Melvin Shepard Jr. likes Sneads Ferry just the way it is, he said.

SNEADS FERRY | Melvin Shepard Jr. likes Sneads Ferry just the way it is, he said.

Residential growth on N.C. 210, N.C. 172 and Old Folkstone Road and commercial newcomers along N.C. 172 has left unblemished the historic fishing village — which he calls “the old Sneads Ferry” — and its waterfront heritage. 

Shepard, who soon will celebrate his 80th birthday, owns New River Nets on Charles Creek Road in that historic hub east of areas hit hardest by recent growth.

He said his biggest concern is “to make damn sure nothing causes the water to be polluted,” he said. 

The water, he said, “defines Sneads Ferry.”

He represents the business community on the Sneads Ferry Community Plan’s Blue-Ribbon Panel, a group seeking a management guide for the area. The Sneads Ferry Community Plan is a collaborative effort by the Jacksonville Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Onslow County. The plan will blend future transportation needs with a realistic land use vision for the area, according to a release by the consulting team.

The group hosted an interactive open house recently at Dixon Elementary School to showcase its findings and glean more ideas, said Jonathan Whitehurst, a senior planner at Kimley-Horn and Associates, which also is working on the plan.

He said more than 50 residents attended the event, which tapped “dialogue, good direction ... and some challenging questions.”

But, Whitehurst added, the event did not mark a shift in the plan’s direction. 

Among the concerns voiced was whether plans to widen N.C. 172 would cause a bottleneck at the bridge to the back gate to Camp Lejeune. 

“The community was right that if you make improvements to (N.C. 172), and you don’t make improvements to the bridge, you are not solving the problem,” Whitehurst said. “There’s passion in Sneads Ferry. That passion comes from wanting to protect the heritage but also wanting something better.”

County Commissioner Barbara Ikner of Sneads Ferry said base traffic is a major concern. 

At peak hours twice, the lane heading toward base has been gridlocked for miles while IDs are checked for entry to Camp Lejeune, she said. 

Plans to widen the highway, she said, would not alleviate congestion without additional lanes over the river.

“The traffic is a huge problem,” Ikner said. “I think everybody is aware that that has got to be addressed.”

She said either another bridge in addition to the old span or a wider replacement eventually could be a necessity.

“Nothing is going to solve the problem unless you get rid of a bottleneck,” Ikner said.

Shepard said although he supported a failed effort seeking Sneads Ferry’s incorporation in the past, he is pleased with the ability to plan for growth to avoid pitfalls he said have plagued other coastal municipalities and counties.

“We have more returns out of tourism from North Topsail Beach than North Topsail Beach does except for rentals,” Shepard said. “We are feeling the tourism now.”

Shepard said the threat of unwanted annexation is no longer valid since the General Assembly passed legislation requiring a referendum in the area to be annexed. 

He said perhaps the greatest challenge moving forward would be to translate some old realities of the fishing village. 

“I’ve heard a couple of comments from individuals about some of the old, beat-up houses,” Shepard said. “I tell them, these beat-up places are called H-O-M-E — that’s somebody’s home. If you don’t particularly want this kind of neighborhood, go live in another kind of neighborhood.”