Request tabled after discussion reveals some confusion on issue
Two Nags Head restaurants will have to wait another month for a decision on whether they will be able to provide soundside docking facilities for patrons after the Nags Head Board of Commissioners on Jan. 2 failed to reach consensus on a proposed text amendment that would allow for the use.
After two attempts to act on the request, the commissioners agreed to table the proposal made by Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant and Tale of the Whale until their February meeting so that town staff could offer an opinion on whether the request was consistent with the town’s recently revised Land Use Plan.
Before the request was tabled, the discussion of the issue at the Jan. 2 meeting seemed to reflect some confusion and disagreement — and even questions about whether a new ordinance was needed.
If adopted, the amendment would pave the way for docking facilities of up to eight slips as a conditional use at restaurants and businesses in the commercial outdoor recreational overlay district, which stretches from Throttle Speedway at milepost 15.5 south along the Nags Head-Manteo causeway to the town line.
The stretch includes 14 business sites that town staff has said could potentially take advantage of the zoning change. The proposal would also amend the town’s definition of commercial marinas to be any facility with more than eight slips and eliminate the requirement that it be for the exclusive use of the landowner.
Commissioner Michael Siers, whose motion to approve the request died after failing to get a second, asserted during the meeting that the town’s current ordinance was overreaching and its definition of a commercial marina was more stringent than the NC Coastal Resources Commission’s interpretation during its Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) review.
“If our commercial marina ordinance was the same [as CAMA’s] and we trusted that CAMA major permits were doing their job restricting things that weren’t suppose to happen, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion,” said Siers. “If the town wasn’t “trying to overextend our control of everything, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” he added.
Mayor Ben Cahoon also threw his support behind the proposal, and said he trusted the CAMA permitting process. “No one has ever accused CAMA of being too liberal with major permits,” the mayor noted. A CAMA permit is required for any development that takes place in areas of environmental concern within North Carolina’s 20 coastal counties.
Commissioner Webb Fuller took another approach, making a motion to take no action, which also died for lack of a second. He argued that the current ordinance already allows what the restaurants are requesting.
“What I am looking at today doesn’t pass the smell test…I don’t see anywhere right now that someone can’t tie up and go eat given the [current] regulations,” Fuller told fellow commissioners. “And nothing prohibits [the applicants] from putting in more dockage. It just gets to my confusion why we are here in the first place.”
Former Nags Head Mayor Bob Edwards spoke as well, asserting that the proposal “flies in the face” of the town’s Land Use Plan. “This request certainly doesn’t fit who we say we want to be and may have a long term harmful effect on why our visitors want to come to Nags Head,” said Edwards, citing what he saw as a laundry list of environmental, aesthetic and safety concerns.
Representing the two restaurants, Brian Rubino of Quible and Associates argued that the arduous CAMA permitting process ensures the project is not only environmentally sound, but also meets stringent safety standards. Miller’s was issued a CAMA permit last year to extend its pier and add nine boat slips, while Tale of the Whale’s permit is currently on hold until the issue with the town is resolved.
“What we are asking for is a text amendment that provides for transient slips only,” Rubino said. “In the case of a restaurant, it would be where a restaurant patron brings their boat to the restaurant while they eat, and are able to safely tie it up at a designated boat slip.”
Hal Goodman, engineer for the Tale of the Whale project, told commissioners that he’s seen clients tie up at the restaurant’s existing gazebo, climb over the bow and over the back of the benches.
“It’s navigable water there, boats are going to come, it is going to be used and he just wants to put in seventy-two feet of linear pier for people to get in and out of a boat if they do approach the restaurant that way,” he said.
The Nags Head Planning Board in November recommended that commissioners approve the request for a text amendment, however Deputy Planning Director Kelly Wyatt told the board on Jan. 2 that staff does not recommend approval, but rather continues to support a four-slip maximum.