County taking more time on proposed permitting changes; hearing delayed until June

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New Hanover County will take two more months to review proposed changes to its special-use process before presenting them to commissioners for their consideration.

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.

A public hearing that was scheduled for the board’s next meeting has been continued to June 2 at the request of the county manager, who contends more time is warranted for commissioners to review the proposed changes before considering them for potential approval.

In an email to the board and top county leadership last week, County Manager Chris Coudriet said the delay is due in part to the fact that the county planning board had a similar amount of time to consider the proposals, and that the commissioners’ meeting next Monday comes just days after the board is to receive a commissioned economic analysis from consulting firm Garner Economics.

That analysis—to be presented in a special meeting tomorrow—recommends doing away completely with the special-use permit (SUP) requirement for industry, or at least revising the process significantly to clarify requirements and expectations for businesses looking to locate here—a goal, supporters say, of the changes the county’s proposing.

Related story: County releases draft economic analysis; special-use permit deletion advised

In his email, Coudriet notes the planning board’s vote to recommend approval at its meeting in March would typically come to commissioners one month later. The circumstances, however, warrant more time through administrative action, Coudriet told the board.

“My rationale for taking such an administrative action is twofold,” he said. “The planning board had the opportunity to consider this item over the course of two meetings, and I am of the opinion the board of commissioners should have at least the same amount of time and space to consider and issue as important as revisions to the SUP.”

Second, Coudriet said: “The Garner Economics report is being presented to the board April 2. I believe staff should have the opportunity to revisit clarity points in the planning board-endorsed version—specifically some thought around improvements to the table of permitted uses.

“Combined, the two points of adequate review time by the board and the staff opportunity to think more about the table of permitted uses vis-à-vis the Garner report suggests to me the best time for the board to hear the revisions is the June 2 meeting.”

The special-use permit revision proposals have drawn scrutiny from groups such as the Cape Fear Economic Development Council and environmental advocates who fear the changes would make it easier for high-impact industries to locate in the county. Industry advocates such as Wilmington Business Development and the local Coalition for Economic Advancement contend the permit’s requirements as-written are too vague and effectively scare off prospective business.

Previous story: Concerns precede hearing on special-use-permit revisions for New Hanover

Special-use permits are awarded to allow a particular land use that would otherwise not be allowed through traditional zoning. A notable example of a use that would require a special-use permit is the Carolinas Cement plant proposed at Castle Hayne. County staff has said the revisions would not alter the requirement for that project or others like it, but rather serve to clarify the process and help businesses know what to expect.

At the planning board’s meeting on March 6, opponents asked the county to take more time with the revisions, contending that a decision should be part of the county’s effort to develop its first comprehensive plan. Having delayed a vote the month before, the planning board voted to recommend approval to commissioners, which will now take up the matter in June.

The Garner report will be presented to the board in a special meeting Wednesday at 2 p.m. The meeting will be held in chambers at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse. A copy of the final report can be viewed here.

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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

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