Commissioners rezone Ogden land despite questions about traffic, future developments

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Photo courtesy New Hanover County.
Photo courtesy New Hanover County.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted to rezone 8.1 acres of land on Gordon Road from a residential district to a commercial business district.

The developer, David Harner of Paramount Development Corporation, asked for a change for five parcels of land in the 6700 block of Gordon Road from R-15 Residential District (originally zoned in 1971), a low-density residential area for single-family homes, to B-2 Highway Business District, a commercial district.

The land is just south of Eaton Elementary School and Ogden Park and two blocks west of Market Street. Surrounding areas include a mix of industrial, residential and business zoning districts.

At their Oct. 1 meeting, the county’s planning board voted 5 – 1 to recommend the applicant’s request. According to Brad Schuler, the county’s current planner, the one dissenter had concerns about traffic issues in an area near a busy intersection. Commissioner Rob Zapple shared those same concerns, saying that the area is already congested, especially on weekends when there are sporting events at Ogden Park.

“There’s a tremendous amount of traffic that has to enter Gordon Road right there,” Zapple said.

According to the supporting documents, the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization conducted a traffic study on that particular block in January 2014 and deemed it had an acceptable and safe level of service. A widening of Gordon Road from west of US Business 17 (Market Street) to the NC132 interchange ramp is part of the 2016 – 2025 State Transportation Improvements Program. The project is slated to start construction in 2024, but it is currently unfunded. Plans for the extension of Military Cutoff Road also include installation of a median on Gordon Road east of the property being rezoned.

A Traffic Impact Analysis must be completed if any future development proposals are expected to generate more than 100 peak hour trips. TIAs, which are reviewed by the county, Wilmington MPO and NC Department of Transportation, can lead to roadway improvements.

Another concern Zapple had was the lack of a development plan. As the request was for a straight rezoning rather than a conditional one, no specific site plans were required to be presented.

“If we don’t know what it is that’s going to be there, how can we say with a surety that what’s going to be there … is going to match up with our [New Hanover County] comprehensive plan?” Zapple asked. “If we had a site plan … that would raise my comfort level a little bit.”

Harner, the developer, said that they were on a short time frame to purchase the land and did not have time to come up with a site plan, hence them asking for a straight rezoning rather than a conditional one. He did not want to speculate about what might go on that land, but said they would look to benefit the local economy.

“We just see this commercial designation as the highest and best use,” Harner said. “There are a tremendous amount of people in this area looking for jobs close by, and that’s what we intend to serve.”

Any future development must meet the requirements of the ordinance. Some permitted developments in a B-2 zone include retail and food stores, restaurants, hotels and parks and recreation areas. According to Schuler, the Coastal Area Management Act has the area designated as urban, so rezoning it for businesses fits in with the growth plan.

“This is the area we want to see our most intensive uses and our highest density developments,” Schuler said.

The motion eventually passed 5 – 0.