CAROLINA BEACH — A consultancy firm is in the final stages of helping the island town draft an updated land use plan to meet state requirements and better prepare it for intensifying storms and rising sea levels.
Jay McLeod is a senior planner at Stewart, a Raleigh-based engineering consultancy firm that is guiding Carolina Beach in the creation of a plan that will meet certain requirements of the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA). An official CAMA land use plan will give the town what they need to receive CAMA permits for any kind of development within areas of environmental concern while also directing where future growth and investment should occur, according to McLeod.
McLeod said the plan has been drafted to guide growth and investment in the town and to protect itself from future storms, “which will probably be stronger and more intense, and to protect it from rising seas that will exacerbate the influence of those storms.”
North Carolina has been affected by 21 hurricanes between 2008 and 2018, according to a release from the company last week. It said the town “often faces stormwater and flooding concerns, which were exacerbated during Hurricane Florence in 2018.”
“Rising sea levels and a warming atmosphere that holds more water are triggering more intense storms, so coastal areas must be prepared,” the company stated in the release.
The company uses a data-driven approach to help balance the needs of the community and what is required for the plan to be approved by the Coastal Resources Commission. A draft of the plan has been posted online for public review as the firm continues its public vetting process to ensure its adoption by town council.
The plan will be presented for formal review by the planning board before going to the council sometime in January or February, according to McLeod. He said the goals of the plan are to not only protect the town from storms and rising sea levels but also to guide “where they invest in protecting public infrastructure, and the private infrastructure that it serves.”
“For instance, it does direct growth to be in certain areas, areas that already have a lot of investment and need to be maintained growing forward,” McLeod explained. “But it also moves growth away from more vulnerable areas and shifts it toward areas that are higher or less vulnerable.”
One area that is particularly vulnerable to flooding is Canal Drive on the north end of the island, where sections of the road are frequently closed due to king tides. McLeod said the future land use map distinguishes between lower intensity, single-family residential use along the road while higher intensity use on Carolina Beach Avenue North, which runs parallel but is higher in elevation and not subject to king tide flooding.
“This is one instance where the land use plan recognizes that at our current moment there is probably a desire to not encourage more intense investment in that area until they resolve that flooding problem,” McLeod said. “And they’re working on that problem all the time, with state legislators and engineering companies, to find long-term solutions.”
He said the town is exploring options of encouraging or even requiring private investment in raising sea walls as well as implementing stormwater management techniques to help drain Canal Drive when it backs up. More passive measures the town is considering, he said, include one-way valves on stormwater drains so water “doesn’t bubble up from underneath but is still allowed to move out towards the sound.”
The firm is also working with other coastal communities like Swansboro to update their own CAMA land use plans and, ultimately, to “develop and implement coastal resilience plans that uncover future vulnerabilities and direct strong community growth.”
Areas of concern
Through focus groups, public workshops, and the creation of a steering committee, the firm identified key areas of residents’ concerns in the drafted plan, some of which are outlined below:
- Stormwater and flooding: Hurricane Florence exacerbated problems that already existed — flooding at Carolina Beach Lake, high tide flooding at Canal Drive, flooding of neighborhood homes when previously vacant lots develop, and undersized NCDOT stormwater pipes.
- Traffic congestion and parking: Parking is perceived as lacking, particularly in the downtown area and during the heavy summer tourism season. “Traffic congestion, especially along Lake Park Boulevard in the summer, is an impediment to daily life,” the report found.
- Redevelopment: Much concern revolves around how to allow redevelopment, especially if it results in more intense development. “Redevelopment has become the norm rather than the exception,” the report found. “A tension exists between maintaining the charm and character of the town’s current configuration while also allowing redevelopment.”
- Downtown and boardwalk: As a social hub of the town and draw for tourists, the area “requires protection through zoning that restricts the area from being developed as residential condos or hotels,” the report states. “The appearance of this area was also identified as an opportunity for improvement.”
- Highway and appearance: The report found that there is a desire among many residents for aesthetic improvements to Lake Park Boulevard, including enhanced development and landscaping standards. “Reducing driveways to improve safety and increasing pedestrian connectivity is desired. Across the town, burying electric lines and tree preservation are also concerns,” the report states.
- Housing Affordability: “There is a lack of affordable housing and it seems that the most profitable development project is residential in nature,” the report found. “Second homes or vacation rental properties are in high demand. Standalone residential apartments or condos will displace nonresidential uses if left unchecked, which changes the character and balance of land uses. The many short-term rentals are also a concern.”
- Growth outpacing infrastructure: Aging infrastructure and maintenance costs were recognized as a potential threat to the town’s viability. Although the town prioritizes repairs and investments, and new facilities like sidewalks and greenways have been welcomed, “some residents voiced concern about the accused costs of maintenance.”