Moving forward on travel trailers as residences
By B.J. OELSCHLEGEL
was 5:30 p.m. when I pulled into the very crowded parking lot of The
Ocracoke Community Center. The meeting for The Ocracoke Planning
Advisory Board had been advertised with the topic for discussion being
travel trailers as residential structures.
I’ve been part of the board for five or so years now and I had never
seen this many people interested in the workings of the group. Or maybe
it wasn’t the workings.
As the meeting came to order, it was apparent that emotions were
The first half hour of the meeting was taken up with the explanation of
how the board came to be, our role in planning development on the
island, and a reiteration of how we see ourselves as the voice for the
The board continues to see the fact that so many showed up to voice
their opinions as a good thing.
We have had meetings with advocates for and against travel trailers;
and we represent both sides.
After establishing the ground rules for civil discourse, we had a very
beneficial give-and-take between the board and the audience.
We have been working on this subject for three to four meetings. With
long-term housing at a premium, we knew that trailers were our
short-term solution. We saw the need to take the very narrow permission
for the use of travel trailers in the current ordinance and expand it.
Allowing travel trailers to solve this housing problem would require
regulation to guarantee health and safety standards. No question is
easy, and we threw back to the audience the roadblocks we had
encountered as we tried to think through the ramifications of one
direction or another.
As an added resource, we had invited the Hyde County
Building/Enforcement Officer Jerry Hardison and the Hyde County Health
Inspector, Hugh Watson.
Between the creativity and brain power in the audience, the history of
the labored discussions within the board, and the legal guidelines from
the two county reps, we were able to begin using the word ‘consensus”
as we progressed with the debate.
I love saying the word “consensus” and Ocracoke together in the same
sentence. There has been more than one line drawn in the sand, over the
years. It doesn’t take much to spark a fire. It is so easy to take a
kernel of truth about a topic and layer it with emotional reactions to
the subject, rather than the facts.
At the outset of the evening, it looked like it might become a blood
bath. The room leveled out when it became apparent that the audience
was being heard. They were part of the process.
I’m sure that not everyone will be 100 percent happy with the outcome,
but we are progressing towards a standard for a living unit that will
be consistent with the building ordinance.
It was clear to all who attended that the focus of reworking
section of the ordinance dealing with travel trailers has to be health
One of our major hurdles was a piece of new information that came a day
before the meeting.
We had been heading in the direction of labeling travel trailers as
dwellings, when used for residential purposes. It seemed to make sense,
and it appeared to allow the dominoes to fall into place on all aspects
of categorizing this new beast.
That was until the building inspector uncovered a regulation that
states that North Carolina does not recognize travel trailers as
He is not allowed to write a permit for a travel trailer to be used as
We were back to the drawing board. During the meeting, it was decided
that a travel trailer could be called an accessory structure and
permitted to be used for residential purposes if the following
conditions were met:
- A legal
the residential setback requirements
- No more
connections for water, sewer and electric. (A trailer could be ready to
- for a
hurricane at a
- No conflict
subdivision ordinance against the placement of a trailer
One of the last big questions is “How many trailers to a lot?” If the
health department considers a travel trailer as one bedroom and a three
bedroom septic system exists on a lot, does that mean that three
trailers should be allowed to be placed on a lot?
One of the committee’s concerns is density and the consequences of
three travel trailers on the minimum lot of 5,000 square feet.
After two hours of work, we had run out of time. There will be another
meeting dedicated to the topic of travel trailers. The board will
reword the ordinance for travel trailers. This will need to be put
before the county attorney; and we would need to have a public hearing
before sending the final draft to the commissioners for inclusion in
The Ocracoke Building Ordinance.
As we put the tables away, we all agreed that the meeting had been
As a child of the ‘60s, my heart would have been warmed by being able
to say that we finished out the night by forming a circle, holding
hands, and singing “kumbaya.”
That didn’t happen. Something just as extraordinary did.
I am encouraged by what can come out of a group of people pooling their
brain power, listening to one another, respecting the opinion of the
other, and keeping the kernel of truth as the primary intention.
(B.J. Oelschlegel has lived on Ocracoke Island for more than 30 years
and has worked in the real estate business for 26 years. She
broker with Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty and a real estate columnist for
The Ocracoke Observer. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected])