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Zoning – Single Family Dwelling – Multiple ‘Principal’ Buildings – UDO Definition – Municipal

Long v. Currituck County (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-205-16, 15 pp.) (Donna Stroud, J.) Appealed from Currituck County Superior Court (Cy Grant, J.) N.C. App.

Holding: Respondent Letendre’s project plan calls for three attached buildings of 5,000 square feet each. Since the buildings are the same size, none of them can be considered a “subordinate” structure within the meaning of the respondent-county’s Unified Development Ordinance. Therefore, Letendre’s project does not qualify as a “single family detached dwelling” within the meaning of the UDO.

We reverse the superior court’s ruling, which upheld the county’s approval of the project.

Letendre’s project plans indicate (1) a three-story main building that includes cooking, sleeping, and sanitary facilities and (2) two two-story side buildings that include sleeping and sanitary facilities. Each building is approximately 5,000 square feet. The main building and side buildings are connected by hallways.

The UDO’s “Single Family Residential Outer Banks Remote District” (SF District) is “established to accommodate very low density residential development … in a manner that preserves sensitive natural resources, protects wildlife habitat, [and] recognizes the inherent limitations on development due to the lack of infrastructure….”

The UDO defines “dwelling, single-family detached” as “A residential building containing not more than one dwelling unit to be occupied by one family, not physically attached to any other principal structure.”

There is no dispute that Letendre’s project includes multiple “buildings” or “structures.” The UDO definition of “single family dwelling” clearly allows more than one “building” or “structure” to be constructed on the same lot, so the mere presence of three buildings does not disqualify the project. However, the last element in the definition of a single family dwelling is “[n]ot physically attached to any other principal structure.”

The county’s planning director determined that the multiple buildings together function as a principal structure, but even if they are functionally used as one dwelling unit, each individual building is itself a “structure.” Thus, each building is necessarily either an “accessory structure” or a principal structure.

Respondents do not argue that the side buildings are “accessory structures”; instead, they argue only that the entire project functions as one “principal structure.” Although the ordinance does not define principal structure, it does define “accessory structures” as “subordinate in use and square footage” to a principal structure. Even assuming that the two side buildings are subordinate in use to the center building, it is uncontested that all of the buildings are approximately 5,000 square feet. No building is subordinate in square footage to another, so none can meet the definition of an “accessory structure.” This would mean that each building is a principal structure; however, a single family dwelling only allows for one.

There can be only one “principal structure” on a lot in the SF District, and that principal structure can be attached only to “accessory structures.”

Letendre’s project does not fit within the definition of a single family dwelling and thus is not appropriate in the SF District.

Reversed and remanded.

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