By Connie Leinbach
Stevie Wilson wants islanders to carefully consider amending the Ocracoke Development Ordinance to temporarily allow multiple travel trailers on properties.
Ocracoke County Commissioner Tom Pahl has proposed amending the development ordinance, known as the ODO, in response to the need for temporary housing while the island rebuilds from flooding devastation by Hurricane Dorian.
He distributed his draft amendment at the Feb. 11 meeting of the Ocracoke Advisory Planning Board, of which Wilson is chair.
The group will further consider this issue at the next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday (Feb. 25) in the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Company. All are welcome to attend and weigh in.
Pahl is suggesting the ordinance allow up to three travel trailers as part of the disaster plan for a limited amount of time, but Wilson is skeptical since the issue of travel trailers on Ocracoke has always been a hot button issue.
Last fall, Hyde County bought 35 travel trailers for use on Ocracoke. The idea is to place these on properties being rebuilt whose owners can stay in them while repairs are being made, but they are also needed for fulltime renters. So the question of where to place them looms.
“It’s not fair to renters to only make them available to people who own property,” Pahl said during the meeting. “At some point we’re going to want to put two on a lot.”
This amendment would increase density, and the density issue needs more consideration, Wilson said.
“It needs more public input,” Wilson said in a subsequent interview. “If people in the community want this, they need to come to the meeting. This is a discussion the community has to have and come to a consensus on. I would like to hear from the community on this not just a proposal from the county.”
He said if people are for or against it, they need to come out and speak.
“We can continue this conversation indefinitely until the community comes to some kind of consensus,” he said.
Travel trailers were a hot issue on Ocracoke about six years ago when the ODO limited their number on lots to one per 5,000-square foot lot. Some islanders disagreed, saying they should be able to put more on their lots.
John Fletcher, who was elected Ocracoke’s county commissioner in 2013, ran on a platform to get rid of this restriction and in 2014, the travel trailer section of the ODO was removed with the group citing that FEMA regulations for proper hookups already pose an impediment to too many trailers on any given lot.
Pahl’s amendment also recommends raising the minimum building elevation level (known as “free boarding”) to eight feet. The level now (which is where your living quarters start) is at seven feet, Pahl said, which is one foot above mean high tide of six feet.
Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 6 brought a storm surge of 7.4 feet, the highest ever recorded. Further complicating a decision is that the proposed new freeboard level for Ocracoke would be different from the FEMA flood maps that the county commissioners have not yet adopted. These maps would lower the flood level for the island, making flood insurance less expensive.
They actually have several different levels island-wide, Pahl said. So, one freeboard level would make things uniform island wide.
The commissioners will vote on the new flood maps at their June 1 meeting, Pahl said.
Another question the group will consider is to have this travel trailer amendment “sunset” down the road, possibly 25 months after adoptions.
If the planning board adopts any or all of the amendment proposal, the Hyde County Board of Commissioners must approve it.
In the meantime, the group approved adding church steeples to the list of accessory structures on buildings (antennae; weather vanes) so that the United Methodist Church does not violate the ODO when the church building is raised six feet. Dorian flooded the church, which, too is being rebuilt.
The group also approved extending the rebuild time to 365 days for nonconforming village structures from the time of removal or demolition. Currently, the ordinance says six months from removal, but Wilson argued that it should be extended in light of the slow pace of rebuilding happening on the island.