Board inaction sinks Avon seafood vendor’s plan

By on January 23, 2013


A request for zoning to allow open-air seafood sales on Hatteras Island was met by silence at Tuesday’s Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting, deep-sixing the idea unless someone comes up with another plan.

Two commissioners recused themselves because they are associated with retail grocery businesses, leaving the other five to hear pros and cons in a public hearing, discuss the issue, then vote.

But when Chairman Warren Judge asked for a motion, no one proposed a yes or no vote on the request and it died for lack of action.

County Manager Bobby Outten said Hatteras Island resident Mark Rawl could come back with another request, but unless it is a different plan it would likely see the same outcome. So the board’s inaction amounted to a rejection of outdoor seafood sales in unincorporated areas of the county.

Opposition from established fish markets on Hatteras Island appeared to be the force behind the board’s reluctance to entertain Rawl’s proposal, which would be allowed under new Health Department Rules. Dare County has long prohibited outdoor seafood sales, unlike the state’s other 99 counties, and local zoning would still have to be changed to allow them.

Opponents speaking in a public hearing said Rawl’s plan to sell fish from a stand at Coastal Harvesters’ farmers market and in the parking lot of Koru Village, both in Avon, amounted to unfair competition.

More people spoke in favor of the idea. Among other things, they cited the opportunity for an entrepreneur to get started, another option for buying seafood and competition that would raise the standard for every dealer.

Mark Rawl.

While Rawl would be limited in the species of fish he sold, fish dealers argued that they had been subject to a long-standing requirement to operate in an enclosed structure and strict specifications for equipment, sanitation and preparation.

Aside from an enclosed structure, Rawl would have needed to abide by most of the same rules. He was the first to propose a plan since the Dare County Board of Health eased the prohibition on outdoor sales.

Rawl’s plan was laid out in detail, and some objections focused on itinerate dealers moving in with less scrupulous preparation.

Commissioner Jack Shea said he was concerned about roadside dealers undercutting business people who had invested in the county and paid taxes over the years. He also said unwary customers could be victimized by dealers willing to skirt the rules.

But Rawl argued that he should not be denied on the possibility that someone else might later start operating illegally.

“To do it legally, somebody’s got to be committed,” Rawl said.

Outten said that even with the new Health Department rules, state law requires county ordinances that would allow outdoor sales. He said the local ordinance could be stricter than the health regulations.

Outdoor sales also would require conditional use permits, which could specify additional requirements such as signage, parking, by-product disposal and locations.

Commissioners Allen Burrus, who owns a grocery store in Hatteras, and Max Dutton, who manages the Harris Teeter in Kill Devil Hills, did not participate.

Rawl, a retired Army helicopter pilot, said he was not sure what he would do next. He said he had been asked to pursue the idea by Coastal Harvesters and commercial fishermen and his decision would partially depend on their wishes.

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