Ben Woody Leaves Behind a Business-Friendly Legacy in Currituck County

The outgoing planning director talks commercial development, mega sites and making life easy for business owners

benwoody-02.jpegCurrituck County Planning Director Ben Woody was hired in September 2007. In July, he leaves for a new position as Development Services Director for the City of Asheville.

During his time as director, Woody helped streamline many of the planning and permitting processes for the county. He often worked as a bridge between local government and the community. And when the meetings of the Board of Commissioners and the Planning Commission were broadcast on television, Woody always seemed to end up with the most screen time.

Speaking to the Daily Advance in June, Chairman Bobby Hanig called Woody “a tremendous asset to the county.” And Commissioner Paul Beaumont added, “He will absolutely be missed.” 

Before Woody traded the coast for the mountains, we spoke to him about the department he led for almost a decade, the future of commercial development in northeastern North Carolina and what companies need to know about doing business in Currituck County.


What do you most want the Currituck business community to know about the Planning and Community Development Department?

That we really want our businesses to be successful. We’re approachable. We’re business friendly. We’re partners in the process.

How do you think the Currituck County planning process measures up against Hampton Roads?

People with experience, especially those from larger Hampton Roads cities, have commented about how quick, accessible and efficient Currituck is in terms of business environment.

If you ask an experienced business owner, they are going to say that we’re a great place to do business. I know we are.

In terms of planning and zoning, what do you most want to communicate to the local business community?

That there are things that need to be done upfront. If you’re going to establish a business location, expand, move or renovate… you do need to set some time aside to engage with the county in a positive way.

Come see us first. It’s easy. You can pretty much sit down with us at your convenience. We can walk you through what you need to do to be successful.


What happens when they don’t see you first?

Sometimes people wake up one day and decide to start a business. But when folks get too far out in front of things, the results can be problematic.

One of the biggest roadblocks for business owners is not understanding the requirements of the building codes. They can get too far down the road without a good understanding of what’s expected and then realize it's going to cost a lot more than they thought.

Once you’re already $2,000 into an idea and then realize that it takes $10,000 just to get the rest of the work done? That can become a bad situation.

What keeps business owners from coming to see you?

It could be anything. They don’t know how to approach us. They could be afraid. Or maybe they feel overwhelmed or think that the code’s too hard. If that's the case, I would suggest they contact our Economic Development Director.  He'll be more than happy to help because he's a resource for business owners too. 

That’s easy to understand they might fee overwhelmed since Currituck County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is over 500 pages long.

Right, but they don’t have to read the whole thing. We can translate all those permitting requirements and rules and have a conversation that will help the business owner be successful. We want to be a resource for them. 

How else do you make things easier for commercial development in Currituck?

I think our commercial approvals are unusually fast. A residential subdivision takes about a year to get through the approval process. If you want to build a grocery store? You can do it in 6 weeks.

We make it significantly easier because commercial development is so valuable to the county right now. You can bring me a set of plans and literally within six weeks, if not sooner, you can be fully approved and ready to start building your project. 

There’s no way you could do that in Chesapeake or Norfolk.

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That seems like it would be a big incentive for launching a business in Currituck.

We have more than 4,000 acres of land on the mainland that is zoned commercial. There’s a lot of inventory down here. You have a lot of choice.

If it’s zoned commercial and you’ve got yourself organized and you’ve got your plans drawn, you can get in and out. 

Where does Currituck Station come in?

We’ve got a lot of land and Currituck Station gives us the opportunity to attract larger commercial development and rooftops. It gives us an opportunity to lay out some larger users and do it within a more planned process. I think bigger developers will appreciate that they can invest in a tract of land and have some surety and some guarantee that equivalent investment will be built around them.

One of things we’re trying to build into that concept is to have all the entitlements done. The county is going to go ahead and zone Currituck Station properly. Additionally, we’re going to allow higher densities and more intense development than we normally do, provided it's done at a higher quality.

If you want to develop a good project and do it in a way that is reasonable, we’re going to make the entire development process much, much easier.

Why hasn’t there been more commercial development in Moyock in the last 10 years? 

In my opinion, all the big retail that opened up in Edinburg and Hickory... that killed commercial development in Moyock for a while. We kept getting residential growth but we weren’t getting commercial growth.

That much retail being built 8 miles north over the state line hurt us. But I think we’re finally starting to see renewed interest in commercial development in Moyock. It’s just going to take time. 

What are the biggest challenges ahead for development?

Our biggest obstacle long-term is probably transportation.

And our biggest long-term challenge is probably figuring out how we integrate and get connected (from a transportation standpoint) to the I-87 corridor. I think with 87, it's critical the county continues to push the east-west connector concept. We need to get a road that goes from Moyock over to 17 and Camden County. Or make improvements to 158, or promote the fact that you can still get to 17 via 158.

It may be 20 years before that happens, but it's something that we've got to continue to push for as a county.

In your opinion, what kind of commercial growth do you want to see most in Currituck County?

Number one would be traditional commercial development with businesses that have job growth. 

Right now, we are primarily a commuter community. I know the Board of Commissioners would really like to see investment in our community that includes well-paying jobs. I understand that a lot of people who live here want to see a Chick-fil-A or a Target, which is fine, but you're not going get wage growth in your community with a Chick-fil-A or a Target.

Attracting more healthcare facilities would be a big win. I think we have enough critical mass to support that in the north end of the county.

If you look at our demographics, we're getting older as a county. We seem to be a place that attracts a lot of military retirees and older families. That’s why I feel like there are real opportunities, not only for traditional health care facilities, but also for more senior-focused facilities.

What else do you want business owners to know about Currituck County?

We’ve got to work hard to get businesses here and we’re going to keep doing that.

If you come to Currituck, we’re going to be an advocate for your business. That’s where I think we can stand apart and distinguish ourselves from other cities in Hampton Roads. Our business environment is not as crowded and not as difficult. 

Currituck County is a place where you can start a business, and when you do… you can expect direct support from your local government. 


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