Woda Cooper ends housing efforts in Dare County

By on December 1, 2023

Developer ran into stiff community opposition

Woda Cooper’s Denis Blackburne cited the number of “obstacles” to building workforce housing developments.

Unable to overcome local opposition to building workforce housing in Dare County, Woda Cooper, one of the two companies partnering with Dare County to build that housing, is ending its efforts in the county.

“There were way too many obstacles to overcome,” Denis Blackburne, Senior Vice President for Development for the Woda Cooper Companies, wrote in an email to the Voice. “Once we thought we had reached a resolution on an issue, another obstacle would appear. We realized that some communities did not want affordable workforce housing and that it was not going to happen. We are therefore withdrawing from trying to develop workforce housing in Dare County.”

Woda Cooper had been working with a pot of $12 million in county money to help with its housing development efforts.

The departure of Woda Cooper leaves Coastal Affordable Housing LLC as the only development company still working with Dare County to create workforce housing. That group has a pile of $35 million in state funding to work with. Recently, a controversy erupted when it was learned that a last-minute provision inserted into the state budget would curtail local municipalities’ ability to regulate housing developments being funded with that state money. All six Dare County municipalities have filed suit against that provision.

Dare County Manager Bobby Outten agreed with Blackburne that there had been significant local opposition to workforce housing proposals, noting in an interview with the Voice that Woda Cooper had projects in other locations where they could more quickly move forward.

“They’ve run into many roadblocks, and they have other opportunities and other places that they can better spend their time and their money,” he said.

Over the past year, there have been Woda Cooper projects that were derailed in Manteo and Nags Head.

Following intense opposition from Nags Head residents, a 4.7-acre, 54-unit workforce housing project at the intersection of U.S. 158 Croatan Highway and East Holloway Street, across from Jockey’s Ridge State Park, was voted down 4-1 by the commissioners in their January meeting. Following the vote, the town moved to rezone the area to prevent high-density housing.

More recently, in September, the Manteo Commissioners turned down a request to tie in the proposed Bowsertown Road project to the town’s sewer system. The project would have been on county-owned land, but without the connection to the system, there was no economically feasible way to handle the waste of a 46-unit development.

Although Woda Cooper will not be actively developing workforce housing in Dare County, Outten made it clear that if the opportunity was right, the county would work with the company again.

“Our relationship with Woda Cooper is still good. If we had an opportunity where it made sense, and they may be interested in it…we’d have to cross that bridge when we got there,” he said.

Blackburne agreed writing that, “We would like to develop affordable housing in Dare County, now and in the future. Affordable workforce housing is needed as per what we heard and confirmed by the third-party independent market studies that we commissioned. The Dare County Commissioners gave us the opportunity to develop such workforce housing and we truly appreciate their support.”

Given the difficulty in getting approval for workforce housing projects, Dare County is forming an Affordable Housing Task Force to develop strategies to move workforce/affordable housing forward. The task force has not met yet, but according to Outten, the first meeting should be within the next few weeks.

“We just had elections. We’ve got to let the town organize with the new mayors in place and select who they’re going to have. And then we’ll have our first meeting of that task force once all that gets done,” he said.



  • Just a mom

    And please don’t act like the young people aren’t the greatest need for housing… they make up the majority of the service provided in resort towns in summer seasons. I understand that it is expensive here… it always has been if you came from inland .
    Again no fix is happening with so many rules. Let people rent and utilize their property without so many codes. We all made it fine without them.

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 9:24 am
  • Task Farce

    — “Given the difficulty in getting approval for [workforce housing]* projects, Dare County is forming an [Affordable Housing]* Task Force to develop strategies to move [workforce/affordable housing]* forward. The task force has not met yet, but according to Outten, the first meeting should be within the next few weeks.”

    — * Edit > [taxpayer subsidized low income general occupancy housing]

    The six towns should not agree to participate in this task farce while they are spending their municipal taxpayer’s money to litigate against the underhanded power grab, which was pushed through by the same organizations that will also be represented on the task farce.

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 9:26 am
  • Dylan

    How about this:
    Put the $12 M into a 50% matching grant fund to be distributed to businesses that submit a plan to house their own employees. Let businesses solve their individual needs, own the problem and the solution.

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 12:50 pm
  • Theresa Bulaong

    Dare County has always been a very family-friendly place to visit or live. As a whole, the local community is very passionate about protecting & preserving the outer banks beach environment. The population growth and expansion in the surrounding counties that lead to the outer banks is currently booming. Its common sense knowledge that these barrier islands have pretty much reached their limits when it comes to any more clearing & destruction to allow more building. There already is plenty of housing built in the area. If NC has a $35M piggy bank set aside just for affordable housing for

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 1:19 pm
  • Theresa Bulaong

    If there is $35M in the piggy bank set a side for affordable housing in Dare County I think it should be spent directly on that by aiding qualified low-income families. Rent is high on the beach for its reasons. It’s expensive anyway u look at it. There are already plenty of empty homes everywhere, mostly for vacation rentals. Maybe if it can worked out that more owners can rent year around to locals if they get a property tax break or credit of some kind if they list as year around rentals. Then, lower income families can apply for rental assistance that comes out of the $35M affordable housing fund. I’m not a statistical math person and even know if this would be a long term good thing. I do know that it would be a good & profitable thing if more ppl or families resided in Dare County by using the homes already built right now. If more ppl lived in just 25% of the vacant vacation rental houses in Dare County, that would address a part of the problem. There has to be some kind of benefit for owners to change their vacation rental to year around rental. A year around rental solid income sounds appealing bc with how inflation is today, less ppl can afford the weekly vacation rates. Grant the eligible low income enough each month to afford the high cost of rents and review/adjust periodically same as food stamp benefits. Thats just a thought.
    I love how passionate everyone feels about coming together when it comes to “enough is enough with destroying what natural beauty we have left in Dare County💪”

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 1:56 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    The problem is the $35 million was awarded to the county by the state for the purpose of using it specifically to build affordable housing. So there would to be some change in the legislation to make it available for other housing related purposes.

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 2:15 pm
  • Luminous

    Speaking of tactics, Mark, automatically re-characterizing, as certain commenters keep doing on Outer Banks Voice, that any and all proposed “affordable housing projects” are “low income housing”… that’s a tactic. It’s a red herring designed to signal to people who think like they do to rise up and fight, or Those People will be moving here and living here as Welfare Queens.

    One real estate website, apartmentlist.com, says the difference is that “affordable housing” is housing that can be rented with 30% of the renters’ income. Depending of course on how the rent is priced, but almost certainly how it would be priced in any new development, that’s going to be much more money than anyone who is truly “low income” (defined as having income that is 80% below the local median income) has at their disposal. Affordable housing is not supposed to be what used to be called Section-8-voucher, low-income housing. Instead it’s built for teachers and nurses and such, people working in professions that don’t pay a lot but are vital to any community.

    Right now Banks communities have unfilled vacancies in those positions because potential new, young hires can’t afford to rent here, and this problem is only going to get worse as more property is bought or built for investors. I imagine some of the same people opposed to affordable housing are also opposed to more pay for Dare County teachers.

    I’m not addressing the Woda Cooper proposals, as I don’t know what their proposed rent and qualification numbers were. I’m calling BS on this commenter tactic here that labels every single “affordable housing” proposal as “low income” housing.

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 2:51 pm
  • Business Needs

    I agree with Dylan. One of the main issues faced on the Outer Banks is the ability for local businesses to find housing for employees, especially small upcoming businesses. They cannot afford a $400,000+ house along with all the other costs of starting and running a small business. There has to be other options other than building massive lots and apartments. Providing funds for accepted local businesses, based on number of employees and to be used specifically for housing, could really be beneficial.

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 4:13 pm
  • LIHTC Housing

    Woda Cooper was proposing to build housing under the LIHTC program using Dare County taxpayer’s money and federal tax credits. LIHTC stands for Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 5:27 pm
  • Kittyhawker

    So is it a coincidence that the company that has their hand in fixing the legislation in their favor is the only contractor now?

    Saturday, Dec 2 @ 9:57 pm
  • Mike Williams

    Not sure why we are using tax payers money to subsidize private rich businesses to marginally pay their employees. Wanna fix the problem? Outlaw short term rentals. Stop trying to get rich but renting out beach houses.

    Sunday, Dec 3 @ 7:07 am
  • Chris

    Dylan is absolutely right. Give the local businesses the ability to provide housing affordably. Make sure they are overseen, regulated, but truly affordable.

    Let’s not pretend this was “workforce housing”, the main buyers would be retirees on a fixed income. We love the OBX, it’s why we moved here, it’s why my parents bought a house north of Duck in 1996, but this debate has been happening for 25+ years. The builders and developers are entrenched with the local zoning boards and government – it’s the fox watching the hen house.

    Sunday, Dec 3 @ 6:14 pm
  • Jay

    Mark J I’m looking forward to The Outer Banks Voice’s story detailing, without zeros after the decimal point 🙂 , on how the $12,000,000. was spent.

    Me having worked for state government for 30 years I’m always suspicious of public/private partnerships and privatization.

    Monday, Dec 4 @ 8:15 am
  • Charles

    Plenty of housing available here on Hatteras Island, completion of 2, yes 2, 8 bedroom houses is almost complete. Move in ready.

    Rent is only 20,000 per week.


    Monday, Dec 4 @ 9:41 am
  • Curious

    At one point the Outer Banks Community Development Corp partnered up and built several townhomes (30+ if I remember correctly). What ever happened to them? Why is nobody bringing this up?

    Is this drive for affordable housing for rent or sale? There was a study at one point about developing rentals and it didn’t look good. Anyone remember the details why that didn’t work?

    Just looking for facts and not opinions.

    Monday, Dec 4 @ 1:47 pm
  • Robin Ames

    My husband and I have two rental properties. We are committed to renting to year round tenants instead of short term rentals. Our goal is not to maximize income but to provide much needed affordable housing. We won’t get rich but the rent far exceeds the expenses.

    Monday, Dec 4 @ 10:18 pm
  • Andy

    Sorry to hear Woda Cooper is dropping out of affordable housing effort. Have been coming to OBX since 1981, and do not understand how some people do not realize the need for affordable housing (Have lived in Kitty Hawk since 2005).

    While the local economy is driven by tourism that requires seasonal workers, full time residents need police officers, fire personnel, teachers, medical personnel, business employees, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, fishermen, etc. These people need somewhere affordable to live.

    Wednesday, Dec 6 @ 5:39 pm
  • mc carlyle

    I live in the DC suburbs. Have worked in construction for over 40 years. Have seen affordable housing built in very nice areas. Over the years ALL of those areas are crime ridden dumps. Want to ruin your little paradise, install affordable housing. It will happen. Yes blind one,it will.

    Wednesday, Dec 6 @ 7:54 pm