Aerial view of Currituck County, North Carolina

A Corolla group is suing Currituck County over how lodging taxes were spent.

COROLLA, N.C.

Currituck County is resisting calls to widen beaches like other nearby coastal towns from Virginia Beach to Buxton.

Officials propose instead new rules on pool construction at beachfront homes to better preserve dunes.

"Beach nourishment is not a permanent fix," said Currituck County commissioner Paul Beaumont. "It's very expensive to do. Our beaches are fine."

Wider beaches buffer property from storms, but the sand has to be replaced eventually at a cost of about $2.5 million per mile. Currituck County has about 22 miles of relatively stable beaches, according to state erosion maps. Some stretches have lost several feet in recent decades.

The county plans to have a more detailed study done on its beach erosion, said county attorney Ike McRee.

Currituck collects about $12 million annually in lodging taxes, a surcharge on rentals and motel stays. It does not set aside a portion for beach nourishment. Dare County sets aside roughly $10 million annually for beach nourishment, one third of the total lodging taxes collected.

Virginia Beach to the north and the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head and Buxton to the south have done beach nourishment. The Dare County fund contributed to the Outer Banks projects.

Dunes follow the coast at the edge of beaches mostly as protection against storm surge. The county offers grants to property owners to plant stabilizing beach grasses on the dunes.

The county has plans to amend its ordinances so that pools could not be built within 40 feet of the line where vegetation first sprouts. The line is typically at the base of the dunes on the ocean side. The county has held public meetings on the amendment with more planned.

State coastal development laws say oceanfront houses cannot be built within 60 feet of the vegetation line. The setback is further for bigger houses. Pools are allowed in that area as long as they don't destroy the "integrity of the dune."

But the restrictions are not always followed, Beaumont said. Contractors have flattened portions of some dunes to make room for pools, he said.

If the new rule passes, owners might have to build their house smaller or move it further from the dunes, he said.

Currituck still has 262 vacant oceanfront lots of a total of 966, according to statistics from the Currituck County planning department. The 70 pools already built within the proposed 40 foot setback would be grandfathered in, the proposed rule says.

The new county limit on pools will quash oceanfront beach construction, said Outer Banks builder Bernie Mancuso. Houses cannot be moved forward because of parking and septic requirements. If homes are smaller, they don't rent well, he said.

"I've never built a house that would meet that ordinance," he said.

Currituck planning officials met in Corolla Wednesday with about 20 builders, residents and others. Most preferred beach nourishment to pool limits. A lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Corolla Civic Association included calls for taxes to be set aside to pay for beach expansion.

"Most tourism counties along the east coast realize this is a cost of doing business," said Ed Cornet, retired professor of the business school at the University of North Carolina and a member of the Corolla Civic Association.

Every Corolla homeowner in his neighborhood supports beach nourishment in the bad spots, Cornet said.

"It's not magic," Cornet said. "It has to be redone every 10 to 15 years, but if the county wants to keep property values and tax revenues high, it's a must."

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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