We told you earlier about a mysterious provision in the secretly-negotiated state budget that stripped Dare County towns of their power to regulate the construction of new low-income housing within their town limits. No one would admit to owning it. County leaders and municipal leaders say they didn’t ask for it. Well, it appears WUNC has done a little detective work on the matter:
Six towns in Dare County have filed a lawsuit to block part of the state budget bill that bans them from regulating a new affordable housing development.
Most residents of the Outer Banks are aware that the area has an affordable housing problem. As coastal real estate prices go up, the people who staff the area’s schools, restaurants and shops are getting priced out.
Dare County Commission Chairman Robert Woodard frequently hears those concerns.
“We get phone calls after phone calls after phone calls,” he said at a recent meeting. “And I want you to hear the lady and the child on the phone crying that they don’t have a place to stay.”
The state legislature recently allocated $35 million to Dare County to build new affordable housing. But the contractor hired by the county to build a 400-unit development has faced opposition over the locations it’s considering for the project.
One of the proposed sites is in Nags Head near Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
“The town and the community felt like the property they were looking at was not the right location for it,” town manager Andy Garman said. “And so the town has gone back and looked at its zoning with respect to where the appropriate locations for multifamily would be.”
Garman said he got no warning that state lawmakers were thinking about taking away the town’s power to decide. But a provision buried deep in the recently enacted state budget bill stated that the Dare County affordable housing project will be exempt from local zoning regulations. That means no public hearings and no opportunity for the community to shape the details of what the housing development would look like.
“That would not allow us to regulate any projects regarding in any aspect of a project in terms of height, setbacks, density, lot coverage, all those things that the town’s planned for fairly carefully,” Garman said.
Dare County Commissioners got an earful about the law at their latest meeting.
“Dare County needs affordable housing,” Nags Head resident Debbie Carrara said. “And you can’t win — not really win — without the support of the towns, and bulldozing doesn’t count as winning.”
But County Manager Bobby Outten said Dare County leaders didn’t ask legislators for the exemption. “We didn’t ask anybody to lobby for that,” he said. “We didn’t get involved in that. We didn’t have anything to do with having that.”[…]
Thanks to WUNC, things are getting a little clearer about who might have orchestrated the insertion of this item into the state budget:
[…] A draft version of the budget provision obtained by WUNC lists Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort, as its sponsor. He represents part of Dare County and didn’t respond to an inquiry about his role in the process.
House Speaker Tim Moore confirmed that the language was added at the request of legislators from the area. All of Dare County’s legislators, with the exception of Kidwell, have told media outlets they weren’t involved.
“There were apparently some issues, I guess with zoning, so they wanted language put in there so the housing could be built,” Moore said.
Moore’s office later emailed a statement that said he’s willing to repeal the budget provision — and take back the $35 million allocated for the project.
“If local communities no longer support addressing the affordable housing crisis in the Outer Banks, then I support repealing this provision and redirecting the funds to other state priorities,” he said.[…]
Now, those are some lawyer-like weasel words. I don’t think anyone said anything like that. It sounds like local folks don’t appreciate having their rights and responsibilities snatched out from underneath them in such a secretive, underhanded manner.
[…] Opponents of the law suspect that the developers themselves lobbied lawmakers. Partners in the company, Coastal Affordable Housing LLC, include Jordan Hennessy, a former staffer at the legislature, as well as Aaron Thomas and his Robeson County construction company, Metcon.
Hennessy donated $4,500 to Kidwell’s campaign last year and $5,600 to Moore’s campaign. Thomas also donated thousands to Kidwell, Moore and other Republican lawmakers last year.
Some speakers at the county commission meeting, such as Wanchese resident Amy Stone, mentioned Hennessy, who is also involved with a company that got a dredging contract from Dare County.
“He is a principal in the corporation, and he will personally benefit financially from that piece of legislation,” Stone said. “It is at best unethical, at worst, possibly illegal and may be corrupt.”
Hennessy did not respond to a request for comment.[…]
Once again, it appears”business” in Raleigh all boils down to secretive, sweetheart deals and cash. THIS CROWD does not appear to be any better than the one we threw out in 2010.
Simply playing musical chairs with the same ol’ inside-the-beltline charlatans will not fix the problem. We need to extract some weasels — in both parties — and replace them with people of integrity. We need to reform the system so freedom and individual rights win out, and cash is no longer KING. (Wishful thinking, I know.)
But there are bound to be some people out there devoted to actual public service and honestly doing what they promised their home folks. (Aren’t there?)