October 3, 2018

Commissioners Hear Proposed Zoning Changes


Following a process that began with a proposal from the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce to encourage the creation of more affordable housing and boost the local economy, Dare Planning Director Donna Creef presented the Planning Board's zoning change recommendations to the county commissioners at their Oct. 1 meeting.

Describing her presentation as "a pretty comprehensive set of amendments" that adopted some of the chamber's proposals and modified others, Creef explained that the purpose of the proposed zoning changes is to "facilitate the construction of housing units that could be used for year-round housing."

"The amendments are designed to try to incorporate some flexibility into our zoning standards," she added, "so that the private sector can respond and hopefully construct some housing units that will be dedicated to year-round residency."

Creef estimated that potentially 389 duplexes could be constructed, along with 905 accessory dwelling units. The changes would apply only to the unincorporated parts of Dare County. Asked by Commissioner Danny Couch if her staff has sufficient "manpower" to administer the new regulations, Creef said, "We're up to the task."

County Manager Bobby Outten added, "At budget time we'll evaluate our manpower and, if the demand becomes so great that it becomes a problem, we'll react to that and make sure we staff accordingly."

After Creef’s presentation, the commissioners scheduled a hearing on the proposals at its next meeting, to be held on Oct. 15.

Creef stressed she was using the term "year-round housing and not 'affordable housing' or 'workforce housing' because...those zoning regulations have qualifiers that apply to income levels."

Creef explained that the changes will not supersede county flood rules or wastewater rules by making an illegal ground floor enclosure below base flood elevations legal or by allowing a building permit to be issued without already having a septic permit.

To ensure long-term occupancy instead of short-term vacation rentals, the recommendations include defining short-term rentals as those for 30 days or less and having property owners sign a statement acknowledging that the proposed structure is only for "year-round occupancy" at the time a permit is issued, with the statement recorded in the county's Register of Deeds.

Duplex lot sizes

Breaking her presentation into four main zoning "components," Creef said the Planning Board recommends adopting the OBX Chamber of Commerce’s proposal to make minimum lot sizes for duplex construction consistent with what is currently in place for single family homes: 15,000 square feet for lots served by central water and 20,000 square feet for lots with a private well. This would affect a total of 25 zoning districts, which currently allow duplexes.

Multifamily dwelling densities

The chamber offered a proposal to make multifamily dwelling densities the same as those found in the county's Family Housing Incentives Standards for qualified low-income housing. The Planning Board modified that to recommend increasing the allowable density by two to four units per acre, with one district continuing to have its current floor area ratio standard of 40% of the gross lot area.

Creef explained that this increase would return most districts to the original zoning ordinance dwelling densities adopted in 1975 and later lowered in 2003.

Accessory dwelling units

The Planning Board recommends permitting accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in 14 districts that currently allow duplex structures and making no change in the ADU size limitations in East Lake and Wanchese since those communities had specified that size limit when they developed their zoning maps. The current standard in Manns Harbor, which allows ADUs that are simply "subordinate in size" to the principal dwelling, would remain unchanged.

For all other areas, the Planning Board recommends limiting the size of ADUs to 50% of the floor area of the principal use structure, with a cap of 1,200 square feet.

While maintaining the current 50% lot coverage for ADUs in Wanchese, Manns Harbor and East Lake, the Planning Board recommends that other districts set a maximum ADU size of 1,200 square feet and 38% lot coverage.

Each ADU would also be required to have two 10’ x 20’ parking spaces, be constructed according to N.C. State building codes and Dare County floodplain management regulations, not include recreational vehicles, travel trailers or manufactured homes, and meet the principal dwelling setbacks and required building height of the applicable zoning district.

The Planning Board does not endorse the proposal from Outer Banks Home Builders Association Legislative Chair Duke Geraghty to extend allowing ADUs in more restrictive residential districts that currently only allow single family homes, since these districts typically have restrictive covenants limiting construction to one dwelling per lot. These districts also have a long-established expectation of maintaining single-family low density.

Cluster home developments

The Planning Board also endorses a fourth proposal to allow cluster family home developments. These are defined as the construction of more than one small home on a property and would be allowed in districts that currently allow group housing developments.

They would have different restrictions from those currently applying to group housing developments, including required year-round occupancy and limiting dwelling size to 1,200 square feet, with reduced setbacks.

A conditional use permit would have to be obtained, specifying that the owner agrees to all these requirements. This would also be recorded in the county's Register of Deeds.

Asked by Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Wally Overman if the proposals will make "a significant difference in terms of what we're trying to accomplish," Creef answered: "I think so. I think anything we do is a step in the right direction."

She then added that, after evaluating the zoning changes' effectiveness, a possible next step would be to "see if we can't expand this to other zoning districts."

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