Special-use permit, Porters Neck development on county agenda Monday

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Two hotly debated items of business, both continued from meetings earlier this year, will be revisited at Monday’s meeting of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.

New Hanover County Historic Courthouse. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.
Monday’s meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse, 24 N. Third St. in downtown Wilmington.

Proposed revisions to the county’s process for awarding special-use permits are on the agenda, two months after County Manager Chris Coudriet recommended more time for commissioners to review the proposals.

Coudriet advised the delay in light of the county planning board having comparable time to consider the proposals, and because commissioners were set to receive an economic analysis report from consulting firm Garner Economics.

That analysis recommended 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.

Coudriet said he is not recommending doing away with the special-use permit, but he said the board is free to consider revisions to the table of uses to allow “target industries” by right in some areas, as stated in a memo in the board’s agenda packet.

“Staff is not recommending elimination of the special use permit process; however, should the board be inclined to consider the study’s recommendation of modifying the table of permitted uses, an amended table is included in this proposal,” the memo states.

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

County planners have said the changes are meant to make the process easier to follow, not easier to allow one land use or another. But critics have said the changes as proposed would complicate the process and go against the intent of the special-use permit.

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.

The 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.

A public hearing will precede any action by the board.

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

Also on the agenda is a debated mixed-use development in the Porters Neck area.

ACI Pine Ridge LLC is proposing a mix of residential and commercial uses on 38 acres near the 100 block of Porters Neck Road, beside the Lowe’s Home Improvement store at the road’s intersection with Market Street. The project would consist of 273 apartments within 13 three-story buildings, four residential parking garages and 40,000 square feet of commercial space including retail shops, a restaurant and a hotel within five separate buildings, according to plans submitted with the county.

The development is considered the second phase of a project that started with the Lowe’s store and included improvements to the road network there, including the addition of a six-lane street that accesses the site. County planning staff recommends the project’s approval, as did the planning board after a hearing in February.

Related story: Porters Neck development decision delayed until June

At an initial hearing in March, commissioners heard from area residents who stated concerns about traffic and other potential impacts. Residents who spoke said they preferred a commercial-only option first proposed when the Lowe’s store was built, but representatives for the developer maintained the mixed-use version would generate less daily traffic counts.

A concern about whether the application was considered complete prompted commissioners to delay the hearing to this month. The hearing will continue at Monday’s meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse.

The agenda for the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the county’s website.

Related story: County budget hearing Monday; proposal would increase funding for outside agencies

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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