By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice 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.