Proposed Pod Community Delayed By Building Code Concerns

By Emma Dill, posted May 13, 2024
A conceptual plan shows the pod-style housing proposed for a site that's bordered by 16th, 17th and Marstellar streets in Wilmington. (Image courtesy of CLD Engineering)
Plans from Eden Village to bring pod-style homes for the unsheltered to S. 17th Street are facing delays.

Following a meeting last week with city of Wilmington staff, Tom Dalton, a local anesthesiologist and founder of Wilmington’s tiny home community Eden Village, said he learned his proposal for the pod community doesn’t align with existing building codes and ordinances. 

Eden Village has contacted Gov. Roy Cooper’s office and local state representatives to look at potential changes. Still, Dalton said updating the ordinances will delay the project, meaning it won’t be complete by the end of this year, as he originally anticipated.

In February, city staff presented an overview of Dalton’s plans for the pod community, called Revive Campground, to the Wilmington City Council. The city received the plans from Dalton as a “noneconomic and unsolicited proposal,” Rachel LaCoe, Wilmington’s director of housing and neighborhood services, told the council in February.

The community is proposed for a roughly 2-acre site at 1114 S. 17th St. – a city-owned property bounded by S. 17th, S. 16th and Marstellar Streets. The site houses the city’s Coleman Complex, a facility that serves as an active storage area for seasonal and surplus equipment, a salvage yard and an impound lot for the Wilmington Police Department, according to LaCoe.

When completed, the proposal would include up to 200 campground overnight shelter units or pods that could be rented for about $10 per night. According to the presentation, the pods would be open Monday through Friday from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Plans also include a central bathroom, shower and laundry facility along with a check-in building and dining pavilion. The site is zoned for urban mixed-use development and would require a rezoning before the pod community could move forward, LaCoe said.

Although staff recommended in February that the city decline the proposal, several members of the city council expressed interest in the project. Ultimately the Wilmington City Council directed staff to work with Eden Village to establish a business plan for the pod community and bring it back before the council for consideration.

Dalton said he met with city planning staff last week to review a site evaluation. Staff identified “a number of code concerns,” Dalton said.

The project would need to comply with state code and city ordinances, a city spokesperson wrote in an email to the Business Journal.

"Based on what we know about this project, changes to city code would relate to expanding allowable temporary uses beyond disaster recovery, to address the type of temporary housing that was discussed," the spokesperson wrote. "When an application is submitted, we can provide more detail."

Because the fiberglass pods don’t meet the building codes for a more traditional structure, they’re considered emergency or temporary structures, Dalton said, which means they need to be moved after 180 days, per current codes.

“Temporary structures have not been utilized for homelessness, so it requires some outside-of-the-box thinking,” he said.

Dalton said he plans to advocate for changes in the building code to allow the pod community to move forward. The organization has the money to fund the community and has 28 pods at Eden Village with more on the way.

“We do have money sitting in the bank ready to do it, we’re just looking for the right spot, and after looking through the code issues it was very clear that we were not going to be able to get it done any time soon,” Dalton said. “North Carolina code is going to need to adjust before we can move forward with such a project.”
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