Town Board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to raise the height limit
in town from 43-1/2 to 48-1/2 feet above mean sea level. An
amendment to the change dictates that all buildings taking advantage
of the new height limit should have their first floor of living
area be at least 10-1/2 feet above mean sea level.
The public hearing over whether to raise the height limit drew
a larger than usual crowd to the Town Board meeting. More than
40 people attended. Also on the agenda was an item that was
to some degree related – a petition signed by almost 200
residents and property owners asking that the town take greater
steps to guide future growth.
A crowded Town Hall
public hearing over the height limit went on for about an hour
and pointed up differing views of how Oriental should grow.
Those arguing for raising the limit said it was needed because
the town this winter raised the eave height (bottom of the roof)
from 28 to 32 feet. Another argument was that the county was
about to require the first floors of new homes be at least 10-1/2
feet above mean sea level. That’s two feet higher than
now required. Rhetorically, proponents of raising the limit
tried to paint a picture of people hard pressed by the current
43-1/2 foot restriction.
Those opposed to raising the limit challenged those assertions
repeatedly. They also questioned whether the volunteer fire
department serving Oriental would have a harder time fighting
fires in 48-1/2 foot tall buildings. Suggestions that the town
raise the height limit only in the outlying parts of Oriental
– and preserve the older character of the village -- were
Hurricane Cited As Reason to Go
Commissioner Ken Midyette said he supported raising the height
limit because the floods of Hurricane Isabel last fall, “created
major problems for many residents.” Midyette claimed that
when those residents tried to raise their houses so that they
were above the 10-1/2 foot level now suggested, their homes
were in excess of the 43-1/2 foot height limit.
Several members of the public asked Midyette to be specific.
What house in town, they asked, had been unable to be elevated
because of the existing height limit?
Midyette could not provide an example.
“I don’t have any facts,” Midyette responded.
Those in the public opposed to raising the height limit tried
to make the case to other members of the board that no existing
homes in town were adversely affected by the 43-1/2 foot height
limit. This effort to increase the height limit they said, was
instead being driven by new development.
The mayor and the town commissioners
proponents of raising the height limit, including the mayor,
returned to the argument that people in town needed relief from
the height limit because of Hurricane Isabel’s flood.
Missy Baskervill owns commercial property at the corner of South
Water and Hodges. She said she wanted the higher roof limits
because her single-story Coldwell Banker real estate office
was totaled by Isabel’s floods. Many of her files were
ruined, she said, representing years of work.
their comments encouraging the board to raise the height limit,
Missy Baskervill and her husband, Bob presented a sketch of
the two-story building they planned to build on the site of
their one-story building on Hodges Street. The structure would
have two floors of living area and a 7 foot tall attic where
files could be stored. They said the existing height limit would
not let them put the 7/12 pitch on the roof that they wanted.
The drawing shows a building 44 feet above sea level, with the
first floor starting at about 15 feet above sea level.
Making the Pitch For Pitch
Mayor Styron stated that because the maximum eave height in
town went from 28 to 32 feet this winter, the roof height should
go up too. In the mayor’s view 32 foot eave height and
a 43-1/2 foot roof height did not allow enough pitch to the
roof. The mayor said he thought no roof should have a pitch
of less than 4/12 or four feet up for every twelve feet across.
It was noted that the town ordinance allows, but does not mandate
that new buildings have an eave height of 32 feet. It is a builder’s
One Town Commissioner Says It Can Be Done
Under Existing Limit
Town Board member Dick Moat again shared some calculations that
he’d revealed at last month’s board meeting. Moat
has lived at the Oriental West condos on Midyette Street for
more than a decade and said that if that structure were built
in compliance with the new county rules about the first floor
being 10-1/2 feet above sea level, the two stories of living
area would still come in several feet below the existing town
Moat dismissed arguments that the extra five feet were needed
because of flood issues.
“This is being driven,” Moat said, “by a desire
to build big buildings” in Oriental.
What’s Behind The Drive To Go Taller?
Moat’s comment stood out because repeatedly throughout
the night, several other town officials – including the
mayor, the town manager and a member of the planning board –
took pains to say that developers were not driving this issue.
Developers themselves however suggested otherwise. One of them
was Alan Probst, owner of Mariner Realty.
“We’re here tonight,” Probst said at the public
hearing, “because I came before the planning board,”
with a plan to develop 72 acres on the White Farm Road side
of Whittaker Creek."
Probst said some of that land was now in the county and he wanted
to bring it in to the town limits. In having the land annexed,
Probst would avoid the expense of linking his county property
with the county water lines a distance away on Straight Road.
explained that the town’s height limit was a stumbling
block to annexation. He said he wanted to build homes that had
two stories on top of a garage area and that the garage area
be 10-1/2 feet above sea level so that cars would be safe from
Oriental resident Wally Chapin suggested those residents could
do as Oriental residents have done for decades and park their
cars on high ground when a hurricane is approaching.
Probst however said he had to have the high garages under the
homes because, “the market demands that after September
18th” when Hurricane Isabel floods came.
As a result of putting two floors of living area and a garage
under one roof, Probst said he would reach the eave height limit
at 32 feet. In his view, the existing roof line limit of 43-1/2
feet would not allow enough pitch. The roof would be flatter
than he wanted.
After Probst openly stated that his project had spurred the
town to take up the height issue, Mayor Sherrill Styron insisted
“The meeting was not called because of Alan.”
Another developer, George Dobson, co-owner of the Oriental Harbor
Marina spoke about his plans to build 27 town homes on the west
side of the Oriental bridge. They will have three stories of
living area (but no above flood level parking underneath).
In his comments, Dobson was candid that he needed to build three
floors of living area in order to get a “return on investment.”
Dobson said that under the existing height limit building three
floors of living area meant he had to design roofs that were
“less than residential scale.” The Oriental Harbor
town homes had already been approved under the existing 43 1/2
floor limit with three floors.
Dobson said he supported raising the limit, because without
the taller pitches, the town could end up with flat roofs. That,
Dobson said, would “take away from the charm of the village.”
48-1/2 Feet Doesn’t Necessarily
Mean No Flat Roofs
As much as proponents made the case that the higher roof line
would allow a more aesthetic pitch, flat roofs are not necessarily
ruled out under the new height limit.
That was news to many in the room, including the town board.
Wally Chapin, a sail maker who lives on Hodges Street, raised
the flat-roofs-may-actually-be-with-us issue.
Chapin said he was concerned that some builders could decide
to build a building 48-1/2 feet tall and top it with a flat
He asked the board if “there is any way to stipulate that
a building roof have (at least) the 4/12 pitch” that the
mayor and others cited as reason to raise the height limit.
He and some others said they worried that if the height limit
is raised without that stipulation, a blocky structure -- such
as a Sheraton hotel – could be plopped down in to the
village with 48-1/2 foot high sides and a flat roof.
“I’ve seen it in other places,” Chapin said,
of that loophole. “There are crooked people.”
Noting that proponents of raising the height limit had spoken
at length about higher pitched roofs ‘looking nice’
Chapin suggested that the flat roof at 48-1/2 feet would not.
Several people tried to give assurances that an eave limit of
32 feet would prevent 48-1/2 foot flat roof buildings.
But then Town Manager Wyatt Cutler confirmed Chapin’s
concerns. Cutler says that nothing can stop someone from going
to the full 48-1/2 feet.
Ken Midyette tried to make an amendment to keep that from happening,
but it died for lack of a second.
Conflict of Interest?
Jacksie Pitts questioned whether some town leaders taking a
role in the height limit debate might something to gain personally.
It’s a question of conflict of interest, Pitts said. “People
are making decisions who also have property”.
Ken Midyette responded that he had no property other than his
Pitts allowed that many people owned homes in town but “not
everyone who owns property is on the Town Board,”.
Before the meeting Pitts had voiced a similar concern and indicated
that she was concerned about those holding large tracts of land
Mayor Sherrill Styron owns Garland Fulcher Seafood, which encompasses
several acres of increasingly valuable waterfront on the Oriental
harbor. At the meeting, Styron did not respond to Pitts’
Some who wanted the existing height limit to remain suggested
that the increased height limit was merely a way for developers
to squeeze a third floor in to a building.
As those concerns were raised, Commissioner Ken Midyette asked,
“What difference would it make, if it’s three stories
or one story?”
Oriental resident Kirk Nelson, called out a quick response,
“It’s the difference,” he said, “between
Hatteras and Oriental” referring to the ever taller buildings
going up in the Outer Banks.
To that, Midyette, who was born in Oriental and returned in
his later years, started to respond, “If you were born
and raised in Oriental…” As it seemed a “Born
Here/Came Here” refrain was about to start, it caused
some rumbling in the back of the room and Nelson who had served
on local government boards in New England before moving to Oriental,
shot back at Midyette, “Put that away!”
A few moments later, Mayor Sherrill Styron commented, “I
liked it 20 years ago when you could do what you wanted with
Those comments reflected a growing debate in town. Namely, what
should Oriental do to guide the growth that everyone agrees
is coming. That was at the heart of a petition drive that was
also brought up at Tuesday’s meeting, (A report on which
is coming in a separate article. )
Why Not Allow Taller Buildings
Outside of the Old Village?
Town Board member Dick Moat said he was not opposed to raising
the height limit in “appropriate locations.”
In its months of discussions about the height limit, the Oriental
Planning Board had considered allowing the height limit to go
up in the outer reaches of town – for instance, where
Alan Probst wants to build -- but not in the older part of the
village where the human scale was more important.
One woman at the public hearing asked if the town might apply
different height limits in different parts of town. A reporter
for TownDock.net asked twice if the Town Board would entertain
that idea. The board did not, stating that was not the proposal
sent to them.
The Fire Fighting Angle
What effect would the higher roof lines have on firefighting?
It depends on who you ask to speak.
Oriental resident Roy Pittman was the first speaker at the public
hearing. He identified himself as bringing “a firefighting
point of view” to the debate. He said he had “been
asked to provide the town board with information pertinent”
to the height issue. In his prepared remarks, Pittman said that
he was a “retired level II fireman and a current state
Quoting from his prepared statement, Pittman said that increasing
the “overall height in a proportional amount should not
create a safety hazard for the fireman.”
Mayor Sherrill Styron, who wanted the height limit to go up,
thanked Pittman for his comments and a moment later jovially
chided Pittman for forgetting to include one other argument
the two had spoken about earlier in favor of raising the height
It was only later, when asked for some clarification about his
remarks, that Pittman stated “I am not speaking for the
In an interview with TownDock.net, Southeastern Pamlico Fire
Chief Barry Beauchamp had raised questions about the ability
of the volunteer fire department to reach the 32-foot eave height
with the 35 foot ladder the department now has.
Beauchamp was not at the meeting.
The absence of the fire chief to present his views prompted
Oriental resident Barbara Venturi to speak. Venturi identified
herself as a member of the fire department’s board of
directors. Her comments stood in contrast to Pittman’s
in suggesting that the additional height could be a challenge.
noted that the fire department had just ordered a 40-foot ladder
which – under the most perfect of conditions – might
reach the new allowed eave height (where the roof ends ) of
There is talk, Venturi said, of getting a hook and ladder truck
whose 70 foot ladder could put the firefighters up much higher.
But that truck would require five of Southeastern Pamlico’s
volunteer firefighters to be fully trained in its use.
Such a truck could cost the county $250,000. Beyond the cost
Venturi said there were questions on whether the large sized
truck could maneuver in some of the limited parking areas near
Oriental’s downtown buildings.
When Venturi paused, Ken Midyette, who supported raising the
height limit asked, “Have we ever had a fire department
that could guarantee safety?”
Venturi said the town hadn’t. But noting that the fire
department in Pamlico County is made up of volunteers (who are
on average older than the norm) Venturi suggested adding another
five feet to the climb would not make their jobs easier.
“We are asking our friends and neighbors to risk their
lives to climb ever higher to protect our lives and our stuff.”
Venturi had attended the meeting as a citizen and said later
she had not planned to speak in her capacity as a member of
the fire department board of directors.
Curious about the town board making a decision on roof height
without hearing from the fire chief, TownDock.net later asked
Town Manager Wyatt Cutler if the town board had asked the fire
chief, Barry Beauchamp to speak or sought his comments. Cutler
said he had spoken to Beauchamp “a couple of times.”
And when the town boards considered raising the eave height
months ago, Cutler said, the fire chief at the time, Charlie
Garrett said he had “’no problem’” with
Town Commissioner Joe Harris made the motion that the Town of
Oriental increase its height limit five feet from 43-1/2 feet
to 48-1/2 feet.
Commissioner Lori Wagoner seconded it.
Dick Moat had earlier moved that the issue be sent back to the
Planning Board which he said could take in to consideration
some of the repercussions of raising the height limit. Namely,
increasing the setbacks of these taller buildings from neighboring
property. His motion died for lack of a second.
Moat had also earlier indicated that he could support a height
increase if it were only in some parts of town.
But at the end of the meeting when it appeared likely that the
height increase had the support of a majority on the board,
Moat offered an amendment. The amendment stated that any building
exceeding the existing limit of 43-1/2 feet ‘shall have
a finished first floor at least 10-1/2 feet above sea level’.
That brought some quizzical looks at first.
The 10-1/2 foot figure is what the county is expected to require
of all new construction – in order to avoid flooding –in
the wake of Hurricane Isabel. That 2-foot increase in the minimum
elevation was one of the rationales that proponents of the 5-foot
height extension had mentioned through the hearing.
From the audience, Bob Baskervill objected to Moat’s amendment.
Town Manager Wyatt Cutler said that he didn’t think the
town “wanted to get more restrictive” before the
To those criticisms, Moat quietly said the amendment was needed
“to keep it (the new height limit) from being misused.”
The 10-1/2 foot requirement, Moat noted, was what a number of
people had offered as a rationale for raising the limit. His
amendment would force them to, in Moat’s words, “put
their money where their mouth is.”
At least one developer backed up Moat. George Dobson, who on
the one hand welcomes the higher roof limits, said that the
town of Oriental “ought to be setting an example. There’s
nothing wrong with having more restrictive codes than the county.”
The motion --- to increase the height limit to 48-1/2 feet with
the amendment requiring any homes over 43-1/2 feet to have their
first floors at at least 10-1/2 feet above sea level, -- passed
4-1. Voting in favor were Joe Harris, Lori Wagoner, Dick Moat
and Ken Midyette.
Commissioner Candy Bohmert voted against it.
The new height limit went in to effect immediately.
Town Manager Wyatt Cutler says that under the new ordinance
nothing prevents someone from building a 48-1/2 foot building
with a flat roof. On Thursday, Cutler said that this was something
the Planning Board needs to address. As for why the Town Board
didn’t address it Tuesday night as per Ken Midyette’s
motion, Cutler said he thought the board “didn’t
think there was much risk for a month” that someone would
take advantage of the loophole.
Candy Bohmert said the board should consider bigger setbacks
for the taller buildings. She suggests an extra one or two feet
of setback be required for every foot the building exceeds the
old 43-1/2 foot limit.
Asked after the meeting about other town officials’ claims
that developers were not the driving force behind the change
in the height limit, Bohmert declined to comment.
But she laughed very hard.
At Tuesday’s meeting (and the Town Board meeting a month
ago) Mayor Styron mentioned that a new height limit would help
Chris Fulcher in his efforts to re-roof his Point Pride Seafood
building at the edge of Oriental’s Harbor.
(In fall of 2002, Fulcher removed the roof structure after years
of dispute with the town. The roof had been 7.8 feet above the
43-1/2 height limit. In exchange for him taking down the roof,
the town forgave thousands of dollars in fines against Fulcher.)
There is, however, a question as to whether the new ordinance
helps Fulcher very much. The amendment to the ordinance requires
buildings over 43-1/2 feet to have their ground floor at 10-1/2
feet above sea level. Wyatt Cutler told TownDock.net that he
recalled the Point Pride building to be about 6-1/2 feet above
George Dobson says he will change the plans for his town homes
and have his roof lines take advantage of the new ordinance.
Increase in Eave Height(from 28 to 32 feet) – 4 feet
Expected increase in minimum elevation as mandated by the county(from
8-1/2 feet to 10-1/2 feet) - 2 feet
Increase granted in Roof Height - 5 feet