Starbucks making moves for new coffeehouse on vacant downtown lot

A real estate company has agreed to purchase a vacant downtown lot so that the multinational coffee titan can bring another Starbucks to the Cape Fear region. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

WILMINGTON — One southern gateway into downtown Wilmington could soon be the site of New Hanover County’s fifteenth Starbucks location, depending on the success of a special use permit application filed on behalf of the coffee chain powerhouse. 

Texas real estate company Vaquero Ventures Management filed an application with the City of Wilmington to permit Starbucks to occupy a vacant lot at the corner of 3rd and Wooster streets. The prominent spot is just beyond the boundaries of Wilmington’s historic district, and highly traversed by commuters entering and exiting the city via the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. 

Starbucks must first notch a series of civic victories before the company can break ground on the newest addition to its Wilmington fleet of stores. Vaquero Ventures, which has made deals for Starbucks previously in other states, is under contract on the 0.83-acre lot for a purchase price of $795,000. The zoning regulations in that area require all establishments hoping to offer a drive-through to first obtain a special use permit. 

City staff have not yet finished a review of the Starbucks application. Both the planning commission and city council will host a hearing for the application. Unlike standard rezoning requests, special use permit applications can only be fought or promoted through lawyers and expert testimony — a quasi-judicial process that makes no allowance for emotional and subjective arguments. 

To navigate the local channels, Vaquero Ventures has enlisted Matt Nichols, one of Wilmington’s foremost real estate attorneys. 

“Starbucks is a high-profile user known to increase the value of nearby properties when developed in new markets or trade areas,” according to the SUP application. “Their brand recognition, high-end design standards, and loyal followers stimulate the surrounding area and promote new growth.”

The intersection of 3rd and Wooster streets is not part of the local historic district, but the location is within the bounds of the National Parks Service’s list of preservation-worthy areas, the National Register of Historic Places. Properties within these zones require a 90-day notice before demolition can occur — a non-issue for Starbucks given that the lot has been vacant for years.

With the parcel’s access points “positioned away from the intersection,” traffic congestion won’t be problematic, and the spot will be pedestrian-friendly, according to the application.

A series of homes on 3rd Street border the vacant lot. The area is part of the territory zoned for urban mixed use, which permits a wide range of commercial and residential projects. 

“The district regulations include design elements intended to enhance the urban form, increase neighborhood safety, add flexibility for small, urban lots, and complement the historic built environment,” according to Wilmington’s land development code. 

Once city staff complete the review of the Starbucks request, the application will be considered at a future meeting of the Wilmington Planning Commission. 

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