Elizabethan Inn

Could there be a new hotel on the Elizabethan in site?

Amid fears of big zoning changes, planning board idea rejected

After listening to impassioned pleas from some residents urging that the town’s zoning ordinances be left alone, the Manteo Board of Commissioners on Dec. 5 unanimously rejected a planning board recommendation that called for a legal review of the Town Code to bring it in line with state zoning laws.

      The debate over whether to move forward with that review is perhaps the latest sign that the quiet town of Manteo may again be at a crossroads when it comes to its vision for the future.

      Town officials and residents have fought over the years to maintain Manteo’s unique character, including a successful campaign in the early 2000s to keep a Food Lion out. Among other zoning requirements, a 20,000-square-foot limit on buildings now exists to avoid big box stores and other large development — and drive-thrus are not permitted in town.

      There are a number of reasons why concerns over development in Manteo may be bubbling to the surface now. Mayor Bobby Owens, about a year into his term, makes no secret of his view that some growth is needed in Manteo. The town is in the process of replacing its longtime manager, Kermit Skinner. And a new Concerned Citizens group — formed this summer around the issue of televising commissioners’ meetings — has become a vocal player in town politics.

      In addition, renewed talk around town of a potential hotel, as well as the uncertain fate of several other larger parcels in town, have added a sense of urgency for some about what direction the town plans to take.

      In that context, the planning board recommendation that was voted down by the commissioners on Dec. 5 aroused some suspicion that it might foreshadow an effort to pave the way for major zoning changes.

      “We have zoning laws that we have worked on for many, many years,” said Bebe Woody, owner of the White Doe Inn in Manteo and one of the founders of the new citizens' group, when speaking during the Dec. 5 meeting. “We have a great foundation.”

      Woody later told the Sentinel of an underlying frustration that some residents feel when it comes to town issues. “The trust level with the citizens is probably damaged,” she noted. “We don’t quite trust what is going on.”

      Recent rumblings of zoning changes to allow more growth had some residents, like Tim Teeple, concerned about the motives of the review. “We are getting two different vibes,” said Teeple. “We hear one thing from the planning board and at past meetings of drive-thrus and hotels, and then wording is slid around. That’s why we are trying to figure out what is going on.”

      Manteo Planning Board Director Hal Goodman told the Sentinel that his board’s recommendation for a legal review was “totally misconstrued” by some residents and commissioners as an effort to undermine the municipal code and make major changes. 

      Rather, he said, “The intent was for the ordinances to be compliant with current legislation,” as well as be enforceable.

      Owens echoed those sentiments in an interview, characterizing opposition to the review of the Town Code as a “contrived movement, a movement to keep everything like it was…There was no intention of changing the ordinance.”

      Goodman noted that the recommendation for the review came from a suggestion made by David Owens of the UNC School of Government that municipalities review their zoning ordinances in light of changes the N.C. General Assembly has made to state law over the last 10 years.

      And Manteo Planning Director Melissa Dickerson acknowledged that the town has at least a few ordinances on the books that are not compliant with state law.

      “Where I know there are issues that exist, and it’s not compliant, I just don’t enforce it,” she said in a Sentinel interview, pointing to the town’s definition of accessory dwellings and the owner occupancy requirement as examples.

      Residents at the Dec. 5 meeting, however, urged the commissioners to reject the planning board recommendation. Woody said there was citizen support behind updating the Land Use Plan and the town’s 20-year plan before considering a legal review.

       “We are a destination now,” she added. “Want it or not, you are because everyone loves Manteo. If we don’t think about the future and infrastructure it will take to meet these needs, you are going to be lost.”

      Marshes Light resident John Adams told the commissioners that, “It seems to be the natural process would be to engage stakeholders…and have revised zoning ordinances grow organically from a revised plan and then perhaps conduct a legal review.”

      One subject that comes up in any future discussion of development in Manteo is construction of a new hotel. Owens said he has supported the efforts of Elizabethan Inn owner Rajan Patel to demolish one of the inn’s back buildings and replace it with a small Marriott hotel.

      “I don’t know if it is possible, but we can’t keep everything the same,” Owens said. “It can’t stay the same. If it does, it dies.”

      He said that a hotel, among the handful of bed & breakfasts, would give visitors another option as far as accommodations. Currently, there are a few bed & breakfast inns, such as the White Doe Inn, Roanoke Island Inn and the Cameron House Inn. Tranquil House Inn on the Manteo Waterfront also offers accommodations.

      Patel said he’s been frustrated by the obstacles he’s faced when discussing the possibility of putting a hotel on the Elizabethan Inn site with town officials. “I’ve had the financing ready,” he said. “The money was not the issue. The issue was the town.”

      “This town is falling apart…nothing is open after eight p.m., the whole town shuts down,” Patel continued. He added, “I’d love to build a hotel in Manteo. It would bring in jobs and tax dollars. A new hotel would fill up and bring money back to the town.”

      He said his plans would include razing the back building with 36 rooms and replacing it with a small-size Marriott of about 70 units. He would keep the main building fronting U.S. 64.

      There are several other large parcels that could potentially be sites for significant development in Manteo, including the Duke of Dare parcel, which has been vacant since the early 2000s, as well as the site of the former Weeping Radish and the SAGA-owned parcel in Marshes Light. The SAGA site is slated for a 60-room hotel site as part of the Planned Unit Development, but the company has not submitted any plans to the town regarding the site.

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Reporter, Outer Banks Sentinel

(6) comments

William Harrison

The town of Manteo needs some new growth. Several locations that were once places that attracted visitors have been closed or are falling down. I do think changes need to be very closely looked at and kept in line with what the towns needs. But if you always do the same things you get the same results. The entire town needs mostly to be cleaned up. What a great addition would be a fast food restaurant that is clean and presentable to the public. Like another has said it’s nowhere to go after 8 pm in the town. I love the town of Manteo and often tell my friends how wonderful of a place it is to live but yes it needs some changes and updates but with much thought and consideration.

obxmike

Take a look at the old Radish site, Duke of Dare site and tell me that it represents the town well. An outside review will give a fresh look at the zoning laws.

Manteo98

While keeping the small town charm and feel is important for Manteo, there needs to be a lot of changes. Sites such as the old Weeping Radish and the Duke of Dare do need to be replaced with something else. Manteo truly doesn’t have any night life whatsoever except for a few local bars downtown. Growing up here all of my life it would often get extremely boring down here due to nothing being open at night. I feel like the town only keeps values of older residents in mind when planning changes to the town. Not everyone likes the idea of having only two drive thru restaurants on the island, let alone two of the worst fast food chain options available in NC (McDonalds & PizzaHut). It’s shocking that Pizza Hut is even staying in business, I’ve always received terrible service there and the quality of the food is poor, same for McDonalds. It would be nice to have popular chains such as a Chick Fil a, Cookout, or a Bojangles on the island, which usually stay open late in other areas of the state and offer far superior food at the same prices. Tourists would love it, school aged kids/teens who have absolutely nothing to do at night would be thrilled. The closest fast food restaurants are well over 15 minutes away, people that don’t have their driver’s licenses yet often can’t go to these places unless an adult drives them to them. I mean imagine just winning a homecoming game, it’s 9:30ish, every single restaurant on the island is closed except for the McDonalds drive thru, there’s literally nothing for kids to do to celebrate except throw a party which is inevitably going to get busted by the Manteo police who will then hand out underage drinking tickets because they’re bored and got a tip from a concerned parent. Where’s the fun in that?
Whether or not it’s fast food restaurants or not, there HAS to be more to do down here, especially at night.
Next, as much as I love the idea of local businesses, there are far better grocery store options than Piggly Wiggly and Food A Rama, at least have 1 high quality grocery store on the island, considering the next best thing is Food Lion 10 minutes away in another town.
Most stores in Manteo are also only catered to really little kids, seniors, or tourists as well. A lot of school aged boys are into video games, the closest Gamestop is almost an hour and a half away in Elizabeth City, even a local game store would be nice for them to have. Maybe add an athletic appeal store for the athletes too? Chelsey mall (which barely even counts as a mall) would be a great location for stores like these. I could go on and on about what stores this island needs but the list is extensive. I would just like to see a change and hope that Manteo will become a little more exciting for year long residents, especially for children and teens.

obxmike

Manteo98, A good overview of the town and maybe what could make it better. I'm waiting for the new parking/greenspace to start.....maybe in my lifetime. So many needs. I think that Mr. Patel would like to give the Town an improved and modern hotel. Could have a restaurant in it, such as La Dolce Vita? I miss that fine restaurant. Great pizza and Stromboli. Stay involved. Many are moving here and will want the amenities that should be here, while keeping the town in character.

ManteoFan

Several issues are raised in this item.

One of these is the issue of town building codes that have been compromised by changes at the state level.

The state legislature meets at least once a year a t the same place and during the same time period. This is not a surprise. During this period all proposed legislation is posted for review and comment thus affording concerned parties an opportunity to educate themselves on the potential impacts these changes or additions might have on existing codes or practices be you a political subdivision, business owner or individual. This is the time that town staff advises the town commissioners on the potential ramifications and proposes solutions or necessary actions to bring the town into compliance so as to preclude conflicts that might place the town at risk of unnecessary litigation. Simply put, to read that the town has code sections that are not consistent or compliant with changes made by the legislature from years past is a clear sign of complacent town management.

The efforts by the Town Planning Commission to address these concerns are commendable. They have identified a problem and acted reasonably and responsibly by proposing a solution. The inference that some on the Planning Commission had ulterior motives seems to me irrelevant. The inference simply represents a predictable and oft repeated reaction to the central debate that has been ongoing since I became a voting resident of Manteo.

This town is in trouble.

Does anyone who drives or walks through the entire Town of Manteo really believe that it is a thriving, diversified and economically robust municipality? Is anyone convinced beyond any doubt that the historic downtown is truly the sole economic engine that can ensure the well being of the town for future generations?

I realize the importance of maintaining certain vestiges of our town that encourage the concept of a destination vacation spot, but the reality is that this day destination concept is not sufficiently diversified. The business model extant in the historic downtown area of the town comes nowhere near to producing the revenue equal to what the town pays to sustain it. It is an expensive whimsy sustained by outside revenue streams to satisfy the penchant that some have for the nostalgic.

What folly it is that some of these preservationists consistently oppose zoning and code changes that would enhance the towns economic base and help to ensure the vibrancy of those very revenue streams that allow the town to preserve the important historical area.

Considerable areas of our town are looking pretty shabby; hardly inviting to visitors, prospective property buyers or business people looking for new markets to invest in. How fair is it to the taxpayers and residents in portions of the town outside the confines of the historic area to continue to be taxed to subsidize the downtown area when some in that area consistently impede efforts to expand the tax base of the town to allow for an easing of that financial draw? Are your roads more important than my road? Are your drainage concerns more important than my drainage concerns? Should I ignore my needs and concerns because I don’t live in a historic building or because I live on the other side of the highway?

The Mayor is correct. The town has not thrived in what have been some of the best years for the national economy in many years. He is correct to be concerned with the impact that economic hard times will bring when those harder times come. And they will come.

If Town does not prosper then nothing can be preserved.

obxmike

Manteo98, Spot on analysis of the systemic problem with Manteo. Good news? Many are moving here who will want to have better amenities and experiences other than a bed and breakfast and a drive through. The non compliance admission with State law makes me incredulous. Lets hope that some forward thinking people will prevail over the "I have mine, you can't have yours" mentality. This town can be transformed with the right vision. Your description of the areas of the town as shabby is kind, to say the least. I support Mayor Owens in his efforts.

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