SAGA plans in KDH spur debate over ‘mini-hotels’

By on August 13, 2019

Betsy and Elizabeth Brothers worry about the impact of the project on their neighborhood. (Michelle Wagner)

As SAGA Realty & Construction works to secure environmental permits to proceed with plans to construct a 28-bedroom event home and two 24-bedroom structures along the Kill Devil Hills oceanfront, the town’s Board of Commissioners explored some steps to regulate the impact of mega-mansions at its Aug. 12 meeting.

At the request of Commissioner Mike Hogan, the board directed the town’s planning board to develop recommendations that would increase vegetative buffering between such structures, increase parking lot setbacks, require emergency access lanes and limit stacked parking to four vehicles.

“I feel like it’s the most concrete direction we’ve had,” Mayor Sheila Davies said of Hogan’s proposal.  “And we’ve been kicking this around for a year, so I am glad there is support from the board to see where we can go with this.”

The board is not considering, at least for now, enacting maximum square footage limits, a tool several neighboring communities have used in recent years following the state’s 2015 ruling that local governments could no longer regulate house sizes by limiting the number of bedrooms.

Davies said the board hasn’t moved in that direction because of the size of lots in Kill Devil Hills. “On the oceanfront, we have predominantly more of the longer, deeper lots than some of our neighboring towns, so that’s really factored into our concern of trying to standardize with one square footage allocation,” she said.

But for at least one resident at the Aug. 12 meeting, that rationale wasn’t enough.

“I find it really interesting that Kill Devil Hills has no limit,” said Betsy Brothers, whose family cottage was built in 1949 and is nestled in between the properties SAGA plans to develop at 1213, 1207 and 1209 S. Virginia Dare Trail. It’s one of a number of cottages on the stretch of beach that have been in families for five generations, she noted, adding that, “I think so many people would greatly appreciate that being addressed.”

SAGA, a major developer on the Outer Banks, has been the focus of controversy surrounding several of its recent projects, including two 12-bedroom homes on the Southern Shores oceanfront as well as a proposed hotel on Hatteras Island that has since been put on hold. SAGA could not be reached for comment for this story.

As for the Kill Devil Hills projects, the property at 1207 S. Virginia Dare Trail is home to the Powell/Stokes Cottage, built in 1941. It was designated a historic landmark and would be demolished to make way for the new construction. The adjacent lot, at 1209 S. Virginia Dare Trail, is vacant. SAGA is in the process of submitting revised plans to secure a Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) permit for these two lots, according to Kill Devil Hills Zoning Administrator Donna Elliot.

Elliot said SAGA would likely receive its CAMA permit for the property at 1213 S. Virginia Dare Trail this week. CAMA permits are required in 20 North Carolina counties for projects that fall within areas of environmental concern. Acquiring the permits is the first step before seeking site plan approval and securing necessary building permits.

Elliot said SAGA already purchased that property, which sits to the south of the Brothers’ cottage and currently houses a modest, old-style flat top cottage. Plans submitted for the CAMA permit show a future four-story, 28-bedroom house at the site with 28 parking spaces, a two-story tiki bar and gazebo/chapel with seating capabilities for more than 100.

Several neighbors voiced concern to commissioners over the safety of such large structures and what they described as inadequate state building codes. They also asserted that such mega-homes will change the surrounding neighborhood as well as have a negative impact on rental value.

Martha Vaughan, whose family has owned a home just south of 1213 S. Virginia Dare Trail in the Edenton Colony cottage court since the 1940s, told commissioners she has sent letters to policy makers at the state level as well as the Southern Environmental Law Center, soliciting the watchdog group’s support in the matter.

Betsy Brothers’ daughter, Elizabeth Brothers, noted that the lack of state requirements for sprinkler systems in the large homes is of significant concern. “If one of these were to catch on fire and depending on the way the wind blows, our whole historic seventy-year-old neighborhood could really go down in flames,” she said.

In a later interview with the Voice, Elizabeth Brothers said that her family doesn’t have any objection to people putting up cottages. “What we object to is that it is allowed to put up these 28-bedroom mini-hotels in our historic neighborhood. It will completely change the quality of life for all of us.”





  • Czarina

    These current mega-homes do NOT have enough parking,and I ha e serious doubts about adequate septic systems. Driving by these homes on weekends, most have one car per person — not per bedroom! Don’t be greedy KDH!

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 3:52 am
  • Steve

    SAGA Destruction. Why do these folks from out of town think they can come here to destroy our neighborhoods and ruin our livelihoods?
    Go back to where you live and do it..

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 6:04 am
  • Marti

    Wow – you need to work for Trump!

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 11:00 am
  • Steve

    I do not support destruction.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 3:02 pm
  • Larry

    The SAGA continues… They have been slowly destroying this place we love.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 9:07 am
  • Bob

    What’s the point of “historic landmark” designation if someone can just come in and demolish it at will?

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 10:06 am
  • Beach dogs

    That is a bit absurd isn’t it?

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 11:04 am
  • its commercial

    Build them up to the real commercial code like any hotel property has to do! Any property over 12 bedrooms is commercial use! This make sense, is much safer for everyone and is the only proper way forward without unneccessary debate without action.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 10:27 am
  • Czarina

    Even 12 bedrooms is too much.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 12:07 pm
  • John Klamut

    Join the discussion…

    Friday, Aug 16 @ 9:02 am
  • Jimbo

    The Outer Banks has a purely tourism based economy yet the residents hate everything that comes along with tourism. Hard to understand why there is so much push back against something that supports the livelihood of the majority of the population here. You cannot live in a top tourist destination and expect to not deal with tourists and the congestion/development that comes with it. Find a way to profit from the seasonal visitors or find a new place to live.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 11:08 am
  • John

    You make a very valid point.

    Friday, Aug 16 @ 4:22 pm
  • Sound123

    Actually, no. There are generations and generations of people who have had/continue to have jobs that have nothing to do with tourism. Before astronomical greed took over this was a normal small town where everyone had “regular” jobs. It’s ignorant to think that tourism is what makes everyone’s lives go round and to assume that most locals benefit from it. Before it became a “top tourist destination” it was affordable for working people to rent or buy homes and you couldn’t reach your arm out and touch your “neighbor’s” house. People are buying houses, living other places and renting to visitors that come and don’t necessarily go out and spend money like in the past. Renting from someone who doesn’t live here and only grocery shopping once you get here doesn’t stimulate the local economy as much as you’d like to think. There also is a serious lack of updates to infrastructure needed to make this area be able to safely accommodate the amount of extra people coming in. Genuine safety AND livelihood concerns warrant “pushback.”

    Sunday, Aug 25 @ 7:01 pm
  • John

    These so called event mega mansions will become dinosaurs in the not too far off future.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 12:50 pm
  • surf123

    These large homes are hotels and some have higher capacity than the remaining cottage motels that exist. People can call it what they want, but it is a money making enterprise and is no different from selling trinkets or renting cars. The ship for the most part has sailed, but if strong actions are not taken the oceanfront will be forever ruined.

    Surely the area is zoned residential and having a hotel next to this family is not a compatible use. The name SAGA is synonymous with overdevelopment.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 2:08 pm
  • Mermaid

    SAGA needs to be stopped. They ruin all neighborhoods they build in.
    I had 2 monstrosities build in front of me the last year. They sometimes have 2 wedding a week. They are held outdoors so you have outhouses beside your home, cars parked on your property, screaming obnoxious drunks, blasting DJ’s. People have the right to have a fun wedding but it should be at a commercial wedding venue site. The average house here has 4 bedrooms with people who need to go to work tomorrow.
    I live in South Nags Head which is zoned non commercial. It should never have been permitted.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 2:36 pm
  • dan

    These are not residential properties. They are commercial and should meet commercial building and fire codes. Its only a matter of time before many people die in a fire in one of these homes. There are no exit signs, no sprinklers, no panic hardware on the doors, no appropriately sized exits and exit lighting. People don’t know how to get out, there are no posted escape plans. The driveways have 50 cars in them so the fire trucks can’t get anywhere near the house. its also not fair that local hotel/motels have meet those commercial codes and then compete with these hotels that aren’t held to the same the standard. Also their septic tanks are filled with astronomical amounts of waste that leaches into the ocean and ground water.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 7:01 pm
  • Manteoer

    It’s real simple. Those big homes look tasteless the only reason for a monstrosity home like this is money. Its already stacked up like cord wood in kitty hawk kill devil hills and nags head how about removing every other house for starters and dont let saga or any other development company build tasteless looking homes saga has no class. My best example would be southern shores and even most of manteo.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 9:48 pm
  • Sean

    Terrible idea !! Just another way to make it look like someplace that isn’t here (outerbanks) why are the towns doing this. Isn’t it trashy enough now. I’d rather see trailers. Who’s idea was it to let someone build 5 or 6 houses in a row that look alike. That’s ugly to. If you can afford 5 oceanfront lots you can afford 5 different sets of plans for each lot TOWN PLANNERS.

    Wednesday, Aug 14 @ 9:54 pm
  • 102

    I’ve read all the comments. This is pathetic. What about life safety. These mega mansions have the blessing of the town because of tax revenue. I was a professional firefighter and have seen and helped fight fires with much less square footage catch fire and burn down 2 or 3 other houses because the houses where so close together. You have a 10′ or maybe 12′ building line between house, which equates to at most 24′ between them. I’m not going to get into the BTU’s that a wooden structure can create by the fuel load. You will have to contact a true fire investigator or lab like Underrighters Labs that has done extensive research on structures of this size. The structures don’t even have a residential sprinkler system installed. The potential for life lose is enormous. They are building one in KDH right now that is 17,000 square feet with 27 bedrooms. Prove to me you can do an proper search in a house of this size if a fire starts with 1 Engine company, which is 4 personnel, with the next incoming unit to assist at the minimum of 5 to 10 minutes away. Make the property commercial and require sprinklers and stop being lead by the greed factor.

    Thursday, Aug 15 @ 6:19 pm
  • surf123

    I’ll add that how is a ladder truck or pumper truck going to get alongside these mini-hotels to put out a fire or rescue people. The fire Marshall is partially to blame not putting a stop to these mini-hotels.

    Friday, Aug 16 @ 2:24 pm
  • ozzy3

    The ship has sailed folks. The powers that be care more about money that the preservation of the Outer Banks way of life. Get used to it.

    Friday, Aug 16 @ 3:08 pm
  • S. O. S.

    Once again, keep pushing the work force out! Am I sorely mistaken when I ask isn’t this the same board that voted NO to ” tiny homes?” Pretty sure we have proof that this County’s electees are approving things that make a dollar in their budget, and not for the well being of how these people will be treated at any restaurant or establishment when the parade of people walk in and there is nobody who will greet them, serve them, or feed them. The “locals” are being treated like peasants…but I guess we have the privilege of electing these people who SERVE us…
    Not a political person, really, but I just need this county to realize what a GIANT problem we have going on, ask any service related business owner, gone are the days when reliable help is around. Perhaps SAGA can build an affordable housing complex? Just saying.

    Saturday, Aug 17 @ 11:36 am
  • Sean Mulligan

    Kill Devil Hills Home of the mini hotels.

    Sunday, Aug 18 @ 7:54 am
  • Lisa D.

    Yea, who would like to buy empty lot for almost 1million dollars and build 2 bedroom home? Charming little cottage! Anybody?
    I don’t agree with overbuilding but don’t blame everything on one construction firm.

    Sunday, Aug 25 @ 3:58 pm