County to revisit special-use-permit process revisions in hearing tonight

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The first of several pages of an overview of proposed revisions to New Hanover County’s special-use-permitting process.
The first of several pages of an overview of proposed revisions to New Hanover County’s special-use-permitting process.

The New Hanover County Planning Board will revisit proposed revisions to the process for awarding special-use permits in a second public hearing scheduled tonight.

The board faced a packed house and heard from more than a dozen speakers in an initial public hearing held in January. In light of comments received that night and in the weeks that followed, the proposal was continued to this month’s meeting, to be held at 6 p.m. at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse.

The changes are intended to clarify the process for applying for and awarding special-use permits, which are given to allow a particular land use that traditional zoning would otherwise not allow. The process was amended in 2011 to provide more controls over industrial uses specifically, but staff has said the changes are not meant to allow one land use or another.

At the hearing in January, industry advocates maintained the changes would clarify the process for awarding the permits, while environmental groups and other speakers said the changes would remove an existing requirement for applicants to provide a list of external impacts, such as noise, light, air quality and others. Other concerns focused on the time period for applying for permits, and whether state and federal permits awarded for a project could be submitted as part of an application.

Related story: Packed house prompts board to continue special-use-permit process decision

In response to those concerns, planning staff drafted a revised version of the proposals, which come at the same time the county is undertaking an effort to develop its first comprehensive plan. Another effort aims to identify industry the area could accommodate, as noted in a memo that accompanied the revisions.

“As the County is currently working with Jay Garner [of consulting firm Garner Economics] to identify specific industries to attract through economic development efforts and also embarking on a comprehensive planning process, great care was taken not to change the overall policy of the permit and how the industries were considered within each zoning district,” the memo said. “The Garner Study and the Comprehensive Plan will provide the information necessary to address policy issues.”

The proposals with revisions made since January can be viewed here. Related revisions to the county’s table of uses are also viewable here.

Questions about the changes can be directed to the planning department at 798-7624. Tonight’s public hearing will be held at the start of the board’s regular meeting, held in chambers at the historic courthouse at Third and Princess streets in downtown Wilmington.

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Jonathan Spiers is a reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or jonathan.s@portcitydaily.com. On Twitter: @jrspiers