Letter to the Editor: On dunes, development and density

Published 3:41 pm Friday, June 16, 2023

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To the Editor:

I read with interest the article in The Coastland Times describing Meredith Guns’ review of the proposal from Town Manager Deborah Diaz and Assistant Planning Director Cameron Ray concerning dune protection and potentially developing regulations that would exceed CAMA requirements. That article prompted me to watch the meeting and to follow the discussion about examples where development on the oceanfront is encroaching on the “non-primary” dunes, which are sometimes very hard to distinguish from primary dunes, as you all pointed out in your discussion. I believe Mayor Pro Tem Ivy Ingram mentioned receiving letters from residents near Atlantic Street in Kill Devil Hills, so I also took a look at that development on the Dare GIS Parcel Viewer. I am grateful that the Town has people in place who are mindful of the purpose dunes serve and are educated on their fragile nature. Dunes are constantly in formation and their natural tendency is to move west, so limiting westward development of these dunes will help them remain stable and functional for years to come.

I am gravely concerned about the density of the development taking place at 707 and 709 N. Virginia Dare Trail as a sign of things to come with the development of Cluster Homes in Kill Devil Hills, especially in the Ocean Impact Residential Zone. When most residents first heard of the plans for development, the words “cottage court” were used to describe it. Many people recall the cottage courts of yesteryear and had that image in mind when thinking of how the lots that once held the grand old home at 709 might be reimagined for the future. Later, the words “cottage court” were stricken from the project and the term “cluster home” replaced them. Reviewing the code definition of what a cluster home may not strike concern immediately, since the range of size is quite large (500 to 2,500 sqf). The news that there would be 14 of these homes in place was hard to imagine, but today, no imagination is needed. Thirteen of the structures are finished, the two largest on the ocean front with concrete pool decks pressed directly up against the toe of the dune. It would be interesting to see the survey of the dune line in that area to see where the actual “toe” is. I imagine this is a case exactly like the ones Ms. Guns is referring to in her call for concern about development on the dunes. This project is a canyon of homes as tall as they are allowed to be built, as large as they are allowed to be built, as close together as zoning rules allow, from the toe of the dunes to nearly the shoulder of Rt. 12.

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The developer, SAGA, originally planned 2 structures of 30 bedrooms each. Today, there are a total of 70 bedrooms and room to park 58 cars beneath the houses. Communications between SAGA and the Planning Board (1) should give us all reason to pause: “…the applicant has spent significant time and resources in pursuing this cluster development because our understanding is the Town wants to encourage such developments. (emphasis added). This fire suppression requirement for each of these smaller structures will make this development unfeasible.” I am hopeful that Mayor Sproul did not have development like this in mind when he spoke of protecting “homeowners'” million dollar properties. The fire at another SAGA property in June, 2021 shows how vulnerable oversized development and neighboring structures are to fire. It is concerning that more lessons weren’t learned from that event. How residents in this cluster home development would be evacuated in such an emergency would be hard to imagine, much less allowing emergency vehicles to reach the houses by the dunes.

Since 2019, The Town of KDH has reduced the the frontage requirements on Cluster Home developments from 100 ft to 75 and the side yard setbacks reduced to 10 feet. The result of these changes can now be seen from Baker St. in Kill Devil Hills. The development of high density, high risk, high impact projects in the Ocean Impact Residential Zone of Kill Devil Hills must stop here.

Stephanie Estes

Midlothian, Va.