In rare move, Pender County commissioners send developers back to drawing board

The stubbed road at the edge of a 35-home neighborhood has caused headaches for developers, and made residents fearful about what’s to come. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

PENDER COUNTY — Prospects for Falls Mist Village, a proposed single-family neighborhood in Rocky Point, massive enough to double the population of the town, appeared grim at the board of commissioners meeting Monday. 

But in a shocking turn, a path toward compromise emerged that would potentially satisfy both the developers, who want county permission to build a denser project, and the residents of an adjacent neighborhood, who have fought the proposal at every turn.

The 750-home project, backed by Mark Maynard of Tribute Companies, was first pitched a year ago. The 300 acres that comprise the site are around three miles north of the New Hanover County border and largely inland of the two major thoroughfares that bound it: Highway 210 and U.S. Route 117. 

Much of the resistance has stemmed from the developers’ plans to use a stubbed road, within the 35-home neighborhood immediately south of the site, as one of two main access points into the project.

Residents of the next-door neighborhood — who say the roads are already unkempt, not wide enough, and filled with children playing — decried the idea of making a roadway connection between their small enclave and hundreds of new homes. But there appeared to be no other option. 

That is, until the eleventh hour of the public hearing Monday night. Commissioners were finally revisiting Falls Mist Village after they tabled the project in January, and chairman George Brown was now airing grievances. 

Record-breaking Pender County rezoning request: 750 homes and a concerned neighborhood

“I am not interested in increased density,” Brown said during discussion. “I don’t think our schools can handle it. I don’t think our roads can handle it, personally.”

Sam Potter, the attorney representing Maynard and the proposed project, had vowed to largely restrict traffic at the road connection with a gate, until the 700th home of Falls Mist Village received its certificate of occupancy: The plan would delay hardcore traffic impacts on the southern neighbors for a few years. 

Moreover, this project requires county approval because developers want to build more units than currently allowed. Without any fuss, the same ownership could build around 667 homes on the site with far less oversight and concessions. In that case, county leaders would have no authority to leverage demands on the builders, as they do in conditional rezoning cases like this one. (The applicant pledged to build sidewalks, a central sewer treatment facility and more in exchange for added density.)

“I’m between a rock and a hard place on this,” Brown said, directing his thoughts to those locals who opposed the project. “If we say no to this rezoning, then your road becomes open as soon as they’re ready to open the road up.”

Commissioners voted 4-1 to deny the project, with Jackie Newton in dissent. In the aftermath of the vote, county leaders realized they failed to read the customary “consistency statement” that accompanies legislative decisions like rezoning rulings. 

As they worked through a bit of tedious parliamentary procedure, there were murmurs around the room. All of a sudden Johnathan Vaughan — a resident of the 35-home neighborhood who previously spoke in opposition during public comment — returned to the podium to make an announcement. 

Apparently, the landowner of a nine-acre parcel, next to both Falls Mist Village and the existing small neighborhood, had indicated a willingness to sell the land to the developers — providing a potential alternate site for an access road that could save the neighbors from an inundation of traffic. 

It was a rare move. Commissioners wondered if the applicant had gotten tired of having the decision continually postponed, but Potter said they welcomed the chance of new life. 

“We’ll be happy to talk with the neighbors,” he told the board. 

The motion to deny the project was rescinded. Commissioners then voted unanimously to table the project until further notice, tasking Potter with trying “to work something out” alongside the mysterious third party who made a last-minute entrance onto the scene. (The landowner of the nine-acre parcel did not speak at the meeting.) 

According to property records, the nine-acre parcel in question — fronting U.S. 117 — is owned by a Florida-registered limited liability company, Leuven, LLC. 

In its filings with the N.C. Secretary of State, the company lists a Miami phone number and an office address located at an oceanfront beach house on Figure Eight Island. The company owns around half a dozen small properties in New Hanover County and three in Pender.

Reached at the listed phone number, a representative of Leuven, LLC declined to comment.

PREVIOUSLY: Growing pains in Pender County are putting local politicians and multi-family developers at an impasse

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