NAGS HEAD, N.C. (WGHP) – It’s not often that a town board of commissioners hearing complaints about parking and noise would be addressed by a sitting U.S. senator, but that’s what happened at a recent meeting in this seaside village of fewer than 3,000.
Richard Burr, who is retiring after the end of his third term in Washington, is from Winston-Salem but has a house in the Nags Head area. On Sept. 7, he took to the lectern with a handful of his neighbors along South Virginia Dare Trail to discuss with the Nags Head Board of Commissioners parking and patronage issues that emerged when a pizza restaurant opened a dine-in restaurant in the city’s historic district.
Burr and his neighbors described what they had seen happen to traffic and parking since Nags Head Pizza Company opened a dine-in restaurant in a facility that had been carry-out. They spoke of noise and walls and fences and planting trees.
Burr never has been a senator to stand on ceremony. Neither in recent years has he been active in the spotlight or active on social media.
But here he was on the video record of the meeting, rising as the middle-of-the-order heavy hitter in a lineup of seasonal residents who didn’t like what they saw happening along Virginia Avenue since July 4, when Nags Head Pizza opened its outdoor-dining area.
Burr did not identify himself as a senator, although Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon did address him that way later, and he was dressed for the moment, in khaki shorts, a striped polo shirt and thong sandals.
He used a cane to help get to the podium and donned his familiar gold-framed reading glasses.
Then, in the truest form of political pitches, Burr introduced a 5-point plan to address how life along Virginia Avenue had been disrupted by the addition of picnic tables and Adirondack chairs at Nags Head Pizza.
He said he didn’t want the restaurant to close, that he wanted it to succeed. The historic district is important, he said, and the building is the original post office. It is zoned commercially.
But here are the issues he enumerated (in capsule form):
- There are no-parking areas that need to be added to the west side of South Virginia Dare Trail (the beach road) to address public safety.
- There is no marked fire lane. There needs to be one. He cited a recent house fire that caused trouble for arriving trucks.
- The restaurant now appears to violate “setback” requirements because the building was altered to add dining space. What was a 5-foot requirement now should be 15 feet.
- The code for a vegetation barrier should be enforced around the property.
- The parking requirements change because of dine-in, and the 12 spaces allotted (and a small gravel lot) for both customers and employees are inadequate based on code.
Burr was very specific in all his numbers and references, and commissioners allowed him about 2:30 extra beyond their 5-minute limit, even though they reminded him with a “5-second warning” just as he was getting to his fifth point. He asked to finish, and no one tried to “gong” him.
Maybe Burr thought this was a Senate committee, in which one speaker can cede some of his or her allotted time to another speaker. The neighbors who spoke before and after Burr certainly did so quickly.
Burr ended his presentation in the folksy and familiar way most would recognize.
“I always thought, mayor, that it would be more comfortable to sit out here than to sit up there,” he said, pointing to the board. “I’m not sure, I sort of like being up there [attendees chuckled].
“But I’m sort of looking forward, after 28 years, to being on this side.”
Ultimately, apparently, Burr’s arguments weren’t persuasive.
The Outer Banks Voice reported Thursday that Nags Head Town Manager Andy Garman sent a letter on Sept. 16 to homeowners from the historic district – the second one he had sent to them – to address unsurprisingly “five specific concerns.”
Garman’s letter said that, although there might be some “minor modifications,” Nags Head Pizza meets zoning requirements.
Said Hilarey Ball, the restaurant’s owner: “We love this community. We’ve always had a focus on inclusivity and spreading a welcoming feeling. … So then to have this negative force acting against us has been really challenging.”