Nags Head ponders easing rules on big homes

By on October 8, 2019

Planning Board signals opposition to move

As other Dare County municipalities grapple with how to effectively control the proliferation of large single-family dwellings in their communities, the Nags Head Board of Commissioners is poised to vote next month on a text amendment that would jettison lot size restrictions on such dwellings.

After listening to a handful of residents speak out against a text amendment to eliminate a minimum 16,000-square-foot lot requirement for homes 3,500 square feet or larger, the commissioners on Oct. 2 voted to continue the public hearing and delay any decision on the issue until their November meeting.

For its part, the Nags Head Planning Board has unanimously recommended that the commissioners not remove the minimum lot size requirement.

Currently, house sizes in the municipality are capped at 5,000 square feet and in order to build larger than 3,500 square feet, homes must meet specific architectural standards.

The idea to nix the requirement was first floated at the June 5 commissioners meeting by Commissioner Michael Siers. “I would like to see the 16,000 square feet removed and let the setbacks and septic restrict that,” he asserted. Commissioners Webb Fuller and Renee Cahoon concurred.

“All we are doing right now is penalizing people in permanent neighborhoods with the restriction,” said Cahoon, adding that 16,000 square feet “really doesn’t do anything other than impede. And If our goal is to restrict big houses, let’s do by square footage not the size of the lot.”

Mayor Ben Cahoon at the time directed town staff to draft a text amendment for board consideration that would eliminate the restriction. Mayor Pro Tem Susie Walters was not present at the June meeting.

But the proposed measure hasn’t received much support since. Planning Director Michael Zehner told the board last week that staff did not recommend the change and the Nags Head Planning Board, by a 6-0 vote, also urged the commissioners to take no action on the proposal.

Zehner noted that the minimum lot size requirement was originally put in place in 2003 after 17 months of consideration. It came at a time when the town was first beginning to see an influx of large homes along the oceanfront. But, he said, concerns still remain.

Only an estimated 20 percent of the buildable lots in town are 16,000 square feet or greater, Zehner pointed out. If the text amendment is adopted, he said, it could open up the remaining smaller lots to larger homes, resulting in more density. For example, he told the board that a 4,000-square-foot six-bedroom home could potentially be built on a 10,000-square-foot lot.

According to a staff memo to the commissioners, if the text amendment were adopted, the total number of lots not excluded from large residential dwellings due to lot size would jump from 697 to 3,204 in the C2, CR, R-1, R-2 and R-3 districts alone.

Zehner noted the impact that increased density could have on storm water and ground water, adding that trends show that if people are able to build a larger structure, they likely would.

“That is something we should understand better the effects of,” he added.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Michael Flynn told the commissioners during the Oct. 2 hearing that such an amendment would result in an increase in the density of development. That, he asserted, “would increase the volume of storm water runoff to coastal waters and negate many of the advances the town has made with the town’s storm water management program.”

“Maintaining your current minimum lot sizes is a prudent measure given the increase in sea levels and climate change,” Flynn noted.

Lauren Nelson, a local realtor and resident of Nags Head, told the commissioners the proposal was a “short-sighted plan that would move the development of Nags Head in the wrong direction.”

Nelson cited displacement of ground water, increased traffic and additional strain of local services that would result with an increase in large homes. “If our community is able to sustain itself, its people need to be able to afford to live here. Our median income in Dare County shows affordable housing is a true need and large home construction does not meet the needs of this local community.”

Megan Lambert, who owns Booty Treats in Nags Head and is also a member of the town’s planning board, urged commissioners to maintain the minimum lot size ordinance. “We have a massive affordable housing issue, not just here but countywide,” she said. “While I understand there is no one-size-fits-all solution, I do know that allowing smaller lots to have 3,500-plus square foot homes will not help the issue. It will definitely make it worse.”

Referring to concerns that the lack of affordable worker housing leaves local merchants scrambling to find employees, Lambert said that in the last couple years, the staffing situation at her business has “gone from hard to terrible. And the difference for me between hard and terrible is when businesses have to start closing several days a week to keep up with it because they don’t have enough staff to work.”

The Nags Head Planning Board also issued written comments to the commissioners outlining 10 concerns it had over the proposed amendment. “This amendment will allow for larger houses to be constructed on smaller lots, exacerbating existing storm water issues,” the comments read. The planning board also noted that it would “likely result in widespread redevelopment for the purposes of creating additional rentals, resulting in a reduction of housing opportunities for year-round residents.”

In a related matter, the Nags Head Commissioners last month voted down a proposed text amendment that would have allowed Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as a conditional use in some districts. Commissioners Siers, Fuller and Cahoon voted against the measure, while Mayor Pro Tem Walters and Mayor Cahoon voted in favor of the change.

Both the planning board and staff supported the ADU amendment, contending that it would help create more opportunities for affordable housing in the community.


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  • rexcraigo

    Rich people’s problems.

    Tuesday, Oct 8 @ 4:17 pm
  • surf123

    It’s not rich people’s problems. It is everybody’s problem as these mega houses use way more resources and generate way more traffic than regular sized rental houses. They are mini-hotels in residential neighborhoods that are in effect party houses.

    Wednesday, Oct 9 @ 10:43 pm
  • Otis

    So, what does the Land Use Plan policies say about this proposed zoning change? Is it consistent with the Plan?

    Wednesday, Oct 9 @ 9:34 am