KDH commissioners will take on building height debate

By on April 19, 2017

The Ramada was built before the rules were in place.

Debate over building heights turned Tuesday to whether Kill Devil Hills wants to continue to see big houses lining the oceanfront or new hotels that might host more people in one place.

The town’s Planning Board was presented with a proposal that would trade off additional space between property lines and buildings for an extra 8 feet in height on the east side of N.C. 12. The idea was a variation on one that was withdrawn last month.

Ben Cahoon, representing two property owners, argued that the change to a 50-foot maximum would simply give developers the option to build hotels at heights already allowed on the west side of N.C. 12.


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Five hotels on the oceanfront, he said, already exceed the 42-foot minimum. They were built before the height rules were imposed more than 30 years ago and no new ones have gone up since the mid-1980s.

In the end, the Board voted 3-2 with one member absent to send Cahoon’s proposal to the Board of Commissioners with a recommendation not to approve it.

By then, two board members, and Chairman Stan Clough, who votes only to break ties, said they were not opposed to the height increase but wanted to see even more space added to the side setbacks. The Planning Board cannot make changes to a proposal, but Commissioners can. In that case, the request would have to go back to the Planning Board for another review.

Cahoon’s proposal included adding at least 5 feet and up to 7 feet on either side, which would increase the setbacks to between 17 and 19 feet, much less than 40 feet required across the street.

But he argued that 50 percent of the parking on the oceanfront has to be under a building. By contrast, parking lots on the west side cover much more space and can still encroach on neighboring homes and businesses.

Monday marked the third time Cahoon, representing Jeff Fabrikant and Randy Saunders, has asked for an increase in building heights. The first proposal sought an increase to 65 feet. Last month, he proposed measuring from the top of the dune line rather than from the level of the lot.

Town officials, and public opinion, have consistently been against increasing heights on the oceanfront. The 20-year-old land use plan calls for low-profile buildings, but that has led to the rapid growth of construction of large oceanfront houses, often derided as mini-hotels, with as many as 24 bedrooms.

Cahoon argued, and some Planning Board members agreed, that it was time for the town to rethink its policies. Old hotels are giving way to the houses because of the rules and potentially better returns on investments.

“Would it change the character to the beach road? Yes,” Cahoon said. “Potentially to a single building with some green space in front of it rather than six, seven or eight mansions with seven driveways, seven curb cuts, seven dumpsters in front of them.”

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Harriet Klatte

I have vacationed in Nags Head since 1964 when my family would stay in Gregory’s Cottages the last two weeks of July every summer. As an adult, we now save up our money for a year to make the trip bi-yearly, renting an ocean-front beach house for one week along with ten other people. We vacation in the OBX because it’s NOT Hilton Head with its hotels lining up and down the beach; and it’s NOT the Jersey Shore to Virginia Beach with their boardwalks along the beaches. We come to the OBX because we can stay in a beach… Read more »