Number of public hearings force time change for commissioners meeting

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New Hanover County Historic Courthouse. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
New Hanover County Historic Courthouse. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners have changed the start time of their next meeting, set for May 2, to 3 p.m. due to the number of items on their agenda.

At their last agenda briefing on April 14, New Hanover County Development Services Director Chris O’Keefe told commissioners that there were seven items on the planning board’s agenda for their meeting that night, which means they could all potentially be set for public hearings at the next commissioners meeting.

All seven items (six rezoning requests and one special use permit request) were approved by the planning board that night. A public hearing to rezone an area on North College Road near Laney High School in order to build an 88-unit apartment complex was continued from the April 4 meeting and will also be on the May 2 agenda, bringing the total number of public hearings to eight.

At their meeting last Monday, commissioners debated what to do. Commissioner Rob Zapple suggested starting at 3 p.m. instead of the usual 4 p.m.

“It’s going to be a very long meeting, so I want us to be energized,” Zapple said, joking that everyone should take a nap before the meeting and bring a snack.

Commissioners Skip Watkins and Woody White agreed with Zapple’s suggestion, with White saying he would even support starting as early as 2 p.m. Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr, however, was concerned that citizens would not be able to move their schedules as easily.

“My concern is that the public won’t be able to attend,” Barfield said, noting that people may not be able to get off work that early. “These are public hearings, and our aim is to serve the public.”

While some public hearings move along quickly with no comments from citizens, others, particularly those regarding new housing developments or commercial properties going into residential areas, can bring people out in droves.

Due to the uncertainty of how long each hearing may last, commissioners have asked staff to put the items they believe are more important and will draw the most commenters first so citizens don’t have to wait around too long to speak. The item continued from the April 4 meeting regarding the proposed apartments on North College Road will be first on the list of public hearings.

It is unclear how many items are on the rest of the agenda, which will be released later this week prior to Thursday afternoon’s agenda briefing. Public hearings are generally at the end of the regular agenda items of business.

County commissioners meetings are held at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse, located at 24 N. 3rd St. in downtown Wilmington.