August 12, 2008

Hey OBR - Please Don't Throw Me in that Brier Patch!

Rant Warning!! Read on at your own risk!
In the past month or so my "good friend" Monty has floated a couple of his favorite fishing lures in my direction, hoping I would take the bait. Now trolling on blogs is nothing new but then neither is the kind of wobbly, weak willed waffling that waxes forth from the forum that calls itself the Outer Banks Republic. Monticello may feature Greek Revival architecture but Plato this guy ain't, more like Pluto (the dog of cartoon fame).

In July Monty held forth on Nags Head's commercial design standards. He allowed he didn't like them because they seemed to make everything look the same. He welcomes the gaudy colors of Central Square after the dull tones and design of the Y. He suggests that we are stopping the true entrepreneurs from building unique (and attractive) buildings ala the Galleon and George Crocker.
The bitch this month is that the town has committed economic suicide by dropping the maximum commercial building size from 50K to 40K (sq. ft). He further suggests that this action was taken not so much for clear policy reasons but to stymie the development of a new Food Lion store about 10 feet from an existing one. He suggests the Town's motives may not have been pure and that now they will suffer the consequences because commercial developers will not want to develop in a town that may change the rules to block them.
Hey Monty - Please don't throw me in that brier patch!!. Imagine a town that suddenly didn't sprout new strip malls and Wings every 30 minutes. Imagine a town that had a comprehensive view of itself that included a nod to its architectural heritage. Imagine a town that chose to control its own destiny and not be stampeded by the scare tactics used by developers all around the world.
I cannot count the number of times I have been told a given regulation would mean economic doom for the town. Larger lot size requirements - impossible, landscaping and drainage requirements- no one will build - size limits on homes - down right unconstitutional and un-American ( oh and no one will build smaller homes ).

Well guess what. The developers kept coming every time. Property values increased and businesses kept coming. Yes, the market now is down but not just in Nags Head, everywhere. Nags Head's attempts to control both residential and commercial development have led to a better community. Even Monty, in a brief moment of clarity, allows:
There is no denying that Nags Head projects a unique (and decidedly better) look than either Kitty Hawk or Kill Devil Hills.
Why is this, because the town decided a long time ago that the town - not the developers - would decide what the town looked like.
There is a funny story about a national bank that wanted to locate in the town. They wanted some additional curb cuts and lot coverage. Meeting with town officials they announced that these issues were "deal breakers". The town planners explained that the rules meant what they said. The bank said you don't understand unless you give us what we want we won't build here. At this pointthe town folks (much to the amazement of the developers) got up and started to leave. If the bank couldn't build to town standards then the bank wouldn't be built. Meeting over.
Long story short the bank was built to Nags Head's ordinances, the concessions weren't deal breakers at all. In fact the very reason the bank wanted to be in Nags Head was because its rules (development standards) had created a good place to live. visit and do business. Bending the rules, or even allowing them to be circumvented, doesn't work and it certainly doesn't create a attractive community.
The real question here is not what Monty thinks or even what I think but its what the Nags Head voters think. Given that Nags Head has been governed by the same people making pretty consistent decisions for the last 25 years it seems the voters aren't at all unhappy with the decisions or the way they are made.

Enough rant for now.
A few observations. If Nags Head has erred it is in not going far enough and not working harder to create buy-in from business interests and the community at large. The problems I see come from businesses that try to beat the regulations rather than embrace them, Wings is a good example. The town has allowed a fair amount of variety in external look and design. I think we would be better served to tighten up and create a more uniform look, especially commercial structures. It will give Nags Head an even more unique identity in the increasingly look alike beach town look nationwide. Beyond that Nags Head needs to do more engage developers who want to build in the town and help them understand why we think the rules will help (not hinder) their projects. (I did not do a good job of this as Mayor)
Monty suggests there is no unique Nags Head style. I disagree (with the pinko - punk). Residential design in Nags Head incorporates elements that fit well in the area: Wide porches that provide shade and catch the wind; Durable siding of cedar shakes that need little maintenance and bear rough weather well; Roof pitches and dormers allow use of the top floor for sleeping quarters. I could go on but you get the idea. No not every building in Nags Head had these elements but the roots are there and the look is both attractive and accurate.
Why shouldn't Nag Head embrace these elements? They are our roots. They make sense in our area and they look good. What has the market brought? Cookie cutter boxes built to maximize space and minimize cost. Boring, look alike bungalows, that have no unique attributes besides their blandness. You can look like everyone else or look different, I believe (and even Monty believes) that the unchecked developer look sucks.
Finally, Monty suggests the decision to reduce the max building size was triggered by the possibility of a new Food Lion rather than some profound policy analysis that demonstrates that one number is better than another.
In this case, the suddenness of this proposal came on the heels of street talk concerning the purchase of one large parcel in Nags Head and the desire of Food Lion to abandon its current store at the "Staples" center in favor of a newer, larger store at the new parcel. It is not unknown for Nags Head to act pre-emptively, as local observers recall the rush to pass new "kitchen" rules in order to prevent the old cinema location in town from becoming a night club.
So what? Nags Head passed a new standard for restaurants to make sure that what was proposed as a restaurant was, in fact, a restaurant. The alternative was a long battle with the business over a use the town didn't want. Nags Head does not allow free standing nightclubs. Existing dance spots all incorporate restaurants. Should we allow the Casino to redevelop? Maybe, but if we do it will be with appropriate standards for a dance club not under the guise of a restaurant. The new standards have not restricted the development of legitimate restaurants but they did clarify the town's desires. I could point to countless rules passed to ensure the town's vision was realized and developer's attempts to circumvent the town thwarted. Often these changes were triggered by potential developement plans. Is that a bad thing? State law is very clear about when plans are vested in the town's rules (unaffected by changes). Most development deals include a provision that the deal goes forward only when permits are issued. Developers aren't getting hurt and they certainly haven't stopped trying to build in Nags Head.
On the other hand I can point to changes that facilitated the Y, the hosipital, Nags Head Elementary School, the Village at Nags Head, Jockeys Ridge visitors center and on this list goes on. Many more changes have been made at the request of developers than to block them. When a George Crocker comes along the town will be ready to help. We haven't seen one in a long time.
Whats more each change has had merit and stood on its own as a consistent policy, if not the town would have not won the lawsuits that challenged some of those decisions. Yes, the town changes the rules and it does so in a lawful manner with best interests of the town at heart, which is more than I can say about Food Lion.

Note. If you want to know what I think of chain businesses read this post.
Note. 2. I misrepresent some of Monty's views. As usual he hedges pretty hard in both posts. To that extent that I simplified his views I apologize. Read the posts to get the full story!
Note 3. I really like OBR a lot. It is a good well written blog all that stuff about Plato and Pluto was just to get you interested. If you read this far then it worked!!

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At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you really think The Galleon and ARBG would have been built in the current climate that says the Town knows best on how a developer should design his building? I have to disagree.

While we've prevented some of the worst, we've lost soem of the best and most creative ideas. They never get past the staff discouraging them from doing something that is not in the ordinance. Then there is the problem of interpretation - even if the ordinance doesn't say it, staff can interpret what it "means", the spirit of the ordinance. This is not always the same as the Board's interpretation.

Changing the rules late in the evening (or passing moratoriums after 10 pm) is poor public policy. Anyway, the new Food Lion is already in the pipeline. It's the next guy that gets caught, not the local politico.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger BOBXNC said...

Where are the Galleons and ARBG's of today? Are we seeing this type of creative entrepreneurship anywhere on the beach? Not that I see. It is not Nags Head's standards that are keeping it out, it is something else in the business environment, quite possibly the Walmart/Kmart/Hooters effect. What we are seeing is Wings or the similar scourge SunSations along with chain restaurants. Nags Head is trying to deal with these problems.
I agree staff is a big problem, they do not encourage innovation. There needs to be a change in the leadership of the Planning Dept. for that to happen.
As to pipeline, my understanding is that the new store is covered by the new ordinance though I could be mistaken. We will see what happens.


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