Housing is a big issue in Dare County

Published 2:13 pm Monday, April 15, 2024

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During a specially called meeting, Dare County Board of Commissioners listened to 30 citizens criticize the board’s actions and Coastal Affordable Housing LLC, ask for transparency in government and offer suggestions about what to do about the lack of affordable housing in the county.

The meeting room was jammed with citizens.

Drawing multiple rounds of applause was the demand to sever ties with Coastal Affordable Housing LLC and send the $35 million back to the State of North Carolina.

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“Walk away from it. Send it back. It’s not a good fit. Go back to square one,” said Cynthia Holda, representing the board of the Manns Harbor Civic Association, the only group to offer comments.

Michelle Hall, from Kill Devil Hills, was the first to bring up Jordan Hennessey, one of the principals in Coastal Affordable Housing LLC. She accused Hennessey of the surprise legislation stripping Dare’s municipalities of powers to regulate affordable housing projects. “Cut ties with Coastal Affordable Housing LLC. Send the funds back to the state,” she said.

Josh Caffee from Manteo said that there existed “a huge conflict of interest with Jordan Hennessey.” He urged the commissioners to find a better solution.

The project’s pre-development agreement was criticized.
Aida Havel, a Salvo divorce attorney and candidate for the Board of Commissioners, called the project a “shot gun wedding” and a “bad agreement baby.” She cited figures. Coastal Affordable Housing LLC promised 300 to 400 multi-family housing units would be delivered by the end of 2023. “It’s a disaster. It’s time for a divorce.”

The meeting started at 9 a.m. Some 25 people spoke before a break at 10:37. Five more citizens spoke until 11:20 a.m.

County manager Robert L. Outten then outlined the steps the county and the commissioners have taken. He started with the statement, “the county cannot build housing.” Initially, the county attempted attract developers to build below market housing with incentives. Efforts were unsuccessful.

The county then turned to the Development Finance Initiative, a non-profit organization associated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The commissioners set aside $12 million for subsidies. The group tried to attract developers.

Later, commissioner Ervin Bateman detailed that he was notified of the $35 million for housing in the state’s budget. He called board Chairman Robert L. Woodard, Vice Chairman Wally Overman and Outten, all of whom knew nothing about the possibility of $35 million for housing.

Strings came with the $35 million, including that the project must be a public-private partnership. Outten said a request for qualifications was issued. Two entities applied: Woda Cooper and Coastal Affordable Housing LLC. Judd K. Roth Real Estate Development, Allentown, Pa., and North Port, Fla., also submitted a response, but was eliminated by consensus.

The commissioners awarded a $12 million project on Bowsertown Road to Woda Cooper. The company developed two projects. The Bowsertown project was twice turned down by the Town of Manteo. A second project was proposed for Nags Head, which put on a moratorium and then changed the zoning.

The $35 million legislation had flaws. Reported Outten, the funds initially assigned were federal funds with additional strings attached. It took a long time to have state funds appropriated. Outten said the county has had the money since spring of 2023.

Outten related the kinds of investigations needed to figure out how much the public-private partnership could spend: engineering, zoning, market study, tax ramifications.

Outten addressed the question of paid bills. “To my knowledge,” only expenses have been paid.

About the criticism that the below-market rate only lasts for 35 years and should be in perpetuity, he said that it was “difficult to agree on everything.”
Outten introduced the last agenda item: Where do we go from here?

“I stand ready to follow your direction,” said the county manager.

Commissioner Rob Ross met with Woda Cooper in Ohio and then, later, got the news: “Rob we’re withdrawing.”

Said Ross, “we have strived for four and half years to make … housing available … We have not been successful.”

Commissioner Steve House told of his own search for housing when he came to work for Dare County. He mentioned the current situations of fishermen not able to afford housing due to regulations; of College of The Albemarle graduates finding it very difficult to find housing. He said he didn’t know if the citizens of Dare County actually wanted it.

Commissioner Danny Couch was brief: “Send the money back.”

With the $35 million, Bateman thought, “we can make things happen here. It didn’t work out.”

Bateman said “I’m done. I want to proceed forward. I don’t know what we’re going to do … It’s time to cut our losses and go forward.”
Overman thanked the speakers and said the board started the process with the best intentions and has been proactive with housing. Public outcry in Nags Head and Manteo had their commissioners listening to its citizens.

Woodard thanked the commenters and said the email received by the board would be make a part of the record.

With chagrin, Woodard commented about what teachers and EMTs heard, that people did not want them next door or in the neighborhood. Apparent to Woodard, “we cannot live in harmony.”

He repeated again that the board did not support HB 259, the insert in the budget stripping away the powers of Dare’s municipalities. “No way will we support legislation that takes away the sovereignty of a municipality.”

Woodard finished by saying “Unfortunately, this is not the time and place for Dare County to approve essential and workforce housing. It is clearly NIMBY [not in my backyard].”

Woodard said he would keep the Housing Task Force in place to see if they can come up with something.

Commissioner Bea Basnight said “I don’t think our county residents really want it. It’s time to cut our losses.”

House made the motion to halt the project and give the authority to the county manager to unwind the project. The motion was unanimously passed.

Suggestions for solving the housing issue were offered by speakers. Some would involve negotiating with the General Assembly to repurpose the current legislation and keep the $35 million in Dare County. Others offered specific government actions requiring new regulations. Some of the suggestions made by speakers for the Housing Task Force to consider:

Encourage businesses to provide housing.

Work with non-profits to provide housing. “Do it with groups here.” Suggested were the Dare Education Foundation, Outer Banks Hospital, the YMCA, Room in the Inn, Outer Banks Development Corporation.

Buy land in Currituck and Tyrrell counties. Use vans and buses to bring workers to Dare. Offer a gasoline stipend.

Buy land throughout Dare County. “Got to have a place to build.”

Buy houses that are falling in the ocean.

Provide mixed-use zoning.

Change the ordinance regarding mobile homes.

Live aboard boats in a marina.

Buy Waterfall Park [in Rodanthe] for essential housing or tiny homes.

Draw up regulations on Airbnbs.

Develop tax incentives.

“It’s an issue all over the country. Look at other examples.”

“People go where roads go. Give us a four-lane. Look westward.”

Thirty speakers came to the podium to state positions and offer suggestions. The speakers, in order of sign-up, are: Abbi Siler, Elizabeth Newman, Cynthia Holda, Michelle Hall, Jeanine Emery, Robert Zampardy, Susan Bothwell, Ashhet Daniels, Bob Muller, Clifford Baron, Aida Havel, Harbor McDaniel, Amy Phillips, Jason Fleck, Olivia Pratt, Eddie Goodrich, Karen Blose, Alan Creech, Brittany Slaughter, Josh Caffee, Anne Deornellas, Griffin Glover, Dock Sawyer, Katie Morgan, Brianne Bailey, Willo Ray, John Robbins, Michelle Lewis, Ruth Stetson and Malcolm Fearing.