October 7, 2014

  Ocracoke travel trailer amendment on chopping block

The Ocracoke Advisory Planning Board voted at its September meeting to recommend removing the travel trailer section of the Ocracoke Development Ordinance (ODO) on the premise that it duplicates FEMA and other governmental rules.  

Travel trailers as housing on Ocracoke have been controversial for the last few years.  In 2011, the Planning Board while Darlene Styron was county commissioner began looking at regulating campers as their use increased by island employers needing summer housing for their employees.

“Travel trailers as ‘dwellings’ don’t exist in the state building code,” explained Tom Pahl, a former chairman of the Planning Board.   The trailer amendment adopted by the board in 2012 says that if trailers are lived in for more than 30 days, they must be permitted, road-ready and licensed and connected to electric and septic.  

“We wanted them ready to roll in a hurricane,” Pahl said.

In addition, the amendment addressed health and safety concerns by requiring campers be connected to legal electric and septic.  

"We had trailers on the island that were connected by garden hoses and extension cords, and draining septic waste into make-shift drains,” Pahl said.  “It wasn’t safe for the people living in the trailers and it wasn't fair to the neighbors."

“Not everyone thinks a bunch of travel trailers look good on Ocracoke,” responded B.J. Oelschlegel, a realtor, who was chairwoman of the Planning Board when the local amendment was crafted.

The current configuration of board members reviewing the ODO has found that several governmental agencies already regulate habitation in travel trailers.  

“FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has its own regulations and they’re starting to enforce them,” retired lawyer and Hyde County Commissioner for Ocracoke John Fletcher noted in an interview about the proposed removal of the amendment.  

“Then there are the state regulations and the county building code. Why have another one? The building inspector has enough of a problem (with permanent structures) than to address a transitory problem.”

Fletcher campaigned for county commissioner in 2012 on rescinding this ordinance.

Since the Planning Board--which is advisory to the county commissioners--has voted on this recommendation, Fletcher can put it on the commissioners’ agenda at any time for a vote. Fletcher said he would probably put removal of the amendment on the Nov. 3 commissioners’ agenda to give the community time to talk about it.

“They have, in effect, made a recommendation to the county commissioners,” Pahl said of the Planning Board’s decision. “But the commissioners have to have a public hearing before they can act on this recommendation.”  

The next Planning Board on Thursday, Oct. 9, at 5:30 p.m. in the Ocracoke School Commons room. It is open to the public.

Corky Pentz, current chairman of the Advisory Planning Board, said that after the board finishes its review of the ODO, it may reincorporate some trailer items not covered by FEMA or others into a revised ODO that will be sent to the North Carolina School of Government for legal review.

Oelschlegel is concerned about the removal of the amendment.  

“We went through a lengthy process that was incredibly democratic and consensus-based, and now they want to throw it out?” said Oelschlegel. “How often will FEMA be here and how much control of our own destiny does this community want to lose?”

“But FEMA’s rules trump everything and they’ve been here and are enforcing their rules,” noted Pentz.

FEMA’s rules have been adopted by the state, and the county has included FEMA rules in the flood code, he said.  In addition, there are the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) rules which govern wetlands.  Ocracoke and most of mainland Hyde are in a designated flood zone.

According to FEMA guidelines, single-chassis RVs used for housing for fewer than 180 days must be fully licensed and ready for highway use. Trailers must have inflated tires or a jacking system, be attached to the site only by quick disconnect-type utilities and have no permanently attached additions such as a deck or screen room.  

Both North Carolina and FEMA rules say RVs in use more than 180 days must be elevated seven feet above the mean high sea level and must include permanent foundations and anchoring the same as manufactured homes.
Under FEMA rules, Pentz explained, if a trailer is used for permanent housing, it must meet all the requirements for new construction, including separate electric and water meters, a septic hook-up, valid license plates and insurance. The cost of these actions typically exceeds $7,000.  

A controversial section of the trailer amendment is the lot requirement. The ODO allows any residence or business to install one travel trailer. Second trailers must be on lots of at least 5,000 square feet.

“Five thousand square feet is enough for a duplex,” Fletcher said. “So why not a second travel trailer?”  

Fletcher says that’s unfair.  Travel trailers help solve the housing problem for seasonal workers, he said.

 “If you have employees, you’ve got to provide housing,” he said. “Some temporary help can’t find places.  If you get too strict with this kind of housing, you preclude people from living here and working. Most people (on the island) don’t give a damn, but the beautification people have their own ideas.”

(This article is reprinted with permission from the Ocracoke Observer.)

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