New Hanover rulers call for discussion on West Bank development
The New Hanover County Council of Commissioners chose to file a controversial zoning request on Monday in hopes of taking a closer look at the future of development on the west bank of the Cape Fear River.
The Council of Commissioners did not respond to a request from the developers of the proposed villages at Battleship Point to establish a new zoning district necessary to accommodate the project. The request was rejected in December by the New Hanover County Planning Council, with the developers appealing the decision to the Council of Commissioners.
The Council of Commissioners signaled its intention to table the item at an agenda review meeting on Thursday. Commissioner Rob Zapple said it would be “inappropriate” to go ahead with amending the text at Monday’s meeting.
“There needs to be more discussion of what we want the west bank of the Cape Fear River to look like,” he said.
The other commissioners seemed to agree with Zapple’s assessment.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said that while it is keen to see development on the West Rim, New Hanover County needs to consider potential impacts on the environment, especially with high tides already causing flooding in the area.
“In theory, I would love to see this side of the river developed… but (I’m) not really sure what all the environmental impacts would be,” Barfield said. “I just want to make sure we’re doing the right thing and having the right time.”
Zapple called for a joint working session with the New Hanover County Planning and Land Use Department to discuss the county’s vision for the West Bank. Barfield added that a thorough study of the area may need to be done to fully understand the impacts of future development.
On Monday, the Council of Commissioners met in front of a full house. Some audience members wore blue – an action encouraged by the Cape Fear River Watch conservation group to oppose the requested text amendment. The item was officially tabled by the Council of Commissioners shortly after the start of the meeting.
Kirk Pugh, director of marketing and real estate development for developer KFJ Development Group, said the decision, while disappointing, is something the group “fully agrees with.”
“It’s a delay and time is money, but we want (the board of commissioners) to understand the project, understand the engineering and feel comfortable moving forward when the time will come, ”he said.
The requested amendment would establish the Riverfront Mixed-Use Urban District, a new zoning designation, which the developers say is necessary for the currently proposed project to proceed.
The initial plans for the project, called Villages at Battleship Point, included hundreds of condos and apartments as well as spaces for restaurants, retail and a “high end hospitality”. The developers are looking to build on an 8.4-acre site at 1100 Point Harbor Road which is currently zoned for industrial development.
Pugh said he believes the work session is a “top priority” for New Hanover County and may take place soon.
A group of opponents gathered outside the historic New Hanover County Courthouse after the demand was filed.
Travis Gilbert, executive director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, said he was “encouraged” by the decision to delay action on demand and hold a discussion on the future of the West Bank.
“They hit the pause button and now we’re going to have a constructive and civil opportunity to discuss what’s appropriate for the site, what isn’t for the site and come back to the commissioners with a better idea.” , did he declare.
Gilbert helped organize a press conference last week on the deck of Battleship North Carolina with several groups in the Wilmington area to voice their opposition to the development. He called the effort an “intersection” between the missions of various groups aimed at preserving the historical and environmental resources of the West Bank.
“This question has shown our stakeholders that there are similarities in the missions of preservation organizations,” he said, “whether it is the preservation of natural resources or cultural resources.”
Journalist Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or [email protected]