State budget housing provision angers Dare municipal officials

By on September 20, 2023

Measure would restrict towns’ authority to regulate housing projects

Manteo Town Manager Melissa Dickerson discusses the budget provision at the Sept. 20 meeting. (Credit Mark Jurkowitz/OBV)

Update: Dare County Manager Bobby Outten tells the Voice that the county had no knowledge of, nor any role in the insertion of the Dare County housing provision in the budget.

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Meeting on the evening of Sept. 20, the Manteo Board of Commissioners approved a resolution opposing a provision in the pending state budget that would curtail Dare County municipalities’ authority to regulate affordable housing developments funded by $35 million the state gave the county for that purpose.

The decision by the Manteo Commissioners came only two weeks after they rejected the county’s request to hook up the town wastewater treatment system to a 46-unit housing project proposed by developer Woda Cooper. And for some on the Manteo Board, the section in the budget was seen an effort to override that local decision.

“I think it’s politics at its saddest,” declared Manteo Commissioner Tod Clissold of the budget provision, which only applied to Dare County. Referring to the county’s failure to get the town’s permission for the wastewater hookup, he added that, “To not get their way and figure out a way to do it [anyway], it basically takes the power away from the board.”

With the state budget expected to be voted on as early as this week, the housing item clearly surprised local officials.

“Everyone I’ve engaged with on this matter was caught off guard,” said Manteo Town Manger Melissa Dickerson during the meeting. It was Dickerson who alerted people to the Dare County affordable housing item via a Sept. 19 email identifying that provision in the “latest version of the 2023 Appropriations Act.”

At the Sept. 20 meeting, Commissioner Sherry Wickstrom added that the budget item “takes people’s voices away. I don’t believe it’s legal.” And while the board went into closed session to discuss options with Town Attorney Ben Gallop, he did say in open meeting that there are “potentially some areas for challenging the adoption of the [budget] provision.”

The Manteo resolution, addressed to state legislative leadership, members of Dare County’s statehouse delegation and Dare County Commissioner Chaiman Bob Woodard, declared that the “Enactment of Sec. 24.8 (a) & (b) by the North Carolina General Assembly will disrupt the general health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Town by allowing housing units to be built outside the jurisdiction of the Town that will consume the utilities designated for the health, safety and welfare of the Citizen’s of the Town.”

Manteo’s opposition may be an opening salvo in what could become a major confrontation between Dare County’s local municipalities, the state legislature, and perhaps Dare County officials. On Sept. 20, Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon weighed in, writing a letter to state legislators as well as Dare Chairman Woodard. Other Dare County towns are also reportedly preparing their own resolutions and statements reacting to the budget provision.

“At this point, it is unknown how and why this provision was written into the State budget,” Cahoon stated in his letter. But its impact is clear. The State will strip our towns of their ability to govern their own fates and their ability to protect the communities…We urgently ask that the legislature strike the section in its entirety.”

Early in 2023, the Nags Head Board of Commissioners, responding to significant community opposition, opted to rezone an area that would have potentially housed a 54-unit Woda Cooper housing development, effectively ending the project.

Cahoon attended the Sept. 20 Manteo Commissioners meeting, after afterward he told the Voice that, “I’m sure there’s going to be a legal challenge” to the state budget provision. “There has to be.”

In its quest to build needed workforce or essential housing, Dare County has partnered with two entities. One of them is Woda Cooper, which now has a pot of $12 million in county money—the last $1.5 million of which was approved a special Sept. 19 Dare Commissioners meeting to help the company build a 57-unit housing development on an unspecified site.

The $35 million pot of affordable housing money that came from the state was earmarked for the newly created Coastal Affordable Housing LLC, which includes among others, Jordan Hennessy, a well-known figure in local political circles and a one-time aide to former State Senator Bill Cook.

Affordable Coastal Housing also suffered a setback in its efforts when a plan to rezone the 44-acre Baum Tract to pave the way for its multifamily housing development was defeated last year by the Kill Devil Hills Commissioners.

During the Sept. 20 Manteo Board meeting, Commissioner Wickstrom expressed some of her frustration with county officials, stating that “We have a number of good partnerships with the county. This is why this feels a little underhanded, to say the least.”


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Comments

  • Yea Right

    Sure is funny how Dare County Commissioner Chaiman Bob Woodard, declared that the “Enactment of Sec. 24.8 (a) & (b) by the North Carolina General Assembly will disrupt the general health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Town by allowing housing units to be built outside the jurisdiction of the Town that will consume the utilities designated for the health, safety and welfare of the Citizen’s of the Town.” He has been pushing this for many, many months and had no concern for the towns as witnessed in his and Rob Ross’s comments at the Board of Commissioners meeting in Nags Head a few months ago!! If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….guess what. I am attempting to find out who put this into the budget and will share if and when I find the answer!!

    Friday, Sep 22 @ 12:21 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Yea, the quote you cite is not from Bob Woodard. That is from the resolution approved by the Town of Manteo that was addressed to Bob Woodard, among others.

    Friday, Sep 22 @ 2:50 pm
  • Lil Johnny

    I guess the Manteo residents have that powerless feeling kind of like the Property Owners that couldn’t access their property during COVID. Government has way to much power over individuals and their rights . ” Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely” that is basically the status of our entire country now from the local government, state government ,federal government and all their associated agencies and policies. Enjoy your freedom

    Friday, Sep 22 @ 2:06 pm
  • Obxserver

    Like the commenter Watcher I too applaud the questions raised by OBX Resident. I have some other questions.

    When the Woda -Cooper proposal to site a project on the tract across from Jockeys Ridge was first revealed it seemed to me really curious based on the principal of highest and best use. Why would such a nice site located just across the street from the Ocean to the east and Jockeys Ridge State Park to the west be developed for use as an affordable housing project? To be sure there was other property somewhere that was much more affordable and also better suited to year ’round residential housing than this expensive tract. It just didn’t make sense. Some of the questions I can think of for further investigation and research are listed below.

    1. Where is the money coming from in the private sector? How are investors being engaged.
    2. What are the tax credits and incentives for investing in these projects?
    3. What makes Dare County of such particular interest for these investors? Why are our communities so obviously desirable as sites for these projects; especially given our relatively higher average income levels and obviously higher real estate values.
    4. Put another way there is obviously a practical gold-rush to develop these projects locally. Why?
    5. How are these projects structured? Who invests, who manages, who owns what?
    6. How is the State of NC involved? Are there NC State tax credits as well as US Federal tax credits?
    7. How has the State legislature been involved.

    Since these projects involve US, State of NC and local governmental approval and involve tax incentives and credits there are specified governing rules and regulations. Somebody has the obvious potential of making a substantial amount of money; much of which one way or the other will ultimately be paid by We the People as tax-payers. Why the clouds of arcana and obscurity? Why is everything so hush hush and back door?

    Friday, Sep 22 @ 4:00 pm
  • DrRobbob

    Conspicuously absent from this discussion is the position taken by our NC House Representative Goodwin and NC Senator Sanderson. Did they know that Dare County municipalities would be singled out regarding this usurpation of local authority? What do they propose to do about it? Right now all I hear is crickets.

    Monday, Sep 25 @ 6:14 am
  • Manteo

    This seems to really only affect Manteo because they have a sewer plant. Perhaps the state could just take over Manteo and do a good deep clean this time, so the other towns don’t have to be involved? Does anyone have the value of the Fearing property, by Baytree, currently rushing to be developed, both before the town changed that zoning “to encourage affordable housing” and then now, with twice as many rental units allowed via ADUs?

    Monday, Sep 25 @ 11:47 am
  • Not Manteo

    @Manteo – the utility part might only affect Manteo, but the other sections of it that exempts affordable housing from 160D Article 6, 7, and 8 strips all municipalities the authority to regulate the development in any way. Can go in any zoning district, be built to whatever height they desire, no lot coverage, density or parking requirements, etc.

    Basically boils down to Coastal Affordable Housing can purchase any property in Dare County, and build whatever their heart desires.

    Monday, Sep 25 @ 3:02 pm