Estate: Travel trailers as dwellings
The Ocracoke Planning Board has been working on bringing clarity to
several portions of the island’s building ordinance, at the request of
the Hyde County building inspector. The current area of discussion is
the topic of travel trailers as permanent residences.
The existing wording in the ordinance was written to address the use of
trailers by an employer for the purpose of short-term housing for an
employee. With a shortage of long- term housing on the island, trailers
are starting to provide the solution.
The expanding role of trailers in the community is not covered by the
narrow scope of the ordinance. When presented with a request to place a
trailer on an island lot, the current wording is not clear enough to
guide the building inspector in his decision-making process.
At this point in the conversation, I need to lay out a few of the
ground rules under which the board works.
- We have
appointed by the county commissioners to serve on the board.
- We operate
system of information gathering. On each topic, we are talking with
neighbors to survey their ideas and opinions. We are reading about the
same types of ordinances in other counties. We invite participation
from the villagers. Besides the initial organizational meeting, we have
had two sessions, where members of the community have requested to be
heard by the board. We have subsequently asked them to stay and to join
in the group discussion. There are a lot of knowledgeable people living
on Ocracoke and a lot of views to be expressed.
- Our role is
one of an
advisory board only. We propose the regulations, after exhaustive
discussions, and the county commissioners choose whether they will vote
that proposal into law.
proposals are not
retroactive. Trailers currently in use will not be affected by any
changes in the wording that we propose. There may be other ordinances,
building codes or health department regulations that will be enforced
on existing trailers, but any new rules will only be applied to trailer
placement which occurs after the commissioners vote on our proposals.
So, onto the discussion.
The consensus among board members and those members of the
community who attended our meetings is that the concern with travel
trailers, as permanent housing, is not one of aesthetics, but one of
health and safety.
The purpose of all regulation is to set up the guidelines which protect
the health, safety, and welfare of all citizens. The most obvious
examples when trying to guide development are those rules which apply
to the disposal of sewage.
Setbacks from property lines are an attempt to put distance between
buildings in the event of fire. Coverage of the lot has everything to
do with available soil for accepting rain water. If a lot is covered
primarily with impermeable surfaces, rain water will end up pooling in
the road or on your neighbor’s property. The North Carolina building
code calls for a structure to be built so many feet above mean high
water. Our pilings allow for storm tide to run under and around our
houses without lifting the structure off the foundation. The examples
seem endless. As trailers go from temporary housing to becoming a more
plentiful residential option, it becomes apparent that these same rules
need to apply to trailers.
The first major progress we made in this conversation was to conclude
that trailers should be considered a “dwelling.”
It sounds like a “duh” moment, but after pulling apart the
problem to get to the basis of our concerns, this label actually made
the dominoes fall into place. A dwelling is defined in the Ocracoke
building ordinance as “a single unit providing complete, independent
living facilities for a single family including permanent provisions
for living, sleeping, cooking and sanitation.”
Trailers fit this definition. Therefore, as with all dwellings, the
topics of sewage, water, electric, foundation issues, permanence, set
backs, coverage, and parking would apply.
Hyde County adopted the FEMA rules and regulations to allow homeowners
the opportunity to qualify for federal flood insurance. This may also
apply to trailers.
More specifically, our thinking is that, as with all construction in
the county, a permit is required to place a trailer dwelling on a lot.
This is not new wording. It is currently part of the building
ordinance. Some entity needs to be able to establish that a trailer,
used as a dwelling, has met all county, state and local ordinances.
The lot would need to be at least 5,000 square feet, the minimum lot
size on Ocracoke. The placement would need to meet the set back and
maximum coverage requirements already established in the ordinance. All
trailers would need to be hooked into an approved septic system. The
system would need to have the capacity to accommodate the additional
effluent from the trailer. If a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a
three-bedroom, two bath septic wanted to connect an additional trailer
dwelling, there would be no room in the system to accommodate the gray
and black water. The soil cannot handle sewage without a system for
treatment. This is a dangerous condition for the ground water table and
Trailers would need an approved water source. The options are city
water, rain water cisterns, or ground water well points which are at
least 50 feet from any point of any septic system. A water hose run to
a trailer is not an approved water source because of the potential for
back flow into the city water system.
Proper electrical connections are an essential safety issue. Parking
should be considered.
The sum total, of what it takes for a human to live, whether it be in a
trailer, a 100-square-foot or a 3,000-square-foot house is serious
business for a community.
The rules and regulations are there to protect the community and should
apply to every living arrangement.
Therein lies the intention of The Ocracoke Planning Advisory Board and
the direction in which we are moving as we rewrite the portion of the
ordinance dealing with travel trailers as residences.
We welcome your input. You can write in care of Post Office Box 366.
Please watch for meetings to be posted on the bulletin board at the
post office or feel free to contact a board member.
Oelschlegel has lived on Ocracoke Island for more than 30 years and has
worked in the real estate business for 26 years. She is a
with Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty and a real estate columnist for The
Ocracoke Observer. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected])