NEW HANOVER COUNTY — There have been two public attempts this year to fashion the western riverbanks of the Cape Fear with high-density, residential development.
First came Battleship Point: a trio of high-rises to be constructed on a peninsula at which the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers converge. The proposed venture requires hefty legislative moves from county leaders, and its future is unclear after the planning board recently refused to endorse the plan.
The final chance at success for Battleship Point will come during the board of commissioners meeting next month. The development team will ask the county’s top legislators to rule in contrast with the planning board’s recommendation and approve a new zoning district designed to accommodate dense development across the river from downtown Wilmington.
The commissioners’ decision will be a bellwether moment that will make clear how much appetite the county has for such development. The planning department’s official stance is to encourage high-density projects there, and many have lauded the proposal as a first step in forming a dual-sided riverwalk on both flanks of the Cape Fear. At the same time, environmentalists have fought Battleship Point at every turn, casting warnings about future sea level rise and flooding concerns relevant to the area.
“Our current policy is that we want it to look like downtown Wilmington,” planning director Rebekah Roth told WECT last week. “That is something that our board of commissioners has established several times over the past 25 years and so right now we’re saying that’s what we want to see. It looks like the market is saying that is something that makes sense to do at this point in time.”
Next came an approach to build a 100-foot tall hotel and spa across the river from Market Street. Unlike the Battleship Point site, this land is already zoned favorably for a hotel project, so no legislative actions from commissioners are required.
While these two proposals have captured public attention and framed a conversation about the future of riverfront development on the west banks, additional plans could be brewing in private.
According to real estate records, at least five tracts totaling 159 acres of riverfront land are for sale at this time, including an 80-acre parcel listed as “sale pending” on the N.C. Commercial Multiple Listing Service. The collective asking price for the five lots, which are all under different ownership, is $29.275 million. (It’s unclear when each of the lots was posted for sale; the five listings were all updated in recent weeks.)
The available land is concentrated along the U.S. Highway 421 corridor, which runs north-south parallel to the river. Most of the available acreage has an industrial history.
The 80-acre parcel pending sale is south of the I-140 bridge, situated between the highway and the river. The Indiana-based limited liability company that owned the land, OmniSource, describes itself as “one of North America’s largest processors and distributors of scrap and secondary metals.”
Previously a metals recycling site, the tract includes 57 acres of uplands, according to the MLS, and is zoned for industrial purposes. Included with the sale comes a 70-foot long Toledo truck scale. The sale price was listed at nearly $4 million.
Directly south of the former metals recycling site, there is a 44-acre tract for sale listed at $3.75 million. It was formerly utilized for the production and storage of sulfuric acid. Also carrying an industrial zoning tag, the site “lies within one of three Port Enhancement Zones in New Hanover County, meaning a potential user could qualify for additional state tax credits for jobs and investment,” according to the MLS.
Just south of the Isabella Holmes Bridge, a 29-acre shipyard tract is for sale. The site is directly across the river from Wilmington’s newest concert venue, Riverfront Park. Listed at $9.435 million, this parcel, in 2008, was the only piece of land ever rezoned in line with a zoning district New Hanover County previously created to accommodate riverfront development on the western shores. (The existing zoning district attracted scant interest. Part of the Battleship Point package is a proposal for a new riverfront-centered district, which, if approved, would serve as a replacement for the existing district).
The final two parcels listed for sale on the MLS are immediately south of the shipyard tract — all three of which have addresses on Point Harbor Road. They’re both much smaller, at 2.67 acres and 3.34 acres. With respective price tags of $5.350 million and $6.750 million, however, their price per acre is higher than the others.
These two parcels are also advertised as being directly across the water from Riverfront Park. The smaller one appears to have been owned by a private citizen for decades, and the other was bought by ACI Holding, LLC in 2013 after the previous owner declared bankruptcy, according to property records.
The public hearing concerning Battleship Point will take place Jan. 10, 2022 at 4 p.m. in the historic downtown courthouse. On the table is a text amendment to establish a framework for across-the-river development that would inform the parameters of Battleship Point and other proposals to come.
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