The Dare County Planning Department is in the early stages of a massive project that takes a couple of years to complete, and which requires the public’s input to proceed.
The project in question is the Land Use Plan for Unincorporated Dare County, (which includes Hatteras Island), and it’s a project that has technically been ongoing since 1974, with updates occurring every 5-10 years.
The project stems from Dare County’s status as a CAMA county. As part of the twenty coastal counties in the state, Dare County is required to prepare and update comprehensive land use plans for participation in the NC Division of Coastal Management’s CAMA program.
Work on the update is currently underway by the Planning Department and Planning Board, however, the public has an opportunity to provide their own feedback via an online survey, which is available until May 25.
And public input is essential, because the Land Use Plan covers a far-reaching array of issues that can range from zoning and building, to use of county land and properties, to hot topics that effect everyone on the island.
“The survey is one tool that we use – it’s not the end all for how we develop our policies, but it is the number one public participation tool that we utilize for the process,” said Donna Creef, Dare County Planning Director.
And if you haven’t taken the online survey yet, you certainly should. (Here’s a link - https://www.darenc.com/departments/planning/land-use-plan-survey.)
The survey has a total of 44 questions, and just takes a few minutes to complete. But from there, the results are analyzed, integrated into a formal report that goes to the Planning Board, and then makes its way to the Board of Commissioners and the state.
Here’s just a sample of some of the questions and topics that the survey tackles, and which have multiple choice answer options that range from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”
- Oceanfront setbacks for construction are adequate.
Dare County should continue to advocate single family homes as the preferred land use in unincorporated Dare County.
Outdoor art shows and parking lot/street vendors should continue to be unregulated in unincorporated Dare County.
Dare County should increase funding for enforcement activities to address the removal of junked vehicles and unsightly structures.
Dare County should research the use of stormwater districts/fees to fund the construction and maintenance of stormwater improvements.
- Dare County should continue to oppose off-shore exploration for oil and natural gas off the NC coast.
- Acquisition of additional lands for future public projects should be supported.
- Dare County should limit the size of enclosed areas located underneath structures that may be subject to flooding.
- Current zoning regulations should be revised to encourage the construction of multi-family structures for workforce and/or employee housing.
- The use of vacation homes for large gatherings, such as weddings, are appropriate in all residential neighborhoods.
- Drive-thru window service at restaurants should be prohibited in all commercial zoning districts in unincorporated Dare County.
- Private recycling services are adequate to supplement Dare County's recycling efforts.
- Local regulations should be considered to address flood risks for all properties, and not just those properties identified on the federal flood insurance maps as at risk properties for flooding.
If you find yourself vigorously nodding or shaking your head at any of the above questions, then this survey is clearly for you.
The survey and questions posed to the public change each time the Land Use Plan is updated, too. For example, in 2009, (which is the last time the Land Use Plan was updated), the hot topic questions revolved around constructing a new Bonner Bridge, and better access for ORVs.
It’s a lengthy process to develop the final plan, as well, spanning the course of several years. It’s hoped that by this time next year, a draft of the Land Use Plan will be in place, which will be followed by another round of public comments on the proposed plan. Then, it goes to the state, as well as the Board of Commissioners to adopt.
It takes a ton of work and a lot of time to be sure, and it’s all orchestrated by the county’s Planning Department.
“It’s a big undertaking for the Planning Department staff to do this, but it saves a lot of money for the county, and more importantly, it’s based in local knowledge,” said Creef, addressing why the Land Use Plan is handled by the county, and not an outside consultant. “We are the ones that know the community best. I like to think that this insight transitions into a better plan versus some consultant coming in. We know this community, and what makes Hatteras different from Martins Point, or Rodanthe from Colington.”
And that added benefit of local knowledge is exactly why public input is so crucial.
“The policies in the Land Use Plan help guide development for Dare County,” said Creef. “They are not ordinances, but they are the framework. We want to make sure we have public participation, and it’s not just us making these decisions.”
The online survey is just an initial step. Other opportunities for public comment and response will be available throughout the process, via meetings, workshops, and other mediums.
But the survey is arguably one of the easiest ways for the public to voice their opinion, and Creef reports that results have steadily been trickling in since the survey was first introduced to the community in late April.
It should be noted that not all of the eventual plan will be drafted solely on public input. For example, the Dare County Board of Commissioners has already spoken out against offshore drilling, so that likely takes precedence in any potential guidelines in the Land Use Plan.
But considering that local knowledge is so imperative to create a smart plan that works to the benefit of Hatteras Island and unincorporated Dare County, taking the survey is a small thing that residents and homeowners can do now to ensure that the updated plan reflects the needs of the community.
“It’s not just the planning board that needs to develop the plan - it takes a village,” said Creef. “And if we didn’t want or need public input, we wouldn’t go to the lengths to have the survey and workshops available.
We need public comments, and we need the community’s insight.”