Public official offers his view of Currituck’s future

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Paul O’Neal

Paul O’Neal

CURRITUCK COUNTY — At age 52, Paul O’Neal has served Currituck County in several capacities over the years. He has been Chairman of the Currituck Board of Commissioners on numerous occasions and presently is in the third year of a four-year term. He has served as Vice Chairman for the board of trustees at College of The Albemarle community college, along with having been appointed to several local boards such as Albemarle Regional Health, Tourism and the Extension Foundation.

In his private life, he is VP of Towne Insurance, a division of Towne Bank.

In a recent wide-ranging interview, O’Neal shared his overview, describing Currituck County as a well-run and prosperous entity, with plenty of opportunity — and plenty of challenges!

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The current make-up of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners is all-Republican — as it has been for several years. The last election saw some changes with Commissioners Paul Martin and Butch Petry having been defeated after one term by Mike Payment and Mike Hall. The issue that resulted in the loss for these incumbents centered on a revaluation of real estate in the county.

Most property in the vicinity of Moyock property was not devalued while other segments of the county saw decreases in assessed valuations.. The issue then became what property tax rates should be increased to achieve revenue neutrality for the county. This unpopular situation resulted in the losses for these incumbents.

Over the years, Moyock has become a bedroom community for Chesapeake, Va. with people escaping the “rat race” of Virginia, to live in North Carolina. Therefore, residential development has been active in Moyock and in the beach peninsula of Corolla while the rest of the Currituck mainland has seen little growth. The Knotts Island section of Currituck County is separated from the rest the county, and attached to the mainland of Virginia Beach. Knotts Island is accessible by land but most people travel to and from the mainland is by ferry.

In 2007 a Revised Land Use Plan was adopted, which allowed developments with small lots, but with accommodations for more open spaces, despite the higher density. This has been the subject of much debate in Moyock with owners of larger lots — built prior to the new plan — complaining that increased traffic congestion would result from approval of these projects. There are several development projects in the pipeline since Moyock has been well insulated from the downturn in real estate experienced in recent years.

Despite growth in residential real estate, there has been slow growth in commercial projects because of the vicious circle between competing requirements. Currituck needs more residential building projects to increase the “roof tops” to bring the Big Box retailers to build in the county. So, as they deal with the chicken and egg issue, the commercial developers fail to consider the 50,000 cars that travel back and forth between North Carolina and Virginia.

As the County Commissioners attempt to spread out the development throughout the entire county, areas closer to the Outer Banks are sparsely populated. Therefore, the commissioners are planning to commission a feasibility study to ascertain the potential for a hotel to be built within the county.

Retailers such as Walmart have boxed in Currituck County. They built large stores in Kitty Hawk and Elizabeth City in North Carolina and Edinburgh in Virginia. These areas provide a ring around Currituck and its citizens can shop conveniently at Kitty Hawk and Edinburgh and less so in Elizabeth City.

Commissioner O’Neal believes that a smaller store might work for his county, and they are attempting to assist Walmart to build such a store.

The Currituck Airport is doing well economically. Officials there kept the brain trust in place in order to see the airport project mature. Airport officials are working with state House Rep. Bob Steinburg to create a tax free zone within the airport, but the benefits of doing this have not been realized as yet.

The nearby Port of Norfolk has opened some doors, which will pay off in due course.

Steinburg and state Sen. Bill Cook, along with Transportation Board Member, Malcolm Fearing, have worked very diligently with the county to make Transportation Funding available and to adequately consider the traffic numbers. The Mid-Currituck Bridge project is moving through the funding approval process, but at this point, Commissioner O’Neal has no idea when to expect this project to go forward. Once the project gets the green light, it is expected to take several years to build.

In the meantime, evacuation of the Currituck Beaches as future hurricanes approach, is a major concern. Commissioner O’Neal points out that getting beach residents to leave their rental homes and evacuate is very difficult when it is sunny and hot. The traffic tie-ups, in and out of the beach area will be even more difficult to manage in an all-out evacuation. Currituck County has worked with various interest groups in an effort to develop a means of improving the traffic.

Currituck County is virtually debt free, except for a few minor debt matters. Commissioner O’Neal wants to have plenty of funds on hand in order to respond to whatever threats come the county’s way without having to depend on federal funds reimbursements.

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