Judge’s order OKs permit for Porters Neck mixed-use development project

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A superior court judge’s order has moved forward a special use permit for a mixed-use development in the Porters Neck area of New Hanover County.

County commissioners in June 2014 were split on their decision to award a special use permit for ACI Pine Ridge LLC, whose proposal is a mix of residential and commercial uses on 38 acres near the 100 block of Porters Neck Road at its intersection with Market Street.

But Superior Court Judge Doug Parsons issued a court order granting the permit, which was signed by New Hanover County Commissioners Chairman Jonathan Barfield last month. According to a memo issued by the county attorney’s office, Parsons’ order found that the 2-2 vote was a denial of the special use permit. “He further found that it was an error of law to not have approved the request and ordered the issuance of the special use permit,” the memo states.

“Technically, this doesn’t require an approval of the board,” New Hanover County Deputy Attorney Sharon Huffman said during Monday’s commission meeting. “It’s here today for what we phrased as a ratification. The special use permit has already been issued. Most any time a superior court judge issues an order, most of those orders are subject to appeal to our appellate courts if a party chooses to appeal.

“Based on the facts  in this matter and the law that I knew the judge was applying, it was my legal opinion that the judge had come to the correct decision, and I did not feel that there was any reasonable chance that an appellate court would find different.”

Commissioner Woody White, an attorney professionally, said Parsons’ order “is very clear.”

“It needs to be passed over our objections. That’s the way the food chain works,” White said. “I respect judges’ findings. But it exposes a real problem in our ordinance. It’s over now. We can’t do anything about this parcel, unfortunately.”

Related story: Split votes result in no decision for special use permit, Porters Neck development

The project calls for 273 apartments within 13 three-story buildings, four residential parking garages and 40,000 square feet of commercial space to house retail shops, a restaurant and a hotel, according to plans submitted with the county.

The development is considered the second phase of a project that started with a Lowe’s Home Improvement store and included improvements to the road network there, including the addition of a six-lane street that accesses the site.

Related story: Special use permit, Porters Neck development on county agenda

At a hearing in March 2014, commissioners heard from area residents who voiced 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.