Developer Jeff Gutmann stood on the deck of a small, new Rodanthe home, one of six built on a single lot available at a much lower than normal rent.
“Not a bad view, huh?” he said.
To the east, pelicans flew low over the Atlantic Ocean. To the west, on the other side of N.C. 12, the sun glistened on the Pamlico Sound. A vista like this enjoyed from a deck chair would normally cost around $5,000 a week. Gutmann’s rentals will be about $1,325 a month.
The homes are roughly 1,000 square feet and set on pilings eight feet off the ground on a parcel of less than an acre. Rentals are long term instead of just a week.
“The last thing we need is another big rental house,” Gutmann said.
Gutmann is the first to take advantage of recent changes in Dare County development ordinances that allow more homes on lots, more duplexes in some areas, more multifamily units and more “accessory” dwellings near primary homes and businesses.
He would have only been able build two or three houses on the Rodanthe property under the former rules, he said.
It’s all part of an effort over the last two years to create more places where average workers like teachers, deputies and waitresses can live on the Outer Banks.
A large portion of Dare County properties sit on or near the ocean and attract weekly vacationers paying thousands of dollars per week. Smaller houses further from the ocean once available to local workers for lease have turned into Airbnb rentals.
Business owners have asked for years that officials change the rules to accommodate more housing for their employees.
“We were not going to kick the can down the road any longer,” said Bob Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.
Woodard likes to call it essential housing rather than affordable housing, he said. He has tried to convince mayors of towns to pass similar ordinances for less expensive homes, he said.
Officials also plan to work with a contractor to build roughly 50 houses in an area of Manteo known as Bowsertown. A consulting group at the University of North Carolina School of Government is helping the county, said Dare County manager Bobby Outten.
The land can be leased, sold or donated, he said. Questions remain on how to make it profitable for a developer and yet still affordable for low-income residents.
“It is complicated,” Outten said.
The county is committed to making it happen, he said.
It’s a tougher sell in the six incorporated towns where they have their own regulations. There is less land available. Property owners are concerned about values sinking if a cluster of more modest homes goes up close by.
Kitty Hawk changed its rules in the last two years so aging parents could live in trailers or other small units on the same lot as their grown children, said Mayor Gary Perry. A multifamily development was also approved in the village area.
“We did it because they asked, property rights were involved and it made sense,” Perry said.
He acknowledged there are places closer to the ocean where higher housing density would be rejected.
Some of the best scenarios for economical lodging are in unincorporated communities further away from the beaches such as East Lake, Wanchese and Manns Harbor.
Gutmann’s Rodanthe homes sit near a mobile home court and a campground, but within a short walk to the beach. He expects the houses to be available by the first of the year.
Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, firstname.lastname@example.org