Posted in:

Dare Towns Look to Manage ‘Mega-Houses’

Reprinted from Outer Banks Sentinel

As Dare County municipalities try to address concerns about the proliferation of “mega-houses” and their impact on the character and environment of beach communities, the town councils in both Southern Shores and Duck met last week to explore new approaches to the issue.

Southern Shores and Duck look to enact new size rules for “mega-houses.” Photo: Outer Banks Sentinel

During a Nov. 7 special meeting called in response to SAGA Construction’s plan to build two 12-bedroom homes on the oceanfront, the Southern Shores Town Council unanimously directed staff to draft a zoning text amendment that would create a residential overlay district encompassing properties east of N.C. 12 and those abutting the highway to the west. The proposal would require stricter development standards in the district based on the size of homes.

Meeting on the same day, the Duck Town Council considered a proposal by the planning board to develop town standards that tie allowable septic capacity to lot size.

They also scheduled for Dec. 5 a public hearing on a draft ordinance that would set a tiered approach to regulating house size based on lot size, with a maximum allowable home size of 7,000 square feet.

In the past, Dare County towns relied on regulating the occupancy and size of rental properties by placing limits on the number of allowable bedrooms. But in 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly prohibited them from doing that. The move left municipalities grappling with how to best control the homes that have become a lucrative part of the resort area’s rental business.

In Southern Shores, town officials last week opted to add an additional layer of regulation in the overlay district, along with the town wide cap of 6,000 square feet of allowable living space that has been in place since 2016. If ultimately adopted by the council, the proposal would place stricter development standards on homes in the overlay district based on size.

For example, homes that are more than 4,000 but less than 6,000 square feet must adhere to a 25 percent lot coverage limit and 28-foot building height, while those that fall below that square footage have a little more leeway, with a 30 percent lot coverage requirement and height limit of 35 feet. The structure of other standards relating to building setbacks, trash receptacles and landscape buffering is similar in nature.

As for parking, all spaces in the overlay district must be 10 by 20 feet and adjacent to a two-way drive aisle that is a minimum of 18 feet wide.

At last week’s Duck Town Council meeting, members considered a recommendation by the Duck Planning Board to regulate occupancy by establishing town standards for the capacity of septic systems based on lot sizes. While not taking action on that plan, they opted to resurrect a proposal that regulates house size based on lot size.

In the end, the council voted 4-1 — with Mayor Don Kingston casting the dissenting vote — to set a public hearing for Dec. 5 in order to give property owners and residents another chance to weigh in on an ordinance that had been the subject of a September public hearing, before the council sent the plan back to the planning board for tweaking.

Under this tiered proposal, lots of 9,999 square feet or less could have a house with a maximum of 3,500 square feet. On the other end of the spectrum, lots of 25,000 or more square feet could have a house that was up to 7,000 square feet. While larger residences would be allowed if higher development standards were met, no dwellings could exceed the overall 7,000-square-foot cap.

Several council members, including Jon Britt, voiced concern over regulating house size as opposed to occupancy and cited that it penalized large lot owners. “That is not why we went down this road,” Britt told fellow council members. “We went down this road because of concern about density and too many bedrooms.”

This story is provided courtesy of the Outer Banks Sentinel, a weekly Dare County newspaper that is published in print every Wednesday and headquartered at 2910 South Croatan Highway, Nags Head. Aside from the print paper, the Sentinel also produces a continually updated digital version at www.obsentinel.com.

About the Author

Michelle Wagner

Michelle Wagner is a writer for the "Outer Banks Voice."