KDH seeks new designation for large homes

By on November 14, 2019

In an effort to address the impacts of large event homes on the oceanfront – as well as respond to a public outcry over the issue – the Kill Devil Hills Board of Commissioners unanimously voted on Nov. 13 to send a letter to the N.C. Building Code Council asking that such homes no longer be classified as single-family residential dwellings.

“The NC Building Code does not classify these structures to be commercial buildings,” the letter read, “however, we believe they exceed the regulatory standards of a traditional single-family dwelling, given the number of bedrooms, amount of guests these dwellings will accommodate, and the large events held in these dwellings.”

In the correspondence, the commissioners asked that a third classification be developed to address the event homes. But at least one member of the Building Code Council told the Voice in an interview that he didn’t think his board had “much of an appetite” for creating a third designation for such homes. 

The letter from commissioners, originally drafted in 2017, was never sent due to an oversight, said outgoing Mayor Sheila Davies. The Building Code Council, charged with adopting an amending the state building codes, is made up of a 17-member board that falls under the oversight of the N.C. Department of Insurance.

“We’ve dove into the subject numerous times, and the majority of the board does not want to change building codes to address that,” NC Building Code Council Chair Robbie Davis said, adding that historically, the board has determined that those issues are better handled at the local level through zoning ordinances. “I can’t speak for the entire board, but I can tell you what the history has been,” he said.

Davis added that consideration of building code change requests can be a lengthy process and take up to a year.

In the past, Davies and other members of the Kill Devil Hills board have voiced concern about some safety aspects of large homes and the inability of local leaders under the law to institute code requirements that are more restrictive than those of the state. That reality, they have argued, essentially ties their hands when it comes to requiring sprinkler systems and other safety features in event homes

Kill Devil Hills has stopped short of placing square footage limits on the size of homes — a policy that several local municipalities such as Duck, Southern Shores and Nags Head implemented after the N.C. General Assembly in 2015 stripped local governments of the ability to restrict house sizes by limiting the number of bedrooms.

Last month, the commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, rejected amendments to the town code that would have addressed parking and landscaping issues at large event homes. Introduced by Mayor Pro Tem Mike Hogan and backed by Mayor Davies, the amendments failed to gain the support of the rest of the board.

In their new letter to the Building Code Council, the commissioners stated that, “Over the past decade, the Town has seen a sharp increase in the construction of large event-style, single-family dwellings, some of which contain more than 24 bedrooms; amass 14,000 square feet, and more; and have the ability to accommodate more than fifty people.”

In addition to safety concerns, the letter stated, “Citizens have expressed issues with these dwellings for other reasons, too, including but not limited to aesthetics and the propensity to overcrowd.”

The debate over how the town should regulate large event homes has been ongoing for a number of years.  It became a hot-button issue again this summer when SAGA moved forward with plans to build two 24-bedroom homes and one 28-bedroom home on the oceanfront, prompting the creation of a local group called “KDH Against Mini Hotels.”

At their Nov. 13 meeting, after some debate over which direction to take, the commissioners agreed to schedule a joint work session with their board and the Kill Devil Hills Planning Board to discuss the issue as well as determine if there is a desire for regulations over and above existing state and local laws.

Three commissioners – Skip Jones, Terry Gray and John Windley – also supported the creation of a small working group comprised of a commissioner, planning board member and two or three community members that would be charged with tackling the issue.  

“I’ve been getting so much passionate information from both sides of this issue,” Jones said. “And I think it’s a great time to let those people have a say in how we work now…they all seem to agree that they would be willing to meet and try to come up with something that would be workable for both sides of it.”

For his part, Hogan said he wasn’t a proponent of a small working group, but rather favored using the planning board to work through the issue and report back to commissioners. He also said he supported a joint work session, but he added that having the planning board take on event homes would be more efficient.

“This issue has been discussed at length,” he asserted. “We have records dating back several years where this has been discussed at meetings at the planning board level and this level. I don’t think starting over with a new group would really do a whole lot of good at this point.

And as the town grapples with the difficult issue, there will be some new leadership at the helm of Kill Devil Hills government. Davies, who chose not to run for re-election, will be replaced next month as mayor by Ben Sproul, who defeated Anne Petera in the Nov. 5 election. And Hogan, who also opted not run for re-election, as well as Jones, who was defeated on Nov. 5, will be succeeded by new Commissioners Ivy Ingram and BJ McAvoy.





  • MSgt-OBX

    Hasn’t the horse already left the barn here? They waited until all of the available lots for such “homes” have been built on.

    Friday, Nov 15 @ 5:39 am
  • RicknKDH


    You and the team were voted in to SPECIFICALLY fix this. Please note the article comment, “Last month, the commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, rejected amendments to the town code that would have addressed parking and landscaping issues at large event homes. Introduced by Mayor Pro Tem Mike Hogan and backed by Mayor Davies, the amendments failed to gain the support of the rest of the board.”

    You now have the votes with the new commissioners.

    Friday, Nov 15 @ 7:40 am
  • Steve

    Finally some common sense. Problem is, this place has been near totally destroyed by northerners.

    Friday, Nov 15 @ 8:17 am
  • surf123

    Finally the local government has figured out that these are not residential structures by any measure given the size. Considering they are rented weekly and are not primary residencies they are defecto hotels and need to follow the commercial building code and all the extras that come with it.

    There has to be a way to reduce lot coverage and square footage in proportion to the lot size. The total usable square footage of the lot can have a sliding scale for height and footprint. As an example you can have a large footprint, but have the max height reduced. Want to go higher then you have to shrink the footprint. Another issue with these houses is the parking requirements allow for stacking of too many cars. If the government can dictate lot setbacks, coverage, and land use then they certainly can figure out a way to restrict size. Looking at Nags Head they have a special tax on the oceanfront homes. If they can target them with a tax then KDH should be able to target oceanfront homes with additional restrictions with one of them being footprint and height which is in the public interest in terms of the view shed.

    *Stacking is front to back parking where the car(s) in front of the last car cannot be moved until the prior car is moved.

    Friday, Nov 15 @ 9:18 am
  • Part Time OBX'er

    How about a new classification by determining how many days out of a calendar year that the dwelling is rented: If a single family home is rented privately or publicly more than 181 days out of a calendar year, then it is considered a commercial space, and should be subject to commercial building fire code and a significantly higher tax rate to the home owner.

    By doing it this way, the home owner will not be able to rent out the structure all year round without it being considered commercial, and being forced to meet fire code!

    Also it forces the hand of the home owner to decide even to build if they are not going to get enough from the rent to cover the mortgage/cost to build it without paying for the other 6 months out of the year out of their own pocket. JMO

    Friday, Nov 15 @ 3:26 pm
  • DS

    Steve, this is not the “northerners” but rather greed all around. Everyone here locally makes money off of the tourists; construction; real estate and all of the associated business. Kind of like the old saying of the pot calling the kettle black. Open your mouth and blame others when you re part of the problem.

    Saturday, Nov 16 @ 1:45 pm
  • tac

    ALL the towns should bond together and demand a change from the State legislature. Including towns up and down the NC shoreline. One of the strongest lobbies in Raleigh is the Builders Association. Only a fool cannot see that these houses are not single family and are fire traps…no commercial safety regs are applied to them, no sprinklers no emergency Exit signs, no emergency lighting in case of an emergency…enter any of these homes and see the long corridor with 12 to 24 or more bedrooms and no direction on how to get out in an emergency. No regs about pumping out their septic tanks {brown water washing into the ocean?}. It’s a disgrace what has been allowed to be built. The horse is not out of the barn yet…there are many lots now containing true residential cottages that will be sold and bought by the mini hotel builders to erect these atrocities. Do we wait until deaths and very negative news which will greatly impact the tourism to change this ridiculous situation?

    Saturday, Nov 16 @ 2:19 pm
  • DS

    These homes are no different than the homes built here at many points in time. The old Nags Head homes built on the oceanfront were similar monsters when built as were the flat tops in Southern Shores, when you compare them to what was built before them. In the 1970’s and 1980’s a 3 bedroom beach box was the norm of some 1,200 sq ft then people started to build HUGE 1456 sq ft two story 4 bedroom homes! Then the 4 bedroom with a den or 5 bedroom monsters were put up in the-mid to late 1980’s and they were a monstrous 1600 to 1800 sq ft! Then the nasty 2000-2400 sq ft oceanfront 5 bedroom homes hit in the late 1980’s. There are fair ways to control growth but the OBX has always had reactionary planning. What is going on today is no different than what happened in 2003. You allowed this to happen, everyone of you so remember when you point that finger that 4 point back at you!

    Saturday, Nov 16 @ 7:03 pm