NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Traffic concerns, connectivity, and school capacity were subjects of debate at a New Hanover County planning board meeting Wednesday, as board members sought to balance the interests of residents, staff, and a developer for a new project proposal in the fast-growing Porters Neck region.
“The density, on an emotional basis, I mean, it’s an ask for sure,” board member Kevin Hine said at the meeting. “But on the flip side there is so much demand for people who want to live in that area.”
After a long discussion, the planning board recommended approval of rezoning approximately 34.54 acres in Porters Neck to enable the construction of a maximum 348 townhome development. The applicant is Ronald Carlock with CIP Construction Company, a division of real estate development and management firm the Carroll Companies.
The site is currently zoned R-15 residential, B-2 highway commercial, and l-1 light industrial. Carlock is requesting a change to RMF-M, residential multi-family moderate high density.
The concept plan contains 348 residential units spread across 30 buildings. The overall density in the area would be 10.94 dwelling units per acre.
Planning board member Cameron Moore attached conditions to his motion to recommend approval of the rezoning request. They included restricting Brays Drive to emergency-use only. It would connect to the neighboring site of the Porter’s Pointe community.
Brays Drive was a major point of controversy at the meeting. County staff recommended full access of the road to improve connectivity, but the applicant and nearby residents adamantly requested its restriction. They argued it would bring excessive traffic into Porter’s Pointe.
Other conditions include the extension of buffers beyond county minimum width requirements, and the installation of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to internal roads connecting to surrounding parcels.
The board approved the request 4-2; board members Pete Avery and Hansen Matthews voted against it.
Avery said he supported the project but wouldn’t vote in favor until the North Carolina Department of Transportation approved the designation of Brays Drive as emergency-use only.
Tarrant similarly said he was generally in support of the project, but feared the high-density housing would exacerbate traffic on Market Street and school overcrowding.
“Just because you can build it, just because the density is allowable, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it,” he said.
The NCDOT and Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization approved a traffic impact analysis for the development; it requires a new traffic signal at Cypress Pond Way and a right-turn lane on Market Street on a northbound approach to the site.
The section of Market Street providing access to the proposed site is already above planning capacity; annual average daily traffic is 42,500 while capacity is only 41,369.
Staff expects traffic congestion in Porters Neck to be reduced by the recently opened Military Cutoff Extension. The site plan also includes an amenity area closer to Market Street to help transition from the highway to the residential development.
The TIA approval was based on full access to Brays Drive, which county staff also recommended.
Paramounte Engineering landscape architect Allison Engrebetson, who represented CIP Construction at the hearing, explained why the applicant wants to make access to the road gated and restrict it for emergency use.
She argued it would prevent traffic generated by the development from going through the adjacent Porter’s Pointe neighborhood and onto “a fairly difficult turn” onto Porters Neck Road.
Her argument was supported by residents during the meeting’s public hearing. Porters Pointe Homeowner’s Association board president Al Kennedy said the community’s HOA voted unanimously to support the rezoning, with the condition of restricting Brays Drive access to emergency use. He argued full access of the road would lower the community’s property values and cause safety issues on Porters Neck Road.
Neighborhood residents Mike Rose, Don Curtis, and Renee Ertischek similarly voiced concerns the development would cause traffic congestion and safety issues. Porters Pointe resident Lily Salisbury opposed the development and argued the high-density housing would also cause noise pollution and environmental degradation.
Porters Neck resident Steven Hamburger expressed concerns about density and overcrowding of schools; he said he thought staff’s prediction of 60 students generated by the development was an underestimate.
Tarrant similarly argued schools were already over capacity in the meeting.
“The numbers we get from schools do not match reality,” he said.
The county estimates the development would generate more students attending Porters Neck Elementary School, Holly Shelter Middle School, and Laney High School. Staff is currently analyzing school capacity and will provide updated data at a future meeting.
Pedestrian traffic represented another potential dispute between the parties. The county required pedestrian pathways as a condition for development, but Engrebetson said surrounding communities did not want increased foot and bike traffic in their neighborhoods.
Board members ultimately agreed to include pedestrian connectivity as a condition, especially to balance the restriction of Brays Drive.
“I think you need to have as much walkability, rideability, bike paths as possible because the amount of traffic that’s going to go in that little area in Market Street — you ain’t driving anywhere,” Tarrant said in the meeting.
Beyond Porter’s Pointe, the site’s rear and sides are bordered by Porters Crossing and Marsh Oaks residential communities.
“We’re trying to go for something that has a coastal feel, fits into upscale Porters Neck community,” Engrebetson said.
Avery recommended the applicant improve their plan site’s delineation of buffers to surrounding neighborhoods — including a conservation area, wetlands, and preserved vegetation — before presenting it to the commissioners.
He also criticized the Carroll Companies for the failure to disclose information about affordable housing options or the townhomes projected future prices. Carroll Companies land development director Dennis Burton spoke before the planning board but did not have information about potential affordable housing units and said prices would depend on market conditions.
“I don’t like that there’s no willingness at all to discuss affordable housing,” Avery said. “Not even five units, not even 10 units — that just bothers me for something this large.”
Commercial developments nearby the site’s entrance on Market Street include the Harris Teeter Oak Landing shopping center and a Walmart.
Law firm Lee Kaess, founded by Sen. Michael Lee, is also part of the project’s development team.
Lee Kaess previously represented applicant CIP Construction’s parent company the Carroll Companies at a Wilmington Planning Commissioner meeting in May regarding The Avenue, a $200 million, 44-acre mixed-use development planned for Military Cutoff Road.
The site plan’s final approval will be decided at the Dec. 11th New Hanover Board of Commissioners meeting.
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