Southern Shores, NC

In order to protect the natural coastal features of Southern Shores, NC, specific ordinances have been adopted to guide development in the community. These ordinances were created alongside multiple existing protection efforts to maximize the area’s protection, while allowing growth and development in appropriate locations.

Southern Shores, NC. Photo by Jeff Kubina via  Flickr .

Southern Shores, NC. Photo by Jeff Kubina via Flickr.

Project Overview

Southern Shores is a small, coastal town located on a barrier island in North Carolina, encompassing approximately four square miles. It experiences an annual summer population boom that increases the number of residents from 2,300 to 10,000. Unregulated development has occurred along the coast to accommodate tourism, which has given rise to concern for the natural features of the town that help to attract tourists and provide protection to residents during hurricanes and Nor’easter storms. Without these features, Southern Shores would experience increased erosion, marsh degradation and declining beaches. Protection of the marshlands, open spaces, maritime forests and protective dunes are essential to the town’s economic and natural resiliency.

Southern Shores has implemented stringent zoning and building standards to prevent the increased impact of unregulated development on the environment. The tourist economy on which the town relies would threaten the island if such planning measures were not implemented. The town regulates what and where people can build through its zoning and flood damage protection ordinances. These ordinances value proper drainage and erosion prevention, which are essential for a barrier island community with this level of exposure to storms and flood. In addition, the Zoning Ordinance employs other tools, including lot disturbance inspection to assure that before any clearing, grubbing or topographic changes on an unimproved site, an inspector evaluates whether essential vegetation and landforms are being protected. Also, South Shores’ building code calls for all new and improved construction in flood level areas have the lowest floor elevated at least two feet above the FEMA base flood elevation. The Dune Protection Ordinance protects the area’s barrier dunes from encroachment by designating appropriate crossing areas for pedestrians and development.


Plan Highlights


Storms such as the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 (a Nor’easter) and Hurricane Isabelle in 2003 created a strong motivation for the citizens of Southern Shores to develop plans to safeguard their natural protective resources. The Zoning Ordinance, Waterway Ordinance, Flood Damage Protection Ordinance, and the Dune Protection Ordinance were developed to all work together to protect the natural resources in the area and allow for controlled and intelligent development.

  • The Hazard Mitigation Plan includes a series of codes and ordinances to ensure open space preservation and stormwater management to protect natural resources, including the barrier dune system, which breaks up storm-driven waves and attenuates the effects of coastal storms
  • The Waterway Ordinance provides a mechanism to assure that canals and waterways are maintained and kept free of debris. This in turn promotes proper drainage during floods.
  • The Reconstruction Task Force prioritizes and coordinates reconstruction after damaging storms.
  • GIS mapping is used to identify and locate the environmental features of the island, such as specific vegetation to be protected from clearcutting.


The community relies primarily on volunteers, rather than outside consultants, to achieve their planning goals. The majority of the town’s governing and advisory boards are staffed by citizens who have volunteered to contribute to the community.

  • Regulations that require a thirty percent limit on lot coverage in the residential zone, increased open yard area, and specific setbacks enhance the feeling of open space within the community.
  • The Flood Damage Protection Ordinance requires that all new or substantially improved residential construction in special flood hazard areas have the lowest floors no lower than 2 feet above the base flood elevation.


Lessons Learned

Southern Shores, NC has decided to protect its community and its natural assets by adopting an extensive body of zoning regulations tailored to the coastal zone. By coordinating these regulations with multiple ordinances already in place, such as waterway, flood damage protection and dune protection, they maximize the protection capacity of the town. This effort allows growth to occur in appropriate areas, reducing vulnerability to storms and protecting the tourist draws of the area to ensure continued economic success. Though these protective ordinances work well with each other in a protective capacity, their success could be further built upon by coordinating the entire town’s development and growth efforts for a complete comprehensive strategy.



ASFPM No Adverse Impact Case Studies; p56