Nags Head candidates address storm water, housing and more

By on October 24, 2017

Two seats on the Nags Head Board of Commissioners are up for grabs, while Ben Cahoon is the only candidate running to replace retiring Mayor Bob Edwards.

Five candidates are competing in the race for commissioneer: incumbent Commissioner Marvin Demers, Webb Fuller, John Mascaro, Keith Sawyer and Michael Siers.

The top two finishers will take seats on the board. Incumbent John Ratzenberger chose not to seek another four-year term.


We asked the candidates questions on storm-water drainage, the balance betwen business and residential uses, affordable housing and beach nourishment.

Early voting is under way. Click here for more details »

Biographical information and photos provided by the League of Women Voters of Dare County.


Marvin Demers

Education: Bachelor’s Degree Mechanical Engineering, University of Maine; Master’s Degree Industrial Engineering, Texas A&M University


Occupation: Retired

Additional experience: Three years on Nags Head Planning Board (one year as vice chairman); four years on Nags Head Board of Commissioners; Several courses and conferences on North Carolina local government and coastal topics

Webb Fuller

Education: North Carolina State University, B. S. School of Forestry; Halifax Tech, AA, Police Science; North Carolina State University, Master’s of Public Administration; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Institute of Government, School for City/County Government; University of Virginia – Weldon School of Public Policy – Senior Executive Institute; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill – Governors Executive Institute

Occupation: Town of Ahoskie – Assistant to the manager; North Carolina – State Government, Department of Human Resources, Secretary’s Office and Policy Analyst; Currituck County – County Manager; Town of Nags Head – City Manager; J. Webb Fuller, LLC – Consultant

Additional experience; President of Graduate School Program at North Carolina State University;
University of Virginia – Weldon School of Public Policy – Senior Executive Institute Advisory Board; Board Member; North Carolina League of Municipalities; North Carolina Marine Science Council, Member; President and Member of the North Carolina City and County Managers Association; University of North Carolina School of Law, Center for Coastal Resources, Law and Planning Program, Member; North Carolina Coastal Resources Advisory Council, Member and Chairperson; Village at Nags Head Property Owners Association Landscape Committee; Ocean Club Center Property Owners Association, Corolla, President; North Ridge Property Owners Association, Wintergreen, Virginia, President; Boyette Property Owners Association, Ocracoke, President; Nags Head Board of Adjustments, Member

John W. Mascaro

Education: University of Illinois, Fire Science; Nationally Registered Emergency Medical Technician; numerous fire service and emergency mendical technician certifications and courses.

Occupations: Owner, RSJ Property Services, Nags Head, NC 01/2007-Current; Director of Fire Protection & Safety, BLH Inc., Nags Head, NC 2006-2007; Fire Chief, Duck Fire Department, Duck, NC 10/2005-05/2006; moved thorough ranks to become Fire Chief, Olympia Gardens Fire Department, Olympia Gardens, IL 1993-2003

Additional experience: Illinois State Fire Marshal 20 Year Service Award; Olympia Gardens Fire Department Invaluable and Devoted Service Award; Member of Board Of Adjustments Town of Nags Head; Administration, Operations, Budget and all duties of managing a municipal fire department. Recruitment and Retention of workers. Grant writing. Very familiar with Town of Nags Head statutes and ordinances. Organizations: North Carolina Fire Chief Association; North Carolina Firefighters Association; Dare County Officers Association; W.I.L.C.O. Fire Chiefs Association; W.I.L.C.O. Fire Chiefs-Fire Investigation Team; Illinois State Senator Debbie Halverson’s Advisory Committee; Honary Member of Illinois Kiwanis Club

Michael Siers

Education: Shenandoah University

Additional experience: Nags Head Planning Board — Currently;
Kitty Hawk Rotary President 2015-2016






A growing number of residents feel the town is passing the buck and blaming the drainage issues on NCDOT, while not making concerted efforts to fix the problems. What would you propose for workable solutions?

Demers: 1. Stormwater flooding drainage issues are unarguably a huge challenge for the Town and a problem for homeowners experiencing repetitive and severe flooding. The current Board of Commissioners, in recognition of the hazards to the public, immediately established, in Jan 2014, Stormwater Management as one of its five Strategic Areas for intensive management. How we got to this point, what we have done, and what we are are continuing to do are germane to this question.

Flooding (ocean overwash, sound overwash, and heavy rainfall) has long been recognized by the Town as a threatening situation, and mitigation measures have been continuously pursued, well documented in the aftermath of the Ash Wednesday Storm in 1962. Moreover, what also followed was decades of relentless residential and commercial development and associated drainage pathways construction. Despite best intentions, those individual drainage sections were not designed and built according to a crystal ball master plan. Therefore, aside from today’s obvious age and deterioration of the drainage system, there are multiple elements of the system which just don’t function or interface well, which makes for a much less than optimal town-wide system, allowing multiple localized flood prone areas to continue to exist.

The fact is that we have about 55 miles of swales, drainage ditches, culverts, drainage pipes, and ocean/sound outfalls to augment flooding’s natural ground infiltration. About one third of that expanse lies within NCDOT right of way. That isn’t a way of passing the buck; it simply means that we have to properly coordinate and cooperate with NCDOT to perform necessary maintenance and construct needed system improvements. We do that regularly and have had good experience working with NCDOT. Examples include rebuilding ocean outfalls and restoring ditches and swales along our state roads.

The rest of our drainage system often involves other governmental agencies such as Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, and state/federal water quality agencies. We have established good working relationships with them and know how to proceed with any planned project which affects their mission areas. With limited resources, we have accomplished many projects since Jan 2014 ranging from site specific projects such as culverts to large scale construction like Red Drum outfall. The accomplishments are documented on the Town web site for public information.

But much remains to be done. My proposal is to pursue a three pronged balanced approach to improve our overall flooding situation. First is execution of our enhanced regular maintenance program for swales and ditches as well as vigilant pre-storm clearings of known problem areas. Second is to continue identifying, prioritizing, and funding high payoff projects which we can independently manage and execute within our own authority. Third is to follow through on the remainder of our consultant study which will intermittently identify essential larger projects for our near term execution and will also ultimately produce a justifiable Master Plan for the long term. Some of the Master Plan proposals or options may be very high cost projects.

Regardless of cost, all proposed projects will be aired with the Town’s Stormwater Committee for input and feedback to neighborhoods, as well as be presented to the Board of Commissioners for approval, funding, or redirection. External funding assistance such as grant funding is often an option, and a Master Plan may be an essential grant application element. Our lengthy and intricate drainage system dictates that we have a comprehensive understanding of the interactions of all the elements of the system, and that we execute a deliberate program of maintenance and construction so that each step improves the overall system and does not worsen the situation for someone else. We have instituted, and are executing, a comprehensive Stormwater Management program to do just that.

Fuller: The drainage system in Nags Head is an interrelated system between Nags Head and NCDOT. If either one of us falters on drainage the system will not work. NCDOT is responsible for draining their infrastructure, which includes NC 158, NC64 (Bypass), Highway 12 (Beach Road) and State Road 1243 (South Nags Head). Nags Head is responsible for everything else in town.

The first course of action is to ensure that the town and NCDOT are working together in harmony. At a strategic level we need the mayor and our NCDOT board member meet on a regular basis to establish a coordinated plan of action. We must also have our town manager meeting on a regular basis with the NCDOT division engineer to implement the plan of action. Right now this is not happening and every drainage issue is addressed in a piece meal fashion. We try to fix things after the fact and not coordinate our work schedules ahead of an event.

Secondly, what can Nags Head do alone to mitigate drainage issues? We can clean our ditches and culverts that are badly in need of repair. We can require through zoning, that developers of commercial and residential lots retain 100% of storm water on site. The town can purchase strategically located lots and create dry ponds or rain gardens where storm water can be pumped when areas become flooded. We can design town infrastructure to better address storm water. An example of this is at the western end of Danube Street where the town has a sound beach access. Years ago the town designed Danube Street to have storm water flow to this beach access as a catch basin for the storm water. We have a wonderful sound access and a storm water basin.

The town has a number of other beach accesses and many of these accesses can be reconfigured to allow for storm water to collect and dissipate on these properties.

During catastrophic events such as hurricanes, we can have pre-positioned pumps stationed in strategic locations and pump water to the ocean. This used to be a standard practice for the town in the early 2000’s. We can and should expand our septic health program to provide expert advice to home owners about individual property issues. There are a number of ways property owners can address individual problems with some guidance from knowledgeable experts.

Finally we must always look for new and inventive ways to address drainage. Examples of this are in Wrightsville Beach where they pump storm water into the frontal dune to reduce flooding and Whalehead Beach where they implemented a system to lower the water table to mitigate flooding. We can do much better if we try.

Mascaro: I believe if the town would get more stern with NCDOT, we can get them to do what they need to do and if that doesn’t work we need to go up the ladder to the person who can get it done. Nags Head needs to stop with excuses and just do what needs to be done.we need to start investing in storm water solutions like we have invested in dowdy park. also create a storm water division of public works to focus on only storm water.

Siers: Meet jointly with the town manager, NCDOT manager and District 1 DOT board member. Get an
update on the actual current projects and those planned. Request an outlined drainage agenda to share with the board and citizens. Be transparent in the actions. Work on growing an open line of communication between NCDOT and Nags Head.

Kelly’s was recently sold to a grocery chain. Commercial parcels on the Beach Road from motels to drive-in diners to stores and other restaurants have mostly been converted into use for rental houses. Critics say the town’s zoning is out of balance and the retail and restaurant business is being significantly harmed by zoning that makes large rental homes the most profitable land use. Does the town needs more commercial and less residential and if so, how would you propose to change the mix?

Demers: Zoning needs to be updated to align with the future land use vision as laid out in the Comprehensive Plan recently developed in the FOCUS Nags Head project. Certain types and amounts of commercial capability is essential for a healthy community and we must maintain that. The new Plan locates general Neighborhood Commercial Activity Nodes wherein zoning and related permitted and conditional uses can influence desirable types of commercial development for these areas.

Zoning in itself cannot dictate what types of land use will be most profitable, but it can encourage increased development or redevelopment of the types of businesses which fit the Plan vision in these nodes such as we’ve seen with Farm Dog, Surfin’ Spoon, and the like. The FOCUS Technical Committee has already embarked on rewriting the current Town Code on development/redevelopment into a new Unified Development Ordinance, and is exploring the best ways to transition from existing zoning into revised zoning to align with the Comprehensive Plan.

Fuller: The question is: Does the town need more commercial and less residential and if so, how would you propose to change the mix?

I do not believe we need more commercial zoning and less residential zoning. Right now much of the town is zoned commercial and, in fact, a lot of our commercial zones are being developed with residential structures. It is market driven. There is a desire for increased residential structures. The value of property is more valuable for residential verses commercial.

Year to date for gross meals tax (i.e. restaurant sales) is up by 4.85%. Occupancy tax (i.e. rentals) is up by 5.27%. Retail sales are up by 12.3%. Restaurant sales and vacation rentals have paralleled each other while retail sales have doubled rentals and restaurant sales. Therefore, there is enough commercial zoning if we have retail sales moving at a pace that is doubling vacation rental income.

Finally I have not heard an outcry from the public that says we need more grocery stores, more banks, more hardware stores, more restaurants etc.

Mascaro: We need to control residential and we have with 5,000 square foot allowable. If a property is zoned commercial it needs to stay commercial.

We shouldn’t rezone cause people we know want it or complain cause they don’t want commercial by there home. Less restrictions on commercial building, this will also help attract business.

Siers: The town should look at ways to preserve the commercial properties that we have. We don’t need to continue to tear down hotels for large homes. We need a healthy mix of commercial to maintain a balance in Nags Head as a town.

The businesses community says the lack of housing, is having a detrimental impact on their ability to attract and keep employees at all pay levels. How would you work to change that situation in your town?

Demers: Lack of affordable housing on the Outer Banks is a known obstacle for lower income personnel, particularly seasonal employees. One solution which is being constructed in Nags Head is dormitory style housing. If the current project is successful, we could see that solution expanded in the future.

A form of cottage court housing, recently encouraged by code revisions, could be another solution. Another option could be that businesses, municipalities, charity organizations, and County governments collaborate to develop, lease, and/or subsidize housing on the Outer Banks or in nearby mainland Dare or Currituck counties for these employees. Providing transportation services and possibly even nutritional support should be considered in these approaches. This housing is a regional problem and would benefit from a regional solution.

Fuller: There is definitely a lack of affordable housing in Dare County for residents as well as seasonal workers. It is a huge issue. Market forces drive the value of land and the cost of housing. It is a complex issue and beyond Nags Head to address alone. I would suggest a county wide committee, involving all the towns and the county working with housing experts, to research and make reasonable proposals.

With that said I do not and will not support changes that would affect our individual neighborhoods negatively. Each of our neighborhoods has a distinct character and we chose our neighborhood because of its uniqueness. We know our neighbors and feel safe in our homes. Any changes to zoning in Nags Head for more affordable housing cannot come as an expense to our existing neighborhoods.

Mascaro: Work with investors, builders, developers and build affordable housing. Nags Head has basically approved a hostel that they call dormitory housing. That’s not what we need. We need to think about locals that work in Nags Head not the students that come here to work.

Siers: We need to look at Zoning that would allow multifamily development. An example would be townhomes. To grow a sustainable community we have to have similar solutions that have worked in small year round communities.

What is your stance on beach nourishment, and are you in it for the long haul if it means continuing to pay for it at the local level?

Demers: I do support beach nourishment. It has proven itself in Nags Head to be an effective means to protect and preserve the ocean/beach attraction which drives our economy. Other neighboring towns and unincorporated areas of Dare County are following the Nags Head lead. Beach nourishment requires management for the long haul because if it is not maintained, erosion will rapidly consume any previous nourishment and steadily destroy properties progressing from east to west and south to north in an economy-decimating march from which there is no return.

Though local funding is expensive, the Outer Banks communities have successfully developed a cost-sharing methodology which parses the debt burden in an acceptable manner between east side owners, west side owners, and Dare County. Though a recently approved bill in the NC General Assembly established the framework for state level partial funding of beach nourishment, the source of those funds have not yet been identified.

Hopefully, funding will not become a form of coastal taxation by the State just to send our own money back to us. The drawbacks of that are obvious. We need to be prepared to locally fund beach nourishment for the foreseeable future. The 30-year Shoreline Management Plan will provide us with the road map for managing our ocean and sound shorelines and for obtaining the funds to do so.

Fuller: I am for beach nourishment and I am willing to pay for it.

Mascaro: Should be fair and equal across the board. If we have to keep funding for it locally, no I’m not in favor of long term. The state owns the beach and they should help pay for it. They’re right there to collect their occupancy tax , sales tax, etc. We need to fight to get them to pay something toward beach nourishment. Let’s get senators, representatives, the Governor and who ever we need here to see first hand what were asking for. Stop being afraid to upset the state and fight for nags head.

Siers: I am in for the long haul and would like to help with long term solutions. Beach nourishment was a start. Now that we have the majority of the towns in Dare county involved we need to look at long term solutions. Artificial reefs and use of groins will help hold the beaches. Communication between Dare County and the towns are important in making this happen.

I don’t feel the funding of this should come in form of a residential tax increase. I believe we need to reinstate the 1 cent retail tax that we had in the past. This penny was generating over 55 million dollars in 6 months. This shares the burden with the visitors.

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