Speakers split over use of former Evans Seafood land

Published 9:42 am Tuesday, February 20, 2007

By Staff
Open space, hotel emerge has favored uses of land owned by city
By MIKE VOSS, Contributing Editor
Depending on who was talking, the former Evans Seafood property should be sold for commercial use, kept as a park-like agree or turned into a mixture of commercial use and open space.
Washington’s Planning Board received input from the public and representatives from several agencies and organizations on what the city should do with the property. The board took no action, other than notifying people who attended its special meeting Monday that it plans to hold several more meetings in which the public will be asked to provide additional input.
The former Evans Seafood property, about a half an acre, is part of the approximately 4.5 acres of land between the N.C. Estuarium and the former Maola facility on Water Street. The city owns the former Evans Seafood property and the other piece of the 4.5-acre area.
During its two-day planning session earlier this month, the Washington City Council asked the Planning Board to determine appropriate uses for the property and make recommendations to the council on how that land should be developed.
The property’s zoning classification is B1H, or central business/historic district. That classification determines what uses of that property are allowed.
People such as Joe Taylor, Tom Howard, Mac Hodges and Mel Pressler made a case for keeping the former Evans Seafood property and the other four acres as green space. Pressler called the existing open space an “important piece of property to me.”
Taylor told the Planning Board that selling the former Evans Seafood property would be “selling the heart” of the 4.5 acres. Howard, a real-estate appraiser and founding member of the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, said the 4.5 acres of open space are used by many people as a place where they can practice several forms of recreation. Selling the former Evans Seafood property for a commercial use would result in less space to stage events and activities that have long been a part of the city’s appeal to visitors, Howard said.
He called the 4.5 acres the “last, significant piece of waterfront green space” in the city.
Stroud, speaking for himself, said the open space between Stewart Parkway and the waterfront promenade cannot be considered green space. He said it’s nothing more than a strip of crabgrass. The 4.5 acres between the former Maola facility and the Estuarium is green space that should be protected.
As for Havens Gardens proving adequate green space along the city’s waterfront, “What tourist is going to march all the way down to Havens Gardens?” Stroud asked.
Speaking earlier as president of the Washington Area Historic Foundation, Stroud said he supports the idea of a downtown hotel. Stroud suggests that hotel be located in an existing building that’s been renovated. As for any commercial use of the former Evans Seafood property, the city and its residents should know how a developer defines “commercial” use before deciding whether to support a proposal to develop the land for commercial use.
People don’t come to the city to look at hotels, Stroud said.
The open space in question defines the city’s waterfront, Stroud said.
Mary Alsentzer, executive director of the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, said almost any kind of development of the land would increase stormwater runoff and pollution that enters the Pamlico River. Keeping the land as open space would ensure the public has access to the river, she noted.
Representatives from several organizations made a case for commercial use of the property, with the notion of building a small, boutique hotel on the land as the leading option.
Downtown Washington on the Waterfront, the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission and the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association speakers called for the former Evans Seafood property to be sold for commercial use.
Tom Richter, speaking for the EDC, said the land should not remain as open space.
The EDC made three recommendations. They are:
Joey Toler, interim DWOW director, read a resolution adopted by the DWOW executive committee that states DWOW supports commercial development of the former Evans Seafood property.
The Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association called for the former Evans Seafood property to be developed for commercial use. The remaining four acres are adequate for a public park or other open-space use, according to the association’s position.
Scott Sheppard, who identified himself as an advocate for redevelopment of the entire downtown and WTDA chairman, reminded people the former Evans Seafood site was home to a commercial operation — Evans Seafood — for about 65 years.
Commercial development of that site would enhance the city’s tourism and economic-development efforts, he said.
Zane Buckman, a developer, reminded people the city bought the land with the intent it be used for economic-development purposes. Buckman said a hotel on the former Evans Seafood site would create traffic for downtown merchants that the existing promenade and boardwalk do not create.