Zoning fixes could put existing living space on the affordable list

By on June 4, 2018

Accessory buildings such as converted garages could help address the affordable housing shortage on the Outer Banks if zoning laws were adjusted to allow more flexibility, according to The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce.

Reading from a letter as part of the Chamber’s role in finding ways to diversify the local economy and create affordable housing, President Bob Peele told the Dare County Board of Commissioners Monday that without changes in zoning, the task would be difficult.

Accessory dwelling units are numerous in the county, but many are technically illegal and owners cannot freely market them, according to County Manager Bobby Outten.

The letter recommended that uniform standards for the units be applied to zoning districts across the county to bring more existing accessory space into compliance and allow construction of more. In Wanchese and East Lake, the county should require only that the structures be smaller than the main house on a property, it said.

The county should also remove a requirement that owners must reside in the main dwelling, the Chamber recommended.

Otherwise, the Chamber wrote, most restrictions, including a prohibition against selling an accessory dwelling unit separately and keeping them out of front yards, should remain in place.

Meanwhile, lot sizes should be the same for duplexes as those for single-family homes in zoning districts where they are allowed, the Chamber suggested, to provide an option for twice the housing at more affordable rates.

Where zoning allows apartments complexes, parking should be reduced from 2.5 spaces to one per bedroom.

“This change could encourage the development of smaller, more affordable dwelling units,” the Chamber wrote.

Commissioner Rob Ross asked Peele if building apartments over garages or adding separate living areas to houses was also a possibility.

“We’re looking at everything,” Peele said. “This is the low-hanging fruit, if you will, where we feel there are some inconsistences in the current zoning.”

Outten said that limitations on the availability of land and the poor investment return on affordable housing is steering the discussion toward “can we do something with the housing stock that we have in place?”

Chamber President Karen Brown said that about 3,000 affordable housing units are needed in Dare County. Peele and Brown plan to also take their recommendations to the county’s six incorporated towns.

Affordable rental housing generally means less than $750 a month, according to a study by RTI International that was commissioned by Dare County in 2016.

Later in the meeting, board Chairman Bob Woodard put the brakes on extending the Chamber’s $25,000 annual contract for implementing the Economic Development and Diversification Strategic Plan, which was commissioned by the board to the N.C. State University consultants.

The plan is part of an effort to diversify the economy beyond the core industries of tourism, building and fishing. Affordable housing is a vital component of the effort.

Commissioners concurred with Woodard that county officials need to meet with the chamber committee to set specific goals and ways to measure progress toward them.

“I’d be in total agreement with that,” said Commissioner Steve House, “because the way it is now, there are some goals to be met and some expectations, but I don’t think they’ve been clearly defined.”

Meanwhile, the board agreed to instruct the Planning Department to put together zoning recommendations based on the Chamber’s letter.

Woodard said that the incorporated towns need to do more in the effort to encourate homebuilders to create affordable housing.

“I can’t be adamant enough. I’ve been through this way too many years,” Woodard said, “that you’ve got to have some give and take from the building industry and from the municipalities and the county in order to make affordable housing work in Dare County. It will not work unless you have some concensus to make some changes. It’s that simple.”


  • Thinking About the Future

    Thanks for this article. I’ve been wondering whatever came from that land use survey, hopefully, many of us filled out.

    It has taken “way too many years”, so let us hope that Dare County can move forward and make these zoning changes well thought out and put them into play soon.

    Monday, Jun 4 @ 4:07 pm
  • Stan Clough

    I am glad to see our County leadership working towards a good direction with affordable housing, obviously our towns could not care less !

    Monday, Jun 4 @ 4:57 pm
  • Duke Geraghty

    This seems about the 5th time we have taken the first step. Kudos to the Chamber for following through again and I hope it is not just another report that sits on the shelf. Accessory units are the easiest and most cost effective way of providing affordable housing in Dare County. As the writer noted, it will take a change of attitude among the municipalities and the county to make this happen.

    Monday, Jun 4 @ 4:57 pm
  • Jason Chrismon

    I would close in the bottom of my house and turn it into a nice affordable two bedroom apartment but unfortunately flood zoning prevents that

    Monday, Jun 4 @ 6:36 pm
  • Marsha

    This is a good thing but a better move would be to change the laws that protect the tenant more than the landlord in NC. The landlord has such poor protection to protect themselves from deadbeats or distructive tenants that so many landlords have given up on renting to local people. A good hard look at what those laws are doing to the housing industry is worth taking a look at.

    Monday, Jun 4 @ 6:44 pm
  • Darkseas

    I hope the Dare County Commissioners think long and hard about what they are doing before they jump into this.

    Lots of property owners would love to build habitable accessory structures, but not for affordable housing. They’d like to get a summer’s full of tourist rentals or run year-round Airbnb. Preventing this would require a huge new chunk of County bureaucracy.

    We won’t mention the effect on neighborhoods in terms of parking, traffic, storm water, and septic systems that would arise, even if the structures were only used for affordable housing.

    Such structures will not be inexpensive to build or convert. Once done, it will be in the owners’ interest to keep them occupied at the highest rate of return 365 days a year. There will be no going back.

    I don’t think the problem of a lack of affordable housing will be as easy to solve as the Chamber seems to think.

    Monday, Jun 4 @ 8:33 pm
  • Pat Broom

    I think it is a strong statement that the first two comments on this story are from Stan Clough and Duke Geraghty – two very knowledgeable and experience builders and leaders on the land use / building community of the Outer Banks. The time has come to deal with this issue, not just talk about it, and it is so encourage to see the our key business organizations, the Chamber and the Homebuilders Association, working together to move towards a solution. Let’s hope that governments, too, partner with business to make affordable housing a reality.

    Monday, Jun 4 @ 8:35 pm
  • Tim Copeland

    It seems the popular trend is to take a single family home and turn it into a multi unit by renting out rooms. I know this is happening in KDH.

    Monday, Jun 4 @ 9:22 pm
  • Big lots

    All of the box stores are hideous. Enormous parking lots that are full 2x a year? And never at the same time. Drive down the bypass and look at all the vacant parking. This area needs mixed use development more than any area but we keep seeing big boxes go up and waste land for parking.
    The best commercial building on the beach is saga/heroics. Parking underneath, mixed use building.

    Monday, Jun 4 @ 10:18 pm
  • jackie harris

    It appears to me that the Chamber wants the citizens to provide housing for the summer help so that the business’s can make more money at the cost of the neighborhood’s! Darksea’s has some good point’s, One is who will enforce these new rule’s (County will have to add inspector’s)? Most Septic systems that are already installed were not designed for additional bedroom’s!.

    Tuesday, Jun 5 @ 8:07 am
  • Mike Gaskill

    The one thing that keeps most low life’s from this area is the fact they can’t afford to live here. Good luck thinking the landlords are gonna keep crime and drugs out. Low income style housing breeds crime. This is all about pleasing builders who have ran out of space to put houses. Nothing wrong with ‘mother in law “ style houses or lofts next to main dwellings. I’m sorry you own a business but can’t find workers because of the high cost of living. That’s capitalism. Not everyone of these businesses are supposed to be successful.

    Tuesday, Jun 5 @ 8:16 am
  • Really?

    So this is what its come to huh? Living in mommy’s basement. Let’s just double the congestion and cram them in there.

    Tuesday, Jun 5 @ 9:02 am
  • BubbaOBX

    I agree with many of the cautionary remarks already made… Overloading septic systems, absentee landlords (think “slum lords”) who will only be interested in making maximum profits & not carrying about the neighbors, etc, etc, etc.
    We DO need affordable housing.
    I suggest you look long & hard at the lower Florida Keys and see the mess they’re in now after Hurricane Irma flooded most of the “affordable housing” areas.

    Tuesday, Jun 5 @ 10:30 am
  • OBXnative

    Agree with those who question this boom and bust proposal by the Chamber of Commerce and county commissions. You can’t have it both ways: a tourist oriented economy and an area that tourists will shun because of all the congestion caused by a large increase of low-cost housing.

    Tuesday, Jun 5 @ 1:27 pm
  • Insert Palm in Face Emoji Here

    Has the chamber put ANY thought into this at all? Do they really think we are going to build accessory dwellings for locals? I’m going to build mine, put it on AirBnB and only have to deal with a tenant a few months a year and make twice as much as I would with a local living in there year round. Shaking my head……but thankful this option is being considered. I’d use my profits from my accessory dwelling to buy another property to rent to tourists.

    Tuesday, Jun 5 @ 2:04 pm
  • surf123

    Make no mistake, the overall goal of the Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Board is to pack as many people here as is possible. If they had it there way we only have 20 story hotels lining the streets and no houses. They could care less about anything other than money. @Mike Gaskill is exactly right “not everyone of these businesses are supposed to be successful”.

    Tuesday, Jun 5 @ 4:47 pm
  • Bud

    The Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Board need to be disbanded. There is no purpose for them here that will benefit the people.
    The outcome of their goals include the destruction of the area, loss of livelihood, loss of heritage, loss of family land, corruption, crime, etc.

    Wednesday, Jun 6 @ 7:29 am
  • Stan Clough

    Golden Colorado has some very interesting and successful ways to deal with accessory dwelling units.

    Wednesday, Jun 6 @ 4:51 pm
  • surf123

    After pondering this overnight I have figured out (as others have) that allowing this type of housing is just another way to get more people here. This is an alternate approach to increasing the height restriction, which will succumb to the pressures of the tourism board at some point. Greed almost always wins.

    Saturday, Jun 9 @ 4:07 pm