that never ever goes away.

alien thinking - 24-06-’17 15:01
Pete

Pretty lame how the county has to enforce ridiculous building codes on a UFO.

Pete - 25-06-’17 01:16
Dewey Parr

My family and friends will miss seeing the Frisco Alien and his UFO on the Island. I thank Leroy Reynolds for all the enjoyment he has brought me and my visitors. One of the first things we always do is take our visitors to see the Frisco UFO Frisco. I am sorry our Dare County officials cannot see the merit of keeping the UFO on the Island. I for one cannot understand what the controversy is all about. Mr. Reynolds is not charging admission to see it nor is it being used as a commercial building. I view the UFO in the same light as I view a shed on a persons property. If this is the case I do not see how Dare County can tell him he has to empty it, not use it for storage and seal all entrances. Frankly I think this is a precedence we all need to be concerned about. Little by little our personal property rights are being eroded because we the public sit back and let governmental officials take them away from us. I am sure there is some other area other than Dare County that would love to have the Frisco UFO. Dare County seems to be saying there is no place in this county for some like our Frisco Alien, Leroy Reynolds, to do something just for the fun of it to bring joy to others. The only compensation he has gotten out of all the hours he has put in as the Frisco UFO alien has been the smiles on the faces of those who have visited the Frisco UFO. Have Heart Dare County. Stop picking on the Frisco Alien.

Dewey Parr - 26-06-’17 04:27
Kitty Mitchell

Since I was a child in the 60s the sight of the saucer has made me smile every time we pass it. It is one of the things that says Hatteras is unique and fun. I tried so hard to talk my parents into getting us one. I hope it stays!

Kitty Mitchell - 26-06-’17 14:22
Olddalt21

Thank you Commisioner Counch.Dare Don’t let Dare COUNTY become another area like some in other states and parts of NC. Preserve Hatteras Island and all parts of the unincorporated areas. Too many people is and outside of Hatteras especially want it to die but as you know even those of us who moved to other areas say you can take some folks away but you cannot move DARE COUNTY and Our home on Hatteras from our hearts. Thank you.

Olddalt21 - 26-06-’17 16:29
gsurf

The county government is sounding more and more like what you would find in a big city. Rules, rules and more rules with little or no flexibility. Most of this has been brought in by outsiders who did not like where they lived so they moved here only to push their idea of perfect on us instead of living with what was here. The list of names mentioned in the article says all you need to know about the people involved. It’s as if they have nothing better to do with their time that to write up a list of demands that are near impossible/impractical to meet. Get some flexibility and help him out. The unsafe/uninhabitable notions are code for “we don’t want it here”. I’d like to rally up enough money to meet their list of demands so that he can do as he pleases with it.

Hatteras Island is beautiful, unique and weird. Don’t let those in the ivory towers of the government center mold HI into the mess that KDH is, and to a lesser degree KH and NH. Nobody who lives here wants normal other than transplants.

gsurf - 29-06-’17 00:58
Salvo Jimmy

gsurf

Years ago there was a bumper sticker around here that went something like this

We don’t give a $hit how they do it in (fill in the state of your choice)

Salvo Jimmy - 30-06-’17 03:17
who killed the weirdness?

Look around, who do you think sold all the land, created all the new developments, constucted all the big houses and established all the businesses? It wasn’t transplants, the county or people from KDH or NH. Sometimes its hard to point fingers inward instead of outward.

who killed the weirdness? - 30-06-’17 21:50
John Wood

Last year I met Leroy and made several spherical panoramas of his spacecraft:

https://www.360cities.net/image/pro/frisco-ufo-spaceship-interior

https://www.360cities.net/image/pro/frisco-ufo-two-1

https://www.360cities.net/image/pro/frisco-ufo-three-1

https://www.360cities.net/image/pro/frisco-ufo-four-1

https://www.360cities.net/image/pro/frisco-ufo-five

https://www.360cities.net/image/pro/frisco-ufo-six-1

Two of these were picked up by Futuro House and have had several thousand views:

http://www.thefuturohouse.com

I receive no compensation for these panoramas but would like to see Leroy succeed in keeping some kitsch Americana alive. Feel free to link or distribute these as you see fit.

Best regards,
John

John Wood - 27-08-’17 03:31




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