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August 2023 Town Board Meeting
No chickens, but record setting fish
August 4, 2023

hickens, drainage, and fishing world records. Commissioners heard about them all at the August Town Board Meeting.

Twenty-one were present for the meeting including Commissioner candidates Breena Litzenberger, Gregory Bohmert, and Bonnie Crosser. Crosser regularly attends meetings as the previous chair of the Parks and Recreation Board. Litzenberger has been a regular meeting attendee over the years, and Bohmert attended meetings about the Sailcraft Services special use permit this year.

Mayor Sally Belangia, Commissioners David White, Charlie Overcash, Allen Price, and Frank Roe were present. Commissioner Sandy Winfrey was absent. Also in attendance were Town Manager Diane Miller and Officer Bill Wichrowski.

Chicken Ordinance Remains the Same
Oriental’s existing chicken ordinance excludes keeping the birds for personal or commercial use in town except where they have been grandfathered in – having been kept in town before the ordinance was enacted. The current ordinance excludes chickens by regulating the square footage needed to keep each bird. Meaning if you wanted to keep chickens in town, you would have to have a lot of land per bird.

Several residents approached Town Manager Diane Miller in July, asking the restrictions to be loosened as the cost of food increases, and as the practice of keeping chickens becomes more common in residential spaces. Chickens provide both meat and eggs, and can be relatively inexpensive to keep. During public comments, residents spoke in favor of and with caution about keeping the birds.

Special treatment?
Butch Rasmussen, newly appointed to the Planning Board, supported the measure, but asked that it also be extended to the R1 residential zone – the most restrictive neighborhoods in town. He argued, “we need to be fair and just everyone and Oriental. No special treatment for R1 residence.” Rasmussen later added that he hoped those residents did not think of themselves as being “elite, exclusive residents.”

Manager Miller explained that Chicken exclusion from those neighborhoods was based on zoning restrictions. Residential zoning regulates what is and is not allowed in the differently zoned neighborhoods. Oriental has three residential zones: R1, R2, and R3. R1 is the most restrictive zone, allowing for a single-family home on a large lot in areas without retail or commercial use. R3 is the least restrictive residential zone, allowing for multiple residences on one lot, and to have areas with retail and commercial use in the same area.

Restrictions in these areas also regulate farm yard animals, like chickens, and exotic ones – as was the case for a permit request in 2020 to house and display a tiger.

The regulations may be a moot point, said Miller, as legislation in the North Carolina legislature is moving towards taking zoning decisions away from municipalities in favor of developers building multi-family housing in any residential zone.

The Town of Oriental Zoning map from 2019. R1 (the most restrictive residential area) is in yellow.

Disease and a wildlife buffet
Gwinn Hedrick also spoke, saying he was not against the ordinance, but cautioned Commissioners and potential owners to be aware of the diseases that chickens, and their coops (when left uncleaned) could carry.

He also said that chickens are a target for wild animals. “If you Google what a bear can do to a chicken coop, you would be surprised. Once wild animals find the area where the chicken coops are, they will continue to come. I think chickens are a great idea, but people need to realize what they’re getting into when they do it.”

“Why change everything for four or five people?” Commissioner David White asked. He said that he had not been approached by any resident on the issue and did not see a reason to allow for the chicken ordinance restrictions to be loosened.

Commissioner Charlie Overcash said he had received calls from Pamlico’s animal control officer, who’d received several calls from people who did not want chickens in Oriental.

Commissioner Overcash agreed with Commissioner White, saying he too had not heard from any residents who wanted chickens. “I’ve been a Commissioner for 10 years, and nobody has come to me and said ‘we want chickens’. Should we just table this?”

All Commissioners present voted to keep the chicken ordinance as it is, meaning no chickens in Oriental for the time being.

Oriental is a Fishing Destination
Harbor Waterfronts Committee Chair Jim Blackerby asked Bobby Brewer to make a presentation to the board about the state of recreational fishing in Oriental.

Bobby Brewer, owner and operator of Baldheaded Bobby Guide Services, explained how Oriental had become a fishing destination, specifically for Old Drum.

Brewer explained fishing guide services were not just about fishing, but about making memories. Making experiences. He showcased three of his clients giving background on the reasons for each of their visits. They ranged from a military officer making memories with his family before being deployed, to an elderly gentleman, who was taking one last fishing trip with his family, and first fishing trip (and catch) for another young boy.

Bobby Brewer shows off his catch.

“I’m not sure if you guys realize how good the waters are, the fishing can be here.” To illustrate his point, a sea trout caught last February had set a new state record. It was caught in the harbor of River Dunes. “On the redfish,” he said, “there’s actually three standing world records caught here in Oriental.”

He, and the handful of permanent guides in town, do a lot of self-promotion for their services, said Brewer. The guides write articles for Fishing magazines like Saltwater Sportsman, Carolina Sportsman, and the Angler Journal. They attend fishing expos, and even have TV shows that come to film here.

Mark Davis of the TV Show Big Water Adventure “comes every year and does a fishing show.”

Brewer touched on an ongoing lawsuit (that he is not a part of) by 100 plus recreational fisherman against the state for mismanagement of wildlife resources. Brewer said the suit charges that the board in charge of determining how many fish are allowed to be caught in a season are mismanaging the resources, as some fish (like stripers and herring) cannot be fished at all and other fish (like flounder) have such a limited season that the demand exceeds the supply. Brewer said it was a suit that affected not only recreational fishermen, but also commercial fishermen.

There were several suggestions Brewer had on how the town can help the guides during the fishing season:
  • Extend the wood bumper along the seawall in Oriental’s harbor out 6-10”, and add bumpers
  • More parking for boat trailers
  • Limit docking at one of the free docks to 1-2 hours during peak fishing season (August and September)
  • Promote kayak fishing
  • Install a fish cleaning station at the Wildlife Ramp (Brewer acknowledged that this was state, not Town Property, but asked if something could be done there)
  • Put a banner over Broad Street (as with other events in town) welcoming recreational fisherman during the season

“The fisherman that are coming into town spend far more money than the sail boaters or the transient boaters that come through. The transient boaters are usually on a schedule, moving, and if they have a weather window, they’ll pick up and go,” said Commissioner White.

“These guys will come in and spend. They bring their families with them. They’ll stay in hotels eat in the restaurants, and they spend a lot of money. Anything we can do to influence and get more fishing people in town, or fisherman in town is the right thing.” Brewer suggested that students at ECU and the University of North Carolina do an economic study for the impact of fishing in the area.

Commissioners thanked him for his presentation.

Hurricane Preparedness
Manager Miller went over the annual hurricane preparedness guide for residents. It is available online, and in print at Town Hall.

No more parties at the emergency shelter
She advised that the American Red Cross is no longer running the community shelters; the County is now in charge of those. “The problem they have had is people taking mom and grandma who are in the process of dementia, or an Alzheimer’s thing, and just dropping them off at the shelter. And the County does not have the resources to deal with those kinds of issues in addition to sheltering people,” she said. County Emergency Manager Chris Murray “also noted that there were people waiting for them to unlock the doors when the shelter’s open because it’s a big party.” Miller said that would no longer be the case and people should make a plan to evacuate fully.

Let Emergency Services know where you are
Town Hall has forms residents can print out to leave taped to their front door, or visible in their cars, if they leave the area. It allows emergency services to contact them when the threats have passed. Miller implored residents to do this to make it easier for emergency services to identify who is and is not in the area.

She also reiterated that during the first 72 hours after a hurricane, it is up to residents to take care of themselves. Emergency services are often busy making sure Town infrastructure – like water and sewer – are running, and streets are clear for emergency vehicles.

Residents need to tune in to trusted sources on the weather, Miller said, and not The Weather Channel. “They have a vested interest in keeping you tuned to that station.” Miller mentioned the National Weather Service, NOAA – the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Services as reliable, local weather information sources. Commissioner Overcash added TownDock.net to the list of trusted sources.

Green Waste Dumpsters
During budget workshops, commissioners had gone back-and-forth about the cost of the green waste dumpsters, and whether or not they were being abused.

Green waste dumpsters allow residents to bring tree clippings, garden trimmings, etc. to Public Works to be disposed of appropriately, rather than being caught up in and blocking town drainage systems.

Dumpsters are emptied as they reach capacity. Some Commissioners worried that the dumpsters are being abused by contractors, who were dropping off green waste there instead of taking it to the transfer station in the County.

“Contractors are restricted. They must take it themselves up to [Highway] 306,” said Miller. “If you’re paying contractors to do tree trimming, they need to be removing whatever they’re trimming.” By dumping it in the green waste dumpsters, the Town absorbs the cost of disposing of it.

A sign outside the Water Plant states the rules for Oriental’s Green Waste dumpsters.

There was also talk that perhaps able-bodied residents were abusing the green waste pick up system, putting a burden on Public Works, and taking them away from their other jobs.

Commissioners debated using a form for residents, who we’re physically incapable of moving the degree from one place to another. They also debated limiting green waste pick ups, or finding other ways of regulating who could, and could not use the green waste dumpsters.

“We’ve just got limited resources, limited human beings. And I think we need to get out of the business of picking up green waste. If somebody truly needs help, say so. Also, I’m a little reluctant to turn employees into dumpster police and have them report on people,” said Commissioner Roe.

“I don’t think it’s a problem. I’ve never had a citizen come and complain to me that the town’s picking up stuff they shouldn’t pick up,” said Commissioner White. “So I think we just leave it the way it is and leave it to your [Manager Miller’s] discretion and to Public Works’ discretion to figure out if this thing is being abused.”

All Commissioners agreed to leave it to Public Works and Manager Miller to handle.

Next Steps for Town Drainage Projects
In June, a resident stopped drainage work being done on Skipper Circle saying he did not want Public Works working on the drainage on his property and that they were doing it incorrectly. He subsequently hired his own contractor to shoot elevations, and to determine the correct procedure for handling drainage on his road.

Town Manager Miller says the resident’s contractor came back “and managed to tell the complainant exactly the same thing that our first contractor and Public Works had told him.”

The pipe under the resident’s driveway is too small and sits too high, said Miller, causing water to sit in the area and not drain properly.

An ongoing problem
Drainage has been a big issue in town for many years. Catch basins near Oriental Bridge were so compacted with debris they could not be found with ground penetrating radar. The result was a flooded intersection at Broad and Hodges Street when there was rain. There were also problems on Midyette Street where buildings had begun falling into a drainage ditch that needed repairs. The Town and adjacent property owners went in on a solution together.

Those issues were taken care of and water does not collect in the area as it once did.

Complaints postpone drainage work
Public Works had been working on drainage in the Whittaker Point Road area when residents demanded they stop. They did. Since then, the town’s original contractor has left for another job, and the Town’s new contractor cannot start until after August. Public Works cannot do the work themselves as they don’t have the equipment – a used excavator the town was attempting to buy for that purpose disappeared at the 11th hour, after residents and some commissioners complained it was a waste of funds.

Commissioner Roe said he had spoken with the resident, reporting the man told him that “he’s been treated with respect. He likes the town employees. Nobody was rude, none of that kind of stuff. He will fix this problem at his own cost. He would be very happy for us to move on somewhere else and leave it alone.”

The complainant did ask to speak to Commissioners about his logic on the drainage project, and how he would rather proceed to deal with drainage himself. Commissioners agreed to hear him out at their September workshop, but noted that the right of way, and the ditch, belonged to the town, and they could not stop every project for every resident who had a complaint.

Because the Town is in a position where they have to wait until September to begin drainage projects again, Commissioners voted to continue with the plans for Skipper Circle drainage as they are. Since the meeting, residents in the area have sent emails asking the Town to stop the work.

The recommendation from Town Hall has been to stop drainage work there and to move to other areas of town where residents have requested help – specifically in the area of Triton Yachts at the intersection of Midyette and Broad Streets.

Community Dredging Projects: Pierce and Whittaker Creeks
The Town of Oriental acts as administrators for any state grant funds used for the dredging of local channels, specifically Pierce Creek and Whitaker Creek. Town does not contribute municipal funds to these projects, but holds state monies that cannot be given to private entities, like Sea Harbour Yacht Club or the Friends of Whitaker Creek. Both are private entities that spearhead efforts to keep the channels dredged.

That said, grant monies for the Pierce Creek Dredging Project are ready to be disbursed. Commissioners agreed to accept the funds from the state and act as administrator.

Commissioner Frank Roe asked if the Town would be receiving a fee for administrative costs. Manager Miller replied that they would. It is the first year the town has been paid for their services in this regard.

Manager’s Report
  • Oriental will host the Eastern Carolina Council of Government Leadership Meeting on October 25.
  • Officer Wichrowski received kudos from a resident for returning a fish that was stolen 3-4 years ago.
  • Public Works is conducting an inventory of water connections. During this time, residents may see small sections of yard dug up to assess pipes going to residences.
  • Public Works must begin testing waste water from the water plant on a quarterly, rather than annual basis. Their most recent test found that waste water discharged from the plant into the river contained .062 parts per million of THM – trihalomethanes – a by product of waste water treatment, when the acceptable level is .06 parts per million. Miller says it’s likely the water did not sit long enough before being discharged.
  • Commissioners set a public hearing for the town’s Comprehensive Plan review – being reviewed by the Planning Board – for the September Town Board Meeting.

Mayor Sally Belangia asked that a proclamation be presented at the next meeting recognizing Fay Bond Day as September 29. That is the date of Fay’s 100th birthday.

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting will be Tuesday, September 5 at 8a. Town Hall will be closed for Labor Day on September 4.

Related Links
August Meeting Agenda
July Meeting Minutes
Hurricane Preparedness Plan
Pierce Creek Dredging Agreement
160D Conversion Contract
Proposed Chicken Ordinance
Green Waste Dumpster Invoice
Draft Comprehensive Plan
Police Report
Manager Report
Auxiliary Board Reports

Posted Friday August 4, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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