Currituck expected to OK parking on vacant lots in off-road area

By on December 3, 2017

Property owners have kept vehicles on their lots for decades. (submitted photo)

The agenda for Monday night’s Currituck County Board of Commissioners meeting will again include a hot topic for property owners on the county’s northern beaches.

However, unlike the Nov. 20 board meeting, they should be somewhat pleased with the expected vote following a public hearing on the amendments, which will allow property owners to leave a couple of vehicles parked on unimproved lots in the off-road area.

During the public comment section of the Oct. 16 board meeting, several property owners complained about receiving citations for leaving vehicles parked on their unimproved lots.

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Many of them come to the county’s northern beaches by boat from Knotts Island. Once they reach the Outer Banks side of Knotts Island Bay or Currituck Sound, they tie up and use the parked vehicle to drive to the beach.

It’s a method of accessing the northern beaches that has been depended on for decades, although leaving a parked car on a lot without a primary structure is unlawful under the county’s current Unified Development Ordinances.

Following the public comment section of the October meeting, County Manager Dan Scanlon said those property owners won’t be required to pay the fines included in the citations, and commissioners will soon take up changes to the county’s ordinances that will allow them to continue parking on their lots.

That’s expected to happen Monday night, when commissioners will vote on a text amendment that will allow property owners to park two licensed and registered vehicles, along with one boat trailer, on vacant lots in the Single Family Remote zoning district, which applies to most of the off-road area.

The commissioners will likely vote following a public hearing on the issue. A public hearing requires that speakers be sworn in, and has a set of mandates for the procedure, which is considered a quasi-judicial hearing.

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Because it’s a legal proceeding, Monday’s public hearing is unlikely to dissolve into a combative exchange similar to the public comment section of the Nov. 20 meeting.

State law requires that county and municipal boards include a public comment session during their meetings, at least once a month. During that section of the Nov. 20 meeting, several people spoke out against changing the laws regarding driving on the beach in the county’s off-road area.

The new rules, which commissioners approved by a 4-2 vote, prohibit vehicles from driving on the hard-packed sand near the ocean, between North Beach Ramp and Milepost 17, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., from the Friday before Memorial Day until Labor Day.

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The revisions are intended to keep the foreshore safe for beach-goers by pushing traffic up to the toe of the dune line. Although the new ordinance may make beach-goers happy, some property owners on the county’s northern beaches weren’t pleased with the prospect of driving in the deep sand close to the dune line.

Don Hufnagle was one of a handful of speakers who told commissioners they were opposed to the change during the public comment section of the Nov. 20 meeting. After Hufnagle finished speaking, Commissioner Bob White called him back to the podium, and asked Hufnagle for his solution to the problem.

What started as a tense exchange between Hufnagle and White dissolved into an terse back-and-forth after Board Chairman Bobbie Hanig joined in. However, both White and Hanig defended their actions when questioned about the exchange.

“Occasionally, commissioners do respond to public comments,” White said. “Its not something we typically do, but it does happen from time to time,” he added.

“Anytime you have opposing sides to an issue, and it’s a big issue, it’s going to get contentious from time to time,” White said.

Hanig said he didn’t think the meeting went off the rails or got out of control, although he agreed that parts of it were contentious.

He added that there wasn’t a protocol for conducting the public comment section of the meeting, or any documents that said someone couldn’t return to the podium.

“If someone’s up there repeating something someone said 3 minutes ago, I’m going to cut them off,” he added.

Frayda Bluestein, a public law and government professor from the University of North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill, said in an email that local boards have the authority to develop policies limiting how long each person can speak.

“I don’t think there is any authority to prevent someone from repeating their message as long as they are within the time frame allowed,” she added.

Generally, the role of the chair is preside over the meeting and to moderate the meeting, she explained, adding that it isn’t uncommon for the chair to engage with speakers.

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Comments

Susan Marie Powers

Tuesday, Dec 5 8:22 am

I was at the meeting. It was my impression that you could only park a registered vehicle on your own personal lot.

Tiny Cottage

Monday, Dec 4 11:15 am

This is interesting.

I own a lot up there. Do I now need to fence it off to ensure it’s not used as a parking lot?

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