Kill Devil Hills to hold public hearing on cluster home development; mayor weighs in on need for long term housing

Published 5:40 pm Monday, June 12, 2023

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A public hearing is scheduled Wednesday, June 14, 2023 to gather community input for a site plan review for a proposed long-term occupancy cluster home development in Kill Devil Hills.

The development, located behind Walgreens at 207 W. Martin Street, is planned for 21 single family homes on just under two acres.

Ten of the two-story units will have two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a carport area and a deck. The total living space will be 1,297 square feet.

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Eleven of the two-story units will have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a carport area and a deck. The total living space will be 1,388 square feet.

All units are required to be used for long term occupancy, which will be written into the deed of the property and enforced. Long term occupancy is defined in the town code as at least 31 days of occupancy by a single tenant.

Though it will be the property owner’s responsibility to enforce the long-term occupancy requirement, the town will follow up on complaints if a unit is being rented on a short term basis, said assistant planning director Cameron Ray.

Ray said the town followed state guidelines in choosing the minimum number of days required for long term occupancy. “It’s based on what other towns have used and been successful,” he said.

Even though some critics say 31 days is not long enough to be considered long term, Ray explained that some seasonal or temporary positions like lifeguarding or traveling nurses may only be looking for housing for two or three months.

“If you said 365 days, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to do that. We don’t want to prohibit people who need housing from being able to use it,” he added.

Town leadership sees homes like these as beneficial to the community.

“These homes represent the successful result of a creative incentive structure recently put in place by Kill Devil Hills to encourage the creation of residential homes that will never be used as short term rentals – making them available as year round residences,” Mayor Ben Sproul said in a June 7 email to The Coastland Times.

He explained the complex situation this way: “It is widely understood that construction costs and land costs have increased sharply in recent years. High land costs often have the effect of encouraging builders to maximize the size of the home and/or increase the number of bedrooms in order to moderate the overall cost per square foot and cost per bedroom. By doing so, the land cost is spread across more square feet of home and across a larger number of bedrooms. These forces have led to a proliferation of large four and five bedroom homes being built which are out of reach for more and more workers and young families. Because these large homes do not align with the needs of the vast majority of our workforce, these larger spec homes end up as vacation rentals, second homes, and homes for retirees migrating to the area.

“The housing challenge for our area, as I see it, is mostly about trying to address an imbalance between short-term and long-term rental stock. Because short term returns on investment are generally so much higher than long-term, we must be very proactive about encouraging deed restrictions to start to move the balance in a more positive direction.

“This KDH ordinance discourages some of the counter-productive trend of building bigger and bigger homes and encourages a diversification of our housing stock to include the more modest-sized year round homes our community needs,” Sproul said.

The owner of the parcel on Martin Street, Eddie Goodrich of The Woods at Kitty Hawk, LLC, has worked with by House Engineering, P.C. to create appealing housing designs for the development.

“We’re not building housing, we’re building homes,” he stressed.

Goodrich said he’s planning on selling some of the units and keeping some of them to rent. He called them “apartment-sized houses” and said they are “perfectly suited for a husband and wife with one or two children.”

He added that the location is ideal for young families because the school and local parks are accessible without having to get on the bypass.

He’s keeping amenities to a minimum to try and keep the prices low. Because of fluctuating materials prices, he didn’t know yet what the houses would sell or rent for, but said “we can build, develop and sell as fair a price as anybody.”

“I think when most people see what we’re doing, they’ll be just fine,” Goodrich said in response to some critical comments circulating on social media about the cluster home development.

Many Outer Banks residents enjoy the wooded lots and watch in dismay as development continues all around them.

“It’s important to know that every lot in a residential area is privately owned and it is the owner’s decision to build on it or not. From a logic perspective, why would someone pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a residential lot if they were not intending to build a home eventually?” said Mayor Sproul in response to this community concern. “A ‘wooded’ lot in a neighborhood is most likely someone’s dream in the making.”

The public is invited to give input at the public hearing at the regularly scheduled commissioners meeting in the Meeting Room at the Administration Building, located at 102 Town Hall Drive. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.