By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on February 4, 2021
The Nags Head Board of Commissioners is slated to vote next month on a zoning text amendment that would allow owners of some of the town’s older, more nostalgic motels and hotels to modify, expand, modernize and alter their buildings.
The amendment would affect nine hotels in the municipality, many of which were built in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and are considered non-conforming uses. Such a designation — which occurs when changes to the zoning ordinance render a structure no longer in compliance with the town code — limits the improvements that can be made to them.
Hotels such as the Dolphin Inn, Blue Heron Motel, the Surf Side Hotel, Owens Motel and Colonial Inn are among the hotels that are considered non-conforming, as well as the Comfort Inn South, Islander Motel, Holiday Inn Express and the Seafoam Hotel.
The amendment would allow those property owners to apply for a conditional use permit to make modifications or improvements to the structures with the exception of demolishing a significant percentage of their existing floor area. The public hearing was extended to the commissioners’ March 3 meeting so town staff could review changes to the amendment with the planning board.
Alex Moore, owner of the Surf Side Hotel, told the commissioners during the Feb. 3 hearing that the amendment was important to his and other nostalgic Nags Head hotels in order to stay relevant and viable in the town.
Moore said that originally, the Surf Side – built in 1984 – catered to folks who came to fish around and off the Outer Banks. “Back then…they wanted a refrigerator for bait and beer, those were the necessary amenities. Today, we have to have room for digital devices to plug in and recharge.”
Because of the hotel’s non-conformity status, he said, he is unable to make needed improvements.
“We have to evolve and improve what we offer our customers and as we age, we have to stay relevant and appealing or we start a slow decline and eventually go away,’ Moore asserted, adding that owners give up and sell out because the land is worth more with a mega-house on it.
“We don’t want the Surf Side to go away…and to help us make this happen, we need to have the opportunity to improve and potentially expand the hotel,” he said, adding that hotels now have to compete against massive rental properties. “This amendment is important as successful hotels are vital to long term success.”
Nags Head Commissioner Renee Cahoon noted that the non-conforming status should not be consideration. “Every building that the town pretty well values is non-conforming…. We value the buildings that we have, whether they’re non-conforming or not and we wish to have them continue on,” Cahoon said. “We need to move forward with this subject and allow hotels to do some things that they need to do to remain relevant in the marketplace.”
Commissioner Kevin Brinkley echoed Cahoon’s comments. “I’m anxious to get it back to the planning board…so we can see what we can do to help maybe help these structures remain a viable part of our town,” he said.
In a staff memo to the commissioners, Nags Head Planning Director Michael Zehner references the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which suggests providing existing hotels and motels, as well as cottage courts, with flexibility to repair and renovate.
The plan also states that the town “has experienced the loss of hotels, particularly along the oceanfront. Many of the small hotels and commercial establishments are being converted to single-family dwellings.”