LELAND — Facing stalled progress in a campaign to convince New Hanover County to allow the creation of a three-tower hotel and complex on the western banks of the Cape Fear River, KFJ Development Group — the three-person team behind the Villages at Battleship Point — has potentially found a new route forward: annexation into Leland.
Battleship Point emerged into the public last autumn as a proposed re-imagination of the riverfront opposite downtown Wilmington — which has been left mostly undeveloped, in contrast with the city’s urbanized core.
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When the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners considered an application to create a new, riverfront-centered zoning district in January — the first step required to eventually approve construction of Battleship Point — county leaders tabled the application. Before considering it again, the county plans to host a work session that will inform guidelines and intentions for development of the west banks.
“When we got tabled at the county commissioners meeting, we sat down and started scratching our heads, and said to ourselves: What could our other options be?” said real estate agent Kirk Pugh, a founding member of KFJ Development Group.
“We think there are two clear options,” Pugh continued. “The obvious one would be to seek potential annexation into Wilmington, and the other was, could we possibly annex into the town of Leland?”
Last week, KFJ Development Group announced the resignation of Frank Pasquale, an original member of the team and the face of Battleship Point in initial public hearings. Jacqueline Amato, a former mortgage banking executive, joined the team in his place. Jim Lea, a Wilmington-area family law attorney, is the third member.
Voluntary annexation is possible in cross-county situations like this one, as long as the annexed territory is within 3 miles of the annexing municipality’s corporate limits. Leland’s borders already protrude east over the Brunswick River — a sliver of land sandwiched by unincorporated Brunswick County — across Eagles Island and approaching the Thomas Rhodes Bridge. The 8-acre parcel on Point Peter, the site proposed for Battleship Point, is currently within unincorporated New Hanover County.
“The Town of Leland is reviewing the request from a property owner in the Battleship Point area for voluntary annexation into the town,” according to a Leland spokesperson. “This is an option available to the developer under current North Carolina statute that the property owner is choosing to explore. The town is entertaining this request, as it does with any request of this nature.”
Just as KFJ Development did in New Hanover County — given the unprecedented style and scope of the proposal — the first step toward securing rights for the project in Leland would be to create a new zoning district designed with Battleship Point in mind. Last year, the development team proposed the Riverfront Urban Mixed-Use district in New Hanover. It was recommended for denial by the planning board in December, then tabled by commissioners in January until after the county holds its work session.
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Rebekah Roth, New Hanover County planning director, said the work session will still take place. Participants will hear information and concerns about riverfront development across from Wilmington.
“There may be some additional information that we put together as a result of this voluntary annexation application, but we are still planning on moving forward, especially since we don’t really know what’s going to happen with anything with Leland at this point in time,” Roth said. “We would be providing an overview of some of the concerns that were identified — the environmental concerns, transportation concerns, impacts on adjacent properties, what would be required during the permitting process — and then provide some information from a land-use perspective.”
KFJ Development has now applied to create that same novel zoning district in Leland, with language mostly mirroring its previous application to New Hanover County.
The Leland Planning Board will consider the application at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 22. The decision to approve or deny the measure rests with the town council, which would take up the application after the planning board.
“We have to submit the text amendment to the town,” Pugh said. “Assuming we get some positive feedback on the text amendment, then an annexation request would follow.”
Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman said there is “not much else to say until presentations are given to council.” Relevant to this project, the text amendment application for the new zoning district is the only item on Tuesday’s planning board agenda.
“The proposed ordinance amendment would establish a new zoning district, designate what uses would be permitted in the district, and create supplemental standards for development in the district,” according to the town spokesperson. “The RUMXD amendment proposal will be presented to the planning board at their February 22 meeting as a discussion/action item. All planning board meetings include an opportunity for public comment.”
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