KDH Board expands use of Accessory Dwelling Units

By on April 27, 2023

In the blue (low-density residential) and pink (high-density residential) zones on the map of Kill Devil Hills, accessory dwelling units are now allowed if they are contractually signed to be long-term rentals forever. (Map courtesy Town of Kill Devil Hills website.)

Town officials say effort designed to combat local housing shortage

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.

According to the amendment text, some other stipulations are that:
  • ADUs can only be located on properties containing one single-family detached dwelling.
  • No more than one ADU is allowed per residential lot.
  • ADUs cannot be larger than 50% of the living area of the primary residence, or 800 square feet, whichever is less.
  • Recreational vehicles, travel trailers and manufactured homes cannot be used or approved as an ADU.
  • ADUs cannot be subdivided or segregated in ownership from the principal dwelling unit.
  • Property owners must obtain a permit from the County Environmental Health Department that the existing wastewater system can accommodate or be improved to accommodate the establishment of an ADU.

Kill Devil Hills Mayor Ben Sproul (center) discusses an amendment to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in residential zones of the town on April 26. (Photo by Corinne Saunders)

“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.”


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  • Robert Schaible

    Just about all the additions I’ve personally seen have become VRBO so give me a break, just a way to further crowd out our towns

    Thursday, Apr 27 @ 6:43 pm
  • Surf123

    Don’t be fooled into thinking that the real estate cares about anything other than their bottom line. The upside to higher rates will flushing out those who jumped at boom time and have never weathered a multi-year lull which is what we entered.

    Thursday, Apr 27 @ 8:47 pm
  • Blind Eye

    local government can not stop short term rental….bill 667 nc general asssembly…..so more airbnbs are coming dare co. cannot stop them…unless they inspect them which they have failed to do already….many uninspected electical additions as well as too many bedrooms for septic systems….bill 667 will focus on inspection and codes for airbnbs…….

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 6:13 am
  • Rich

    KDH has become the OBX realty prostitute town. I wonder just how long it will take for there to not be any wooded areas in this beach town, replaced with more tourists driven properties. We already don’t have the infrastructure to handle what has already been approved & built. Shame on Kill Devil Hills government for their greed!

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 7:18 am
  • JS

    There’s a surfer theory that the reason KDH has been having ocean fecal water problem warnings is because the sand under their feet is so full of effluent already that the systems are just leaching poop and pee into their beach and sound waters. Now they are going to add even more human waste to the water table? Has this been thought through?

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 8:07 am
  • james

    “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”. Nothing like government officials using their connections in government to influence policy decisions in the private sector. The OBX Realtors association is not interested in the preservation of our communities, but much more interested in how many beach vacation homes they can build and sell so they hire the former Planning Director of Dare County. Now, Ms. Creef collects her lifetime pension and lifetime health care benefits that Dare Country residents pay for in perpetuity then she heads over to the private sector to collected another pay check on the backs of the Dare County Residents with her influence peddling. She should be ashamed of herself.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 8:14 am
  • The sad truth

    VBRO AirB&B has to be restricted in order to get back to where we used to be with year-round rentals. Its already happening in resort towns in other states for the same reasons we need it here. Sad really as I think that owners should be able to take advantage of the extra income but regulation has to happen in the traditionally year-round west side neighborhoods. When you can take an old beach box beater built in the 80’s and get twice as much renting it by the night than you could in the year-round rental market year-round rentals are doomed forever.

    Simple really no short-term rentals less than 30 days allowed in certain zones. Exclude everything east of 12 and along the sound front. Places like Avalon and other regular Joe neighborhoods have to be regulated or its over for year-round rentals. It’s the only answer and its coming like it or not. More ADU’s just feeds the AirB&B machine without restrictions on rental term length

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 8:50 am
  • frank

    I see this as good news, Every day workers that make the outer banks happen need an affordable place to live. This argument has been going on for decades now. Give back to the local workers who make this place work.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 9:22 am
  • Just Another Mike

    This is a good first step. To ensure that the ADU’s are being used as intended and to encourage owners with incorporate them into their homes, they should offer tax incentives to the property owner. For owners that have an ADU and a year-round tenant employed in the OBX and they can provide proof, then reduce the property tax bill. You could also provide tax incentives to encourage offering the ADU’s at a lower rent and that tax incentive would reduce the impact of offering rents at below market rates. Instead of passing a bunch of laws restricting this or that, simply provide financial incentives to encourage the behavior you desire from homeowners. There is much that can be done with incentives as opposed to restrictions.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 9:53 am
  • Local

    We need to get rid of airbnbs in dare County there the problem we have no long term rentals. Screw the tourist look after the locals and the workers!!!

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 9:56 am
  • Lee

    I can see on both sides of this fence. I am a native outer banker. I have a three bed room . two bath house that has sit empty for the last two years except friends and family have used to visit. I almost rented it as a air b&b but didn’t want the hassle that come with that, weekly cleaning, loud parting types that bother my neighbors. I would like to rent it on a yearly lease. Not to have to mow the grass weekly and so on. My issue is that the rental laws in this state is written for the renters. Ask someone that has had a bad tenant tear up their house and not pay the rent. It can take months to get them out and when you do they can walk away and not pay for damages or past rent. At least with air b&b they only have a week to destroy your house. I wonder how many people feel this way? It a shame but reality. I would much rather make less money and have my house taken care of.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 10:22 am
  • Dylan

    I musta missed something…..how is long-term rental defined? A month? 6 months? A year?

    “There is software that tracks Airb&b rentals?” Maybe but Air B&B is just the tip of the iceberg.
    so, I build an ADU, turn it over to a vacation rental business to manage….are they thinking that KDH can monitor all those vacation rental businesses ? With software? Don’t forget Facebook and dozens if not hundreds of social media platforms that spread information faster than COVID.

    KDH is gonna need a bigger rental police force!

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 10:50 am
  • beachbarb

    Too bad this was not done when they first allowed these “accessory dwellings” a few years ago. They should have been required to become LTR then. too little too late.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 12:10 pm
  • OBX Resident

    I really believe that this is going to be a great improvement for KDH, much as the cottage court ordinance they passed a couple of years ago. As an example, the SAGA oceanfront cottage court located across from the Monument really reminds me of the quaint cottage courts of the old Outer Banks. I go out of my way to visit KDH because it reminds me of the historic Outer Banks. In all seriousness, KDH has become a bad acid trip.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 12:19 pm
  • Margie

    James – Donna Creef has nothing to be ashamed of. She was a stellar employee for Dare County for 30+ years and deserves whatever retirement package Dare County chooses to give its retirees. She is knowledgeable, experienced, and skilled so why wouldn’t the private sector want to hire her? Does it upset you that veterans who retire after 20+ years receive a well-earned pension and Tricare for Life (spouses too) while working in a second or even third career in the private sector using their military experience, skills, and connections? You may not agree with the Outer Banks Realtors Assocation, but give Donna Creef a break. She’s a smart and saavy woman who works hard, plays by the rules, and is really nice to boot.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 12:39 pm
  • Smokey

    I live on the east side. This is a disaster. Yes, we need housing, but from what I see and hear, there are more AB&B that are being used and taking my property down. loud parties till 3 in the morning and I have to go to work at 7. Time for a change in commissioners. In addition, homes that have 8 or more bedrooms should have a sprinkler system. Unless they are waiting for the first death to occur. Wake Up.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 1:06 pm
  • surf123

    About the only person I would rent to is an employee of the sheriff’s office as they will be the easiest to evict if the rental relationship goes south. Someone in my community was looking for a place to rent after the place where her and her adult daughter’s rental was converted to AB&B. They have a dog and need a place that allows pets. They are in quite the predicament with the pet demand.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 5:25 pm
  • surf123

    @Dylan…it is unenforceable unless the police are willing to get involved and I doubt they are. Another option is the code enforcement office. Are they going to stake out a house and photograph the people who are coming and going. Who wants to have to determine if it is truly a long-term rental. By passing this they have added more AB&B’s.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 5:30 pm
  • TC

    I already have a neighbor that has parked a rv in their backyard, and using it as an adu for a couple of years. Just call it what it is.

    Friday, Apr 28 @ 7:50 pm
  • WindyBill

    Photographing people is not necessary. Just check license plates over several weeks and submit the data to the NC Treasury Dept and or Dare Tax Collection office. They are pleased to deal with tax evaders.

    Saturday, Apr 29 @ 12:31 pm