Wednesday, July 24, 2024

‘It’s out of control’: OKI to explore limiting house sizes per council directive

Shown at June 19’s Oak Island council meeting, photo of a home at 7703 E. Beach Drive in Oak Island demonstrating the size of the house compared to older builds. (Courtesy photo)

OAK ISLAND — The town council put forth a proposal to limit house sizes in Oak Island on Tuesday and the measure now heads to the town’s planning board for review. 

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Council member Bob Ciullo proposed two scenarios in which the town could limit mega-home construction aimed at reducing an influx of rental houses instead of residences. Cuillo brought forth this idea at a meeting two weeks ago and the discussion was continued to Tuesday’s meeting. 

“Oak Island residents and homeowners have asked us to limit house size and maintain the small town feel of our community,” Ciullo said. “It was stated loud and clear in our comprehensive land use plan, as well as on election night.” 

Ciullo proposed two options; one would be to lower square footage on homes constructed to 3,500 square feet and eliminate residents’ ability to apply for special-use permits to exceed that amount. 

The council member described this as a “simple, one-size-fits-all approach” that would apply to all single-family homes regardless of lot size. The second approach would be to limit home size as proportionate to lot size.

The example put forth by Ciullo would limit homes on 6,600-square-foot lots to 2,970 square feet, while the allowance would cap at 4,000 square feet with no special-permit exception. 

Ciullo said the proportionate option would require town staff to examine their size-based zoning metrics for loopholes and complications — “crossing our Ts and dotting our Is,” he said.

Council member Mark Martin said he was concerned about this approach, as the town already has land development rules based on lot size. 

The adopted rule would be applicable to all new construction across the island and in the R7 zoning district of the town’s mainland. 

The board member claimed that if the town did nothing, developers would continue to gobble up lots for 3,995-square-foot homes and incongruently build them next to smaller homes in the 1,000 to 2,000-square-foot range — this would be the first wave, he said. 

The second wave would be demonstrated by developers acquiring and demolishing those smaller beach bungalow properties to make way for their 15-bedroom complexes. 

“While many of the cows have left the barn, we still have plenty of cows left in the barn, which we can save,” Ciullo said. 

The council member requested the planning board be asked to review each option — and no alternative — to provide a recommendation to council; the motion was seconded by council member Terri Cartner.

Council member Bill Craft said he and Ciullo were in harmony with their desire to eliminate special-use allowances for large homes, but he thought Ciullo’s warnings were overblown. 

He said every town he talked to, including Carolina Beach and Holden Beach, do not limit square footage and instead rely on impervious surface and setback regulations to limit development size. 

Craft said CAMA guidelines allow Oak Island beach houses to reach 5,000 feet, but noted very few would ever reach that size because the average lot size is 0.12 acres — homeowners would need two lots to reach an allowable 4,000-square-feet.

The council member also addressed claims that Oak Island would become like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, if action were not taken; that claim is common among coastal communities when faced with land development decisions. 

“That’s a scare tactic,” Craft said. 

He stated Oak Island maximum building height is 41 feet, while buildings in Myrtle Beach well exceed that. 

Craft suggested the town maintain its 3,995-square-feet limit and enforce it by eliminating special-use permits, as increasing the gap between the town’s allowance and CAMA guidelines would put the town at risk of a lawsuit. 

This is not the first time the issue of short-term rentals or house size has crossed the Oak Island dais. Both Craft and council member John Bach have voted to restrict house sizes in the past. 

“What both of you have illustrated is what people say to me — it’s out of control,” Bach said. “And I’m forced to say, ‘Yeah, but it’s legal.’”

He said he supported the planning board’s exploration of Ciullo’s two options.

Martin said he was wary of targeting full-time investment rental properties. 

“Why would I deter my neighbor’s ability to rent their home if they’re in financial need?” Martin said. 

Martin said he was in favor of special-use permits as it allowed council to place conditions on the property they otherwise would not be able to; Ciullo disputed this, saying the permits have been used against them and improvements are made with commercial properties, not residential. 

Martin was also against the limitations put on the planning board, suggesting the body be allowed to explore and recommend business as usual and the 5,000-square-foot ceiling. Ciullo said free-ranging discussion could last until Christmas.

“There’s expectations around people that own property; they see what’s being built, they see design, they understand what’s possible,” Martin said. “They’ve been sitting on these parcels, and now it’s time for them to make their dream come true.” 

Bach asked that council further debate the issue when the planning board submitted their determination, which could be that neither option was satisfactory, though alternative solutions are not being solicited. 

The vote to send the issue to the planning board passed 4-1, Martin dissenting. The planning board has until Aug. 26 to return a recommendation.

Tips or comments? Email journalist Brenna Flanagan at

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