By Corinne Saunders | Outer Banks Voice on April 27, 2023
The Kill Devil Hills Board of Commissioners adopted two zoning amendments at its April 26 meeting that Town officials say are designed to create more year-round housing opportunities.
The Board adopted both amendments by unanimous 4-0 votes. Commissioner B.J. McAvoy was absent from the meeting.
The amendment that drew two members of the public to speak during its public hearing added accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as permitted uses in both the Town’s low-density and high-density residential zones, with the stipulation that they’re only permitted for long-term occupancy.
“This would offer locals who have a house the opportunity to have an accessory dwelling unit for year-round housing that would help offset their mortgage, and it would also help address our labor shortage and housing shortage that we’re all trying to work on,” Mayor Ben Sproul said before the vote.
During the public hearing, Matt Walker, a Kill Devil Hills resident, asked if there would be oversight to ensure the units are used for workforce housing and don’t become Airbnbs. “Whatever we’re doing, we’re adding density—let’s make sure it helps dent the problem,” Walker said.
Donna Creef, the former Dare County Planning Director who is now Government Affairs Director for the Outer Banks Association of Realtors®, spoke on behalf of that association in support of the amendment.
“We commend the town for their continued efforts to amend their zoning ordinance to increase housing opportunities,” Creef said. “Every unit that’s built is one unit that adds to the success of trying to address the housing crisis.”
ADUs have been allowed in other Kill Devil Hills zoning districts—Commercial, Light Industrial 1 and Light Industrial 2—since March 2021, according to a town memorandum.
“We wanted to see how that went, and so far, it’s gone on without a bump at all,” Sproul said before the vote. “So I think there’s a lot of support for going this route, and we’ve carefully considered it for a long time.”
Commissioner John Windley noted that properties establishing ADUs must also meet health code, parking and other town and county requirements.
“It’s not something that every single lot in Kill Devil Hills could have, just the specific ones that are big enough to have that capacity,” Windley said. “So while it’s going to offer options for some, it’s not going to really take over the entire town.”
The Kill Devil Hills Planning Board and the Board of Commissioners held a joint work session last October to discuss what the Town could do to promote long-term housing “and try to alleviate the housing issue in Dare County,” Assistant Planning Director Cameron Ray stated in an Oct. 18, 2022, memorandum to Town Manager Debbie Diaz.
One of those options was to allow ADUs in residential zoning districts with restrictions for long-term occupancy, he wrote. In July 2022, cluster homes were amended as a special use in the Town’s low-density residential zone with similar regulations for long-term occupancy.
“The intent of the regulations for long-term occupancy for specific land uses in these zoning districts is to try and mitigate the long-term housing needs by promoting land uses for private developers for essential long-term housing,” Ray wrote in the memo.
According to the amendment, property owners must execute and record an agreement for “long-term occupancy in perpetuity” of that ADU with the Dare County Register of Deeds before a building permit for an ADU will be issued. The signed, notarized and filed agreement “will transfer with the property no matter who’s the owner,” Ray told the Voice after the meeting. “Unless town ordinance changes, it can’t change.”
He added that there is software to track where there are short-term rentals, so if one of the ADUs “pops up and it says it’s on Airbnb, that’s going to alert your enforcement side of things…they’re going to get a violation.”
The permanency of those long-term rentals will “slowly but surely” chip away at the housing crisis, Sproul told the Voice after the meeting. ADUs can be either attached or detached from the main dwelling.
“The public, as we’ve seen over the last year, doesn’t have an appetite for high density next to them,” Sproul said. “Everybody’s like, ‘I want an apartment building, just not near me.’ In this case, we’re not doing that kind of density, but we’re doing the other thing…this incentivizes people to take some percentage of it and turn it into long-term only forever.” In his remarks about high density, Sproul may have been referring to efforts in both Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head to construct larger housing developments that were both effectively killed by the towns’ boards of commissioners.
“Before, every exchange of a property was highly incentivized to go short-term,” Sproul told the Voice. “Now, we have another option.”
“Real estate people always talk about the ‘highest and best use,’” he explained. “Around here, us living in our own homes is a waste of money economically speaking, because we’d get higher and best use if we moved off the island and rented our house for a lot more than we’re willing to pay for it.”
“So the only reason we have year-round housing is because we owned it before it got crazy,” he continued. “And so the wave is coming where…the next group of people are not going to be able to afford it, and the next owner is more likely to put it into a short-term rental. So I think this gives the future owners of property way more options.”
The other amendment adopted at Wednesday’s meeting modifies mixed-use setbacks in the Light Industrial 1 and Light Industrial 2 zones to match the commercial setbacks of 10 feet instead of 30 feet for the rear yard, except for when the property abuts a property in the low-density residential zoning district.
Planning Director Meredith Guns said during the meeting that the amendment would allow commercial buildings to be converted into mixed use.
“Existing commercial structures can’t be converted into mixed use under the current ordinance,” Guns said. “We’ve had some inquiries about being able to put apartments over businesses and things of that nature.”
She said the ordinance was changed for the commercial zone six to eight months ago, and this change matches those regulations for both Light Industrial zones “so that conversion for mixed use would be possible in existing structures.”
“That would offer those property owners the opportunity to build houses that would help put employees on site,” Sproul said in the meeting.
Guns noted that there is no long-term stipulation with the setback amendment.
“Now it’s in the development community’s hands,” Ray told the Voice after the meeting. “We’ve done our part to add in some things like setbacks on mixed use [and] accessory dwelling units. Now it’s their turn to make it work.”
Who is to determine what person qualifies as a long term renter? Is it the person that works from home? Is it the retiree? Is it someone that provides a service to residents in the county?
There’s no good answer.
State law defines the length of stay that is “short term occupancy”.