By Stefanie Jackson – The Eastern Shore Regional Housing Coalition recently surveyed local housing developers and real estate professionals, and the results showed “no particular surprises” but highlighted the difficulty of developing housing in Accomack and Northampton counties.
The housing coalition’s committee on private sector collaboration discussed the survey results at its July 29 meeting.
About a dozen housing developers were surveyed, two-thirds of whom had between six years and 20 years of experience or more.
About 67% said developing housing is “extremely difficult” in Northampton, but only 25% said the same about Accomack.
A similar amount, 72%, said Northampton’s laws restricting housing development should be “much less strict,” and 55% said Accomack’s laws on housing development are about as strict as necessary.
Single-family dwellings will be the most important type of housing on the Eastern Shore over the next decade, 50% of respondents agreed. Multi-family dwellings also were deemed a priority.
About one-third of respondents said the most important type of housing will be homes for families with low or moderate incomes. The need for moderately priced housing for working families was also noted.
The greatest impediments to housing development on the Shore are land-use restrictions and lack of infrastructure, according to the respondents. Northampton’s zoning ordinances and site availability were also concerns.
A large majority of survey takers, 82%, said the availability of incentives would play a “very significant” role in the development of affordable housing for people earning a median income.
Many have also cited Northampton’s outdated comprehensive plan as an impediment to housing development in the county.
Northampton County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski anticipated that an updated comprehensive plan and a regional infrastructure strategy may become available in as little as six months.
The group discussed possibly identifying funding for a professional planner to review Accomack and Northampton ordinances, conduct focus groups, and recommend revisions to both county comprehensive plans to encourage housing development.
Local developer Bill Parr suggested an amendment to Northampton’s zoning ordinance that could be a “game changer” for housing development in the county: remove the requirement for special-use permits (SUPs) to build small, multi-family housing developments of six to 12 units each, with accompanying mass drain fields.
Such action would indicate Northampton is “open to receiving investment capital for the development and construction of housing for the citizens of the Eastern Shore,” according to meeting notes.
“An investment friendly region is one in which those who are placing their projects on the Shore can trust that the local leaders will welcome development activity by streamlining appropriate processes without compromising, the environment, quality control or local culture,” the notes stated.
The committee decided to recommend that Northampton begin a “small development project” initiative that would allow small housing developments, such as multi-family and tiny home communities, to be approved without SUPs.
The committee will recommend that county leaders examine three criteria when considering a project for the initiative: scale, site location, and incentives.
Committee members will recommend criteria for small project models of varying size and scope based on their evaluation of project feasibility.
Committee members will recommend site locations based on their evaluation of site conditions such as soil quality, proximity to towns, and walkability.
Committee members will recommend types of incentives county leaders should provide to developers based on the committee’s evaluation of which incentives will be the most effective.
Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason said he was interested in learning directly from developers which incentives they would find the most helpful.
The Eastern Shore Regional Housing Coalition is seeking comments and recommendations regarding the small development project initiative.
The public is invited to view and comment on the working Google document, which can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/19y-tf0NKfYQHWzcQLky62gVfAgISfSmR87wAjwPGR9M/edit