Nags Head approves moratorium on area that would include proposed essential housing development
Published 6:05 pm Tuesday, October 25, 2022
After much divided public input, Nags Head commissioners voted in the moratorium on building in a specific area of town for up to 150 days at last Wednesday’s public hearing.
The moratorium will affect all commercial, mixed use and all non-single family or non-two-family residential developments in the C-2, or General Commercial Zoning District, from Danube Street north to Hollowell Street, between US Highway 158 and NC 12.
Commissioners suggested the halt at the October 5 commissioners meeting following about a dozen complaints from neighbors of a 4.7-acre vacant lot at 100 E. Hollowell Street, upon learning that the lot was chosen for the development of 54 essential and workforce housing units.
However, Nags Head commissioners are claiming that the moratorium isn’t about affordable housing at all. “I would like to say this isn’t on affordable housing. They want to make it about affordable housing. This isn’t about affordable housing,” Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Siers said, chairing the meeting in the absence of Mayor Ben Cahoon. “… It’s about a moratorium. It should have been in place in ’17. And much like elected officials, things get pushed down the road. There’s other issues there besides this property. That’s not why we’re here.”
The stated purpose of the moratorium is to allow staff to conduct a detailed review of the town’s zoning map and its consistency with the town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which apparently they’ve been meaning to do for five years.
“At this time, based upon the broad number of uses allowed in the C-2 district, as well as the density and intensity criteria allowed within the C-2 district … we believe any new development other than residential poses a serious and permanent threat to the integrity of this area. We believe that the current ordinances do not adequately regulate or address development that would protect the values and goals desired within the historic character area,” planning director Kelly Wyatt said.
Wyatt presented future possibilities for a land use map with 16 different types of zoning designations. Each of these areas would have specific limitations regarding density, home size and types of commercial businesses allowed. The parcel in question between E. Hollowell and Conch Street would be designated Beach Road Historic Commercial.
However, many community leaders see the moratorium very specifically as a move against essential and workforce housing.
“People in this county have been pleading with us. ‘Do something. Please, commissioners, do something.’ Our essential workers … are begging us. ‘Please, allow us a safe, clean, affordable place to live,’” said Dare County commissioner Rob Ross. “The number one strategic issue that we are confronted with as a county, meeting after meeting, over a number of years, is essential housing – housing for people who basically run and support our county – to live in.”
Ross said the housing would be for people like teachers, first responders, administrative staff and hospital staff. “Are we really telling them it’s okay to work in our counties, in our towns, in our schools, in our restaurants, but not so much okay to live here?” he asked Nags Head commissioners.
Karen Brown, president and CEO of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, spoke of the thousands of employees and businesses on the Outer Banks: “If Nags Head moves forward with the moratorium on any development that could include much needed workforce housing, we will be taking a step backwards in our efforts to help our community. We will continue to lose not only service workers, hospitality industry workers, restaurant, and retail workers, we will lose our professionals as well. Nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, teachers, bankers and more cannot find rental housing on the Outer Banks or even near the Outer Banks.”
“We seem to find it easier to say no than to find a way to make things work. The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce is supportive of any development that brings much needed housing to our workforce, to the area. Without finding and supporting these solutions, we are not supporting our local business community or our local economy,” Brown added.
Kitty Hawk Kites owner John Harris submitted a letter explaining the struggles his business has faced with a shrinking pool of available housing. “Three of our store managers lost their year-round rental homes to Airbnb this year. Two of them have unable to find new year-round housing,” read Kitty Hawk Kite employee Luke Baer, voicing the letter from Harris at the meeting.
According to Harris, the lack of housing has unpleasant ripples. “If services degrade, people won’t be back. We have heard guests saying they weren’t coming back because their vacation rental wasn’t clean or the HVAC was out all week. All these issues are workforce related. If we do not provide a good service level to our guests, the demand for rentals will fall, which could reduce property values … If the identified property won’t work for some reason, then the town should work to identify those that might work. It is going to take all town and county businesses and the Outer Banks community working together to solve the problem. It’s a huge problem and causing a degradation of all services on the Outer Banks.”
One of these services, according to Dare County Board of Education Chairman David Twiddy, is the education workforce. Twiddy spoke of the long waiting list for teacher housing and the county’s struggle to hire teachers and other necessary staff members. He said some students are walking over a mile to the bus stop because there aren’t enough drivers.
He recounted a common scenario in the district office when a teacher is offered a position: “When they start going around throughout the county, they realize they can’t find a place to live, so then they pick up the phone. ‘I’m sorry. Thank you for the opportunity. I love the area, but I cannot find a place to live. So I decline the position.’ So that means we’ve got to start the process all over again. So I’m here on behalf of our Board of Education today asking you to look into the essential affordable housing starting here in Nags Head and then other parts of the county.”
Ronnie Sloan, Outer Banks Hospital president, wrote a letter to commissioners explaining the impact the lack of housing is having in our community. “The longer we wait to implement solutions, the larger the challenges become to make affordable housing available for essential workforce in our community. And make no mistake, this issue affects access to high quality healthcare for both tourists and residents. Currently, The Outer Banks Hospital and Medical Group has 75 open positions. That is 14% of our workforce … Housing is a key reason that candidates turned down job offers. Lack of essential housing is a mounting risk to high quality healthcare here in the Outer Banks.”
Sloan continued, “We appreciate the action Dare County took earlier this year to develop and finalize plans for two workforce housing developments in Manteo and Nags Head. While I understand the concerns that these of those who own property and live nearby, halting the progress of additional housing in Nags Head allows the housing problem to continue to escalate. All the towns on the barrier island must come together to locate and implement new housing opportunities for those who dedicate their livelihood to serving Outer Banks communities. Lack of essential housing is a threat for all Outer Banks residents and we must work collaboratively and urgently towards finding solutions.”
Denis Blackburne, senior vice president of Woda Cooper Companies, spoke to commissioners and community members with the purpose of clarifying what the development is and what it is not. Blackburne said it is not a federal or Town of Nags Head development, but rather will be privately owned and managed by Woda Cooper or an affiliate. It is not Section 8, so it’s not public housing nor a development that has vouchers.
“The budget at the moment has about $240,000 in terms of total development cost per unit. So this is a strong, quality development that we put in place,” he said.
“We are not requesting any specific financial support from the Town of Nags Head and we’re not requesting any change in the in the zoning. This is what attracted us to this particular site. Because the zoning allowed for this type of development – it allowed for multifamily residential development, which is what we do. And the density where we are is way below what would be allowed in terms of density,” Blackburne said.
The development is planned for 54 units – 10 one-bedroom, 38 two-bedroom and six three-bedroom units. Amenities include a fitness room, a multi-purpose room and washer-dryer hookups as well as a laundry center. The outside offers a children’s play area, picnic tables, and grills.
Rent would be based on income. “We are targeting people that are in between 40, 60 and 80% of the area medium income (AMI),” Blackburne said. For example, at the 60% level of AMI, the rent for a two-bedroom unit would be $936; for someone in the 80% AMI level, rent for a three-bedroom unit would be $1291. At current rates, qualified renters in the 80% AMI level can earn up to $63,120.
The last person to speak in person during the public hearing was Dare County Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard, imploring Nags Head commissioners to be cautious with the moratorium. “I would hope that you would really take a hard, hard look at establishing a moratorium and plans, as rumored, to change the zoning in this area so that this would not be allowed. If the if not this site, commissioners, where? I’ve not heard anything from any of you or the mayor … [about a site] that this could potentially be on.”
“We have a moral responsibility and an obligation to make this happen,” Woodard continued.
“I’m hoping that you’re not sending a message to the gentleman that sits to my right who wears that uniform, who puts his life on the line every single day for you. For the firemen in our community who does the same thing to protect your dwelling. To the Emergency Management folks out there that are available 24/7 if you’ve got a 911 call, that will come to your home and take care of you. Or the educators in our community that teach our children. Or to the Restaurant Association that provides chefs and workers in our restaurants where you go to eat. Or the hospitality industry that takes care of the hotels and motels, the property management firms. Or those tellers at the banks that work in our community. Or those retail people that work in our retail stores. Please tell me that you’re not sending a message to those individuals that I just spoke of that you don’t want them in your neighborhood and you don’t want them as your neighbor. Think hard. Think hard. Do the right thing Nags Head. For the citizens and those in need of help in our community,” Woodard concluded.
Town manager Andy Garman read letters from neighbors of the development site urging commissioners to choose another location. “Our community embodies the historical character of Nags Head and we believe it must be preserved. The proposed development of the tract in question into a low-income, high density region appears to violate simple common sense and strategic development planning of the Virginia Dare Beach Road area that is characterized today by user-owned, high-value homes. We believe that there’s a need for low-income housing alternatives but surely not in the middle of high tourist visited state park national landmark and beach access area. We believe that there are a number of development site alternatives whose location could better serve this housing requirement,” said Ches and Karen Harris.
Other neighbors mentioned a concern for drainage issues, property values and traffic.
Before the vote, Siers stated that Nags Head commissioners had not made aware of the development plan until it was mentioned in the mayor’s committee meeting in September and it would have gone “right under the radar much like, probably, your Kitty Hawk project.”
Nags Head commissioner Bob Sanders said, “I agree that we need affordable housing, we need essential housing, but as I look back on the comprehensive plan from Nags Head there are such areas that are designated for this. And this is a very environmentally sensitive area and a historic area and I believe that that’s why we’re even looking at placing a moratorium on this area so that we can have some more time to just figure things out. I would look forward to working with Woda Cooper on some other areas but it’s just, it’s a tough decision, and I think we need a little more time to look at it and look at this area and take everything into consideration.”
The vote was unanimous 4-0 in favor of the moratorium. Those present were Siers, Sanders, Renee Cahoon and Kevin Brinkley.
After the meeting, Woodard said in an email to The Coastland Times that the decision was “extremely disappointing.” However, Woodard added, “The Dare County Board of Commissioners are committed to providing Essential Housing for those in need and we will NOT give up until we see Essential Housing built.”