SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Those who live in Brunswick or New Hanover counties, and travel the memorial bridge, dine downtown or walk the riverfront likely possess some interest in new efforts to develop the land on the western banks of the Cape Fear River. But actually following the details can get complicated and easily misconstrued, especially for anyone unfamiliar with the zoning process.
A major project that has sparked a lot of conversation is The Villages at Battleship Point. At the heart of the plan are three 200-plus-foot-tall towers proposed across from the Wilmington Convention Center. Since this project’s position is unique — and would essentially set a precedent for the future of development on that side of the river — it requires a deliberate and thoughtful zoning process within local government.
There is also a proposal for a 100-foot Wilmington Hotel and Spa on land south of the Battleship. The site is currently zoned for businesses, so it’s allowed by right and without much input from officials.
Battleship Point is more complicated because the land it would exist on is currently zoned for industrial uses. Port City Daily has compiled a guide to help readers follow what the development is, who the major players are, where it stands and how to get involved in the conversation.
Port City Daily last updated this article Apr. 1 and will continue to add new information as it becomes available.
What is Battleship Point?
As currently envisioned, Battleship Point is a plan for three towers, each possibly reaching up to 240 feet. It would house 550 condominium units, 300 apartment units, a hotel, and commercial space.
Where will it be?
The address of the 8-acre site is 1100 Point Harbor Dr., off U.S. Highway 421 near the Thomas Rhodes Bridge. It’s located on Peter Point, a peninsula at which the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers meet.
Who is behind it?
KFJ Development Group joined to bring the vision into reality. The acronym stands for the original three founding member’s initials:
The “K” stands for real estate agent Kirk Pugh.
The “J” represents attorney Jim Lea, who practices family law. He’s also representing victims of child sex abuse in a high-profile lawsuit against the New Hanover County Board of Education.
The “F” represented Frank Pasquale, a retired developer who moved from New Jersey five years ago. However, Pasquale resigned as technical director in February, effectively removing his name from the project.
His departure came after a report released by Port City Daily in January shedding light on a New Jersey court ruling that Pasquale forged documents to procure a loan. (Pasquale denies breaking any laws.)
In Pasquale’s stead, Jacqueline Amato, a mortgage banking veteran, was brought on as a principal to the team. She served as chairperson and chief executive officer of TowneBank Mortgage from 2012 to 2016 and, before that, was the company’s president and chief operating officer from 2000 until 2012.
Where does the project stand?
The project can’t be built right now because it is in an area zoned only for heavy industrial use, like for factories or landfills.
The developers have asked both New Hanover County and the Town of Leland to each consider creating a new zoning district that would allow for their project. A zoning district is an area in which there are uniform regulations and requirements governing the types of uses that can exist, the spacing between buildings, the amount of preserved green space and more. The developers have the right to apply for this text amendment to the town or county’s development ordinances to create the new zone.
The proposed zoning for each jurisdiction is entitled the “riverfront mixed-use zoning,” or RUMXZ. New Hanover County’s proposal includes allowances such as a 240-foot height limit. The county commissioners have not made any final moves on the rezoning.
The RUMXZ district proposal for Leland almost mirrors the one in New Hanover County. If created as proposed, it would offer a 300-foot height limit. The Leland planning board has recommended that, if council approves the district, it drop the maximum height to 240 feet.
Height is an important factor. As officials debate what is allowed, they’re also taking into consideration nearby structures:
- The City of Wilmington allows 240-foot buildings in the central business district north of Red Cross Street
- Wilmington’s tallest building is the PPD headquarters at about 190 feet
- The Battleship, at its tallest point — the “truck” lights on the foremast — reaches 151 feet, about less than 7 inches above the waterline
The developers have two possible options at this time. The land could stay in unincorporated New Hanover County or it may be annexed into Leland — depending upon which one presents the more favorable outcome in the zoning process.
One Leland planning board member called this “shopping around.”
If the zoning process in Leland goes as preferred for KFJ Development Group, it will likely proceed with annexation. It has already begun that process. If it is annexed in, it would probably be zoned as the riverfront district, in effect allowing for the project to move forward. The town would then be obligated to extend its services, like trash collection and fire protection, that it operates within corporate limits. In return, the 850 prospective residents and businesses would contribute to the tax base.
The voluntary annexation, if it went through, would make that 8 acres part of Leland and New Hanover County. Right now, Leland is entirely in Brunswick County. Annexation is possible across counties, as long as the annexed territory is within 3 miles of the annexing municipality’s corporate limits.
If KFJ Development Group finds more success in New Hanover County, it would still need to submit a request to apply the riverfront zoning district to the Battleship Point property.
What are the arguments for and against the development?
Proponents say the proposal is an opportunity to clean up a long-neglected scrapyard that no one has allocated time or resources toward and replace it with an attractive skyline. The developers argue it’s perfectly developable and stress that it will abide by a host of permits, required both locally and from the state, to mitigate flooding concerns.
Opponents say a new zoning district would promote high-density development in an environmentally sensitive area at risk of flooding from storm surges and sea-level rise. Many also argue skyscrapers would overshadow the U.S.S. North Carolina and obstruct the sunset and natural views from downtown Wilmington.
Notable challengers include the New Hanover and Brunswick chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Historic Wilmington Foundation.
What’s happened so far?
Nov. 4, 2021: ‘This will be a gamechanger’
Battleship Point emerged in the public and was presented to the New Hanover County Planning Board.
New Hanover County Planning Board advised denial of the new riverfront zoning district. This is merely a recommendation. The board of commissioners makes the final decisions.
Jan. 10: New Hanover County commissioners table consideration
New Hanover County Board of Commissioners postponed consideration of KFJ Development Group’s proposal in favor of holding a work session to take a closer look at its overall goals for the western banks.
It was revealed KFJ Development Group was considering annexation into Leland after the stalled movement in New Hanover County.
“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?’” real estate agent Pugh, of KFJ Development Group, told Port City Daily at the time.
“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?”
The Leland Planning Board considered the application for the new riverfront district and had a lot of questions about what it would mean for the town’s future. No recommendation was made, as the board was simply reviewing the application.
The Leland Planning Board and town staff recommended the town council approve the riverfront zoning district when the time comes. It also recommended it zone the land as RUMXD if it is annexed, which would effectively allow for Battleship Point to move forward.
The final decisions rest with the town council.
New Hanover County leaders held a work session to discuss the future of the Cape Fear River’s western banks. No decisions were made. The commissioners directed the planning staff to prepare for another meeting to discuss zoning options.
What are the next steps?
Leland Town Council will hold a public hearing to consider annexing the property. Check back for more information on when the hearings are finalized and how the procedures will work.
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Leland Town Hall Council Chambers, 102 Town Hall Dr.
Watch online: YouTube
New Hanover County is holding a second work session to inform guidelines and intentions for the development of the west banks. A date has yet to be announced.
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