WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A motion to create a “Riverfront Urban Mixed Use Zoning District” on the west side of the Cape Fear River failed to pass at the New Hanover County planning board meeting Thursday evening.
Approval of the new zone was the first item on the board’s agenda, and would have paved the way for the development of the Villages at Battleship Point, a proposed 20 story development that would include restaurants, shopping, housing and hotel rooms.
Developers first would have had to approve creation of the new zone before they could hear any motions to rezone the property or move forward with the Battleship Point project. Consequently, a second hearing on the agenda to actually rezone the land from heavy industrial to the new category, “riverfront urban mixed use zoning district” was withdrawn, and not considered by the board.
Board members were concerned with the 240-foot maximum building height proposed in the new zone, and several environmental concerns that were expressed.
While leaders applauded the developer’s intent to cleaned up the property and plan structures that accounted for the region’s risk for flooding, the scale of the development proved to be too much for the zoning category to pass.
“Why engineer a problem?” said planning board member Colin Tarrant before the vote. “Mother Nature always finds a way.”
“We are disappointed but will not stop in our efforts to save and transform that land and the river that surrounds it. This county and city deserves a vibrant waterfront on both sides of the river,” said Jim Lea, the attorney representing KFJ development group. “Its always easier to be the no vote. It’s much harder to have vision and think ahead. We’ll continue on the positive path. There are plenty of options and we’ll pursue them.”
In the last several weeks, the proposal has met controversy from local nonprofits.
The NAACP and the Coastal Federation shared several environmental and flooding concerns with planners before this month’s planning meeting.
Speakers from several nonprofits addressed the board Thursday, sharing worries about the safety of residents in a natural disaster, increased traffic in the 421 corridor, changing the hydrology of the Cape Fear River, nuisance flooding and the impact to views of the sunset and the USS North Carolina.
“If you listen to speakers tonight, if you look at where the opposition came from it wasn’t just environmental… you had Historic Wilmington Foundation opposing, you had the NAACP opposing, you had scientists, oceanographers, you had local activists…you had opposition from all across the community, so you get the feeling that this is something… this kind of really seems like a bad idea to a lot of different people,” said Cape Fear River Keeper Kemp Burdette.
Currently, the land across the river from Marina Grille is zoned heavy industrial. The sight was formerly a junkyard, and developers have started to remediate the property and they have already hauled away 400 tons of debris.
The new district would have had a maximum height of 240 feet, and would allow for more housing units. Planning board documents confirm the new regulations would allow for a minimum of 50 units an acre multifamily and no maximum for vertically integrated mixed use buildings. The existing New Hanover County mixed-use zoning district category caps residential density at 15 units an acre for single family residential units, 25 units for multifamily residential units and 36 units an acre for vertical mixed-use buildings.
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