Belhaven takes on development balancing act

Published 12:20 am Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Belhaven Planning Board will conduct an informal public hearing Wednesday on a land-use plan that, if approved by the town council, will be the town’s instrument for future development.
Zoning and ordinance revisions for the town will be discussed at the meeting, according to Town Manager Tim Johnson.
After receiving public input on the draft plan, the planning board will finalize its proposal, make a recommendation to the town council, and the council can approve or modify any part of the plan it deems necessary, Johnson said.
If approved, Johnson said, a formal public hearing will be conducted; and after that hearing, the plan can be implemented.
Larry Pleasant, Belhaven planning board chairman, said Monday in a telephone interview that the board saw a need for updated land-use ordinances.
The town is currently operating under a set of ordinances established in the 1980s.
The draft has been available for the past several months on Belhaven’s Web site and at various public and municipal facilities around town, Pleasant said.
The planning board has held weekly meetings for the past six months and hired a consultant to construct the zoning changes proposal.
The plan, Pleasant said, gives the town “the tools to sensibly manage growth and development.”
Three goals are at the crux of the drafted plan: to protect and preserve the waterfront and public access to it; to limit and control the number of multi-family developments, such as condominiums and hotels, particularly around the waterfront; and to rejuvenate and stimulate the downtown area to make it more attractive to businesses.
Pleasant said the plan wasn’t intended to stifle growth.
The feedback the board is hoping for Wednesday is what people like about plan, don’t like about the plan and what’s needed to advance to the next stage.
Pleasant said he hoped to have a final draft to present to the town council at its June meeting for the council’s consideration and action.
It is intended to be complimentary to the conceptual study urban planner Allison Platt conducted in 2005. Platt’s downtown master plan was approved in concept by the town council and has been used loosely as a developing guide.
Pleasant said the land-use plan is consistent with Platt’s plan, but that more practical in application.
The new land-use rules offer a way to try to jump start that development, Pleasant said “by combining commercial and residential activities in the same area.”
Morganton, Southport and Beaufort are three towns Pleasant referenced that have successfully implemented similar downtown revitalization strategies.
Under the town’s current ordinances, there are no such mixed use zoning allowances downtown.
But even if the plan is adopted, Pleasant said it won’t guarantee development.
Currently, Belhaven’s public access to the water is very limited, Pleasant said.
In places where the town retains rights of way, the plan proposes small public parks or fishing piers be developed.
The plan approaches 200 pages in length.