Useless body

Published 12:33 am Friday, September 14, 2007

By Staff
The Beaufort County Planning Board failed the people of Wheat Patch Road on Tuesday night.
The residents of the tiny community outside Belhaven filled the county meeting room — there were no chairs left — because they are concerned about a residential development proposed for that stretch of road. They weren’t there to display Not in My Backyard Syndrome. They were there to question the placement and density of the development, which proposes 26 houses on a 34-acre tract that they contend is largely marsh. But the Planning Board approved the preliminary plat with one dissenting vote.
This isn’t a case of people wanting to keep outsiders from coming into their neighborhood. Instead, people who have lived there for decades and speak with Southern accents stood alongside “outsiders” who own summer homes there because they all agree that this size project on that kind of land doesn’t make sense.
The state’s Division of Water Quality has charged C&M Developers, the firm behind the project, with several violations related to the work there. Those charges are less than a month old.
The Wheat Patch Road folks, with notices of violations in hand, came to ask the Planning Board to do what it could to stop a development that, in their words, is “raping the land.” Despite the evidence before them, Planning Board members met the residents’ request with barely a whimper.
Planning Board Chairman Doug Mercer suggested that Rivers and Associates, the project’s engineers, have “some close discussions” with the state’s regulatory agencies. But he said that’s the extent of the authority the county’s Planning Board can assert.
If that’s true — and if all the Planning Board can say to the developers is, essentially, “You need to stand in the corner and think about what you’ve done,” — then it is a useless body. And it’s “enforcing” a useless ordinance.
Rivers and Associates representative Dirk Tyson told the board the developers are working to resolve violations and communicating with regulatory agencies to that end. That may well be true. But the very least the Planning Board could have done is make the developers show proof of that. Mercer himself said the board could attach “any reasonable condition” to the plat approval.
It is reasonable to ask a developer, charged with violating buffer rules that apply to land in the Pamlico-Tar River basin, to prove those violations have been addressed and corrected. That doesn’t cause the developer any undue burden. If it’s fixed, show it’s fixed. Simple as that.
Ultimately, much of the authority to police this project belongs to the state’s regulatory agencies and to the Army Corps of Engineers. They ought to take a closer look at what’s going on out there. Maybe they’d be more apt to do so if they could get a resounding vote to that effect from the county level. The Planning Board should be ashamed of failing to do its duty.