Bald Head commercial building moratorium will last until March
For the next six months, no new commercial construction activity will be able to start in the small village community of Bald Head Island.
In late June, to deal with a supposed “surge” of commercial development and population growth, in the language of the imposed ordinance, the village council instituted a 60-day commercial construction moratorium. On September 6, the council extended the moratorium until March 17, pending a business master plan from its land-use planning consultants, ColeJenest & Stone. The consultants estimate that they will submit the report in four to six months.
The moratorium covers the island’s few commercial nodes, including the marina, the land surrounding the Old Baldy Lighthouse, the market area and the land surrounding the Shoals Club. About 20 undeveloped acres are affected by frost in all, according to village maps.
“We have such limited resources on the island,” Mayor Peter Quinn said. “We are at this turning point right now.”
Although populations increase during the summer tourist season, Bald Head Island’s year-round population was 268 at the 2020 U.S. Census, up from 158 in 2010. The island is home to approximately 1,200 residential units and has only seen handful of new commercial construction. allowed every year (or none) for the past decade, according to data compiled in 2020 by financial firms for a separate project.
“You could go a few years without anything being built, and then you could have three things at once,” Quinn said of the pace of commercial construction on the island.
From what he understood, Quinn said the moratorium did not negatively affect any developer intending to build a commercial project and the village received no pushback for its decision.
“There have been conversations with people who are about to jump, but no one had jumped,” he said.
No new developments prompted the moratorium, Quinn said, but the phasing out of Bald Head Island Ltd. prompted officials to assess his few remaining business opportunities. “The moratorium gives us a chance to stop for a minute and…make sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said.
A village spokesman said officials were almost convinced this was the first moratorium on Bald Head Island.
Moratoriums can be imposed by the state to halt development when infrastructure is stretched or exhausted (such as the 2019 sewer line extension halt in northern Brunswick County or the sewer moratorium of Wilmington in 2008 which prompted the formation of Cape Fear Public Utility Authority). They can also be voluntary.
Ed McMahon, senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, said voluntary moratoriums tend to pop up in scenic, resort or second-home communities when officials seek to suspend activity while they get their bearings before d introduce new regulations.
Although the land-use lawyer is not directly familiar with the Bald Head Island moratorium, he said the pandemic has accelerated the emigration of wealthy people to very well-equipped locations across the United States. This influx can eventually impact the character of a place, he said. .
“People don’t like change,” he says. “But there are really only two kinds of change in the world we live in today: there is planned change and there is unplanned change. And unplanned changes will usually, at least in America, end up destroying everything people love about where they live.
“People hate change when they think it’s being done to them. [They prefer it] when they feel like they are in control of the change, or at least can say something about the direction or pace of the change. »
North Carolina state law does not impose a specific time limit on how long a moratorium will last – it states that the length must be “reasonable”. In South Carolina, case law has set the “reasonable” threshold at six months, McMahon said.
Legal issues can arise, McMahon said, but usually by the time the litigation works its way through the court system, the specific moratorium is over. “Thus, the moratorium becomes moot in a legal sense,” he said.
Quinn said when the village is ready to unveil new business guidelines, it anticipates new requirements, including stricter rules for trees and landscaping and an emphasis on pedestrian accessibility.
“It’s a big step and it’s a timely step,” Quinn said of the moratorium. “I think it was inevitable that it would happen sooner or later. So it’s good that it’s happening now.