Facing a standing-room-only crowd that packed the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse chambers, the county planning board voted 4-2 Thursday to continue proposed amendments to the process for awarding special-use permits to next month’s meeting.
After more than two hours of discussion and comments from 16 speakers in a public hearing, board members agreed more time could be taken to reword sections of the amendments at-issue—specifically, whether industries should be required to provide a list of local impacts, and whether other permits obtained by an applicant would trump the need to provide such a list.
Board members said they were comfortable approving the amendments that night, save for David Weaver, who said he agreed with those who said the amendments would change the spirit of the process.
“I think there are substantive issues with the amendment,” Weaver said, agreeing with one speaker that there would be no requirement for industries to list impacts such as groundwater withdrawal or how many smokestacks could be constructed.
“Those kinds of things bother me,” Weaver said, “when we have language in here that looks like if an industry doesn’t want to address those impacts, they don’t have to.”
Chairman Richard Collier said the board would never see agreement from everyone involved that an industry had conducted enough impact studies. Without stating such things are required or not required, Collier said the county could be prone to litigation.
“That part of it is very troublesome to me. For people who don’t want it, there’s going to be somebody who says they didn’t do enough, because they could sue over it if it’s not stated in the ordinance,” he said.
Ultimately, however, Collier was among those who voted with Weaver, who motioned to continue the amendments in light of concerns that the public needed more time to review them. Daniel Hilla and Ted Shipley voted against the continuance.
Hilla said the amendments are procedural in nature and would clarify the process for awarding special-use permits (SUPs). The process was adopted in 2011 to provide more controls over property uses that otherwise may not be allowed through zoning.
“I’ve been in favor of the SUP procedures from the beginning,” Hilla said. “If I thought in any way that this amendment would weaken the SUP, I would not be in favor of it.”
Speakers on both sides of the issue addressed the board in the public hearing. Hal Kitchin, past chairman of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said the process as written is scaring off industries that are choosing to locate elsewhere.
Others with the Wilmington-based Coalition for Economic Advancement said the process contains ambiguities that industries avoid in selecting prospective sites.
“Lack of clarity, undefined timelines—those are risks for a company,” said Scott Satterfield, CEO of Wilmington Business Development.
Mike Giles, of the N.C. Coastal Federation, said the process should require industries to provide a list of external impacts, as it is currently written. Others who spoke supported that view.
“Any industry that wouldn’t fill out the impact list is not an industry anyone would want,” Elizabeth Bauereis said.
Added Laura Parks: “This is not a subtle tweaking or minor revisions that have occurred with the SUP process. It’s wholesale gutting. We’re looking at potentially undoing the good work that was done in 2011.
“We don’t want to lose control,” she said. “We don’t want to lose that oversight power. If you guys can’t assist us in proactively being guardians and protectors of quality development that protects us as citizens, then you really have no place. You’re a bloated entity.”
The board will take up the amendments again at its next regular meeting Feb. 6. Because staff was directed to revise the amendments, the meeting will include a continued public hearing.