July 17, 2018

Concerns Voiced on Housing Crunch

The Outer Banks Sentinel

Following a July 9 public hearing on proposed zoning amendments to address the county's shortage of affordable housing, the Dare County Planning Board directed Planning Director Donna Creef to draft specific language for amendments that the board can vote on at its August meeting.

At the hearing, a number of community and business leaders spoke in support of the proposed changes to the county zoning ordinance first presented to the Dare Commissioners at their June 4 meeting by Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Bob Peele.

At that meeting, Peele asked the county to consider significant zoning changes — allowing accessory dwelling units and more multi-family structures and increasing dwelling densities per acre — as a way to address the county's affordable housing crunch and boost the local economy. 

Responding to the commissioners' call to proceed with Peele's requested review of the proposals, the Planning Board scheduled the July 9 public hearing. And what the board heard on Monday evening were repeated concerns about the lack of affordable housing – and its economic impact.

Kill Devil Hills Commissioner John Windley, speaking as manager of the Walgreens store, said filling store positions is becoming "tougher and tougher" due to the housing challenges. He stressed that the situation is difficult for both the business owners and the workers, who must often work multiple jobs and commute from outside the area in an ongoing "struggle just to make ends meet." He welcomed the "positive changes" that will result from following through with the proposals.

Outer Banks Hospital Human Resources Director Mary Kelley detailed the hospital's difficulties hiring and retaining certified and highly skilled staff, many of whom move from outside the area and later withdraw their applications once they discover the housing situation. She emphasized the importance of taking the recommended "first steps" toward meeting the housing needs.

Urging the board to approve "everything the chamber is asking for," Outer Banks Home Builders Association Legislative Chair Duke Geraghty said the problem has been steadily worsening for the past 20 years and "it's time for this." To delay or do nothing, he warned, will lead to a "catastrophic" situation.

Presenting the perspective of a property owner, Malcolm Fearing said he supported the proposed changes and that the "enormity" of the situation led him to bring up another option for consideration: "cluster type housing." The term refers to a subdivision technique in which dwellings are grouped close together, with larger areas of open space within the development set apart for recreation and to serve as a buffer with neighboring developments.

With Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills both taking up zoning proposals in recent weeks designed to address the affordable housing shortage, Phoenix Restoration owner Pat Broom asserted that the issue is one that the county needs to lead the way in addressing.

"This is a really important first step," she emphasized. "And the first step has to come from the county."

Following discussion with the board, Dare Planning Director Donna Creef said she had sufficient direction to proceed with drafting the language of proposed zoning changes for the board to consider and vote on next month. Following that vote and recommendation, the Dare Commissioners would then be able to make a decision on the proposals at either its second August meeting or one of its September meetings.

Creef added that it is important to avoid labeling the measure with the term "workforce housing" or "affordable housing," due to their negative connotations.

"We want to ensure that we call it 'year-round housing' or 'long-term housing,'" she said.

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