NC-20 addressing buffer-rules issue

Published 12:07 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Staff Writer

Waterfront property owners in 20 coastal counties — including Beaufort, Hyde and Washington — are concerned about a proposed change in state regulations that could send property values plummeting.
The problem stems from buffer rules that were adopted in 2000 and 2001 by the Division of Water Quality at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. While lots plotted prior to the adoption of the new rules were not exempt, a variance process was created to offer shelter for property owners. Once granted, a buffer variance was transferable when property was sold, a practice that may not continue when the variance process expires in April 2011.
“The issue is the state-imposed buffer rules which are setbacks on lands in close proximity to water that essentially restrict the use of land in the name of water quality,” said NC-20 President Tom Thompson. “We want to draw attention to the problem and we want the public to be aware. The bottom line is it’s taking private property without compensation even though the state has granted a buffer.”
NC-20, an ad-hoc commission representing 20 eastern North Carolina counties, is taking its case to the people by sponsoring a free seminar with representatives of DENR at 10 a.m. Sept. 1 at the New Bern Convention Center.
“We are primarily a defensive organization,” Thompson added. “We try to defend eastern North Carolina, and we are always fighting the regulators. Recently, they issued a revision which states that when you sell your land, the buffers do not necessarily transfer, making it less valuable. There are people who bought their property in good faith, and they wake up and find out it is not what they thought. This has the potential to be serious.”
For its part, DWQ is working on a fact sheet that will address the concerns of residents within legal boundaries.
“There are people who have expressed concern, and we want to make sure what we put there is responsive to those concerns and appropriate within a legal framework, and we are working to make sure it covers all those,” said DWQ public information officer Susan Massengale.
Required reservations for the seminar may be made at 252-946-3970.