Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Split vote, developer pushback tables NHC’s EV-ready space requirement

Tyler Newman, president of North Carolina Business Alliance of a Sound Economy, was one of three business representatives to speak in opposition to the county’s EV-ready text amendment mandate and ask commissioners to postpone a vote.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County commissioners were divided on whether the government should force developers to incorporate electric vehicle preparations into future site plans.

READ MORE: NHC considers mandating EV-ready parking spaces to the dismay of some developers

After more than a year of staff research, community feedback and a recommendation of approval from the New Hanover County Planning Board, a text amendment requiring developers to install a conduit for EV charging stations was tabled by commissioners Monday.

The business community, encouraging the item to be postponed, pushed back on the amendment that would mandate 20% of spots in commercial parking lots and 30% of spaces for apartments, hotels and parking lots be EV-ready. All lots would have a maximum cap of 15 spaces.

EV-ready means installing the underground conduit so down the road charging stations can be set up and hooked into an electrical panel; it does not mean the county would require full installation of the stations.

Commissioner Dane Scalise was adamant installation of EV-ready spaces should be left to the private sector and the county should not be making text amendments that impact a small percentage of the community. Right now, 0.6% of vehicles in New Hanover County are electric, Scalise pointed out, and this is only expected to rise to 2% by 2026.

On the other hand, commissioner Rob Zapple said the amendment was “common sense” and the county should be a leader in environmental stewardship.

“Eventually, within six years, we will be needing a whole lot more,” he said.

Zapple was referring to Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order with a goal for 1.25 million registered zero-emission vehicles in the state by 2030. President Joe Biden also signed a federal executive order in 2021 for 50% of new U.S. vehicles to be zero emission by 2030.

County planning director Rebekah Roth said the cost to install a conduit is between $1.50 and $3 per foot, versus the greater expense to tear up pavement, retrofit spots and install electrical panels for charging stations after-the-fact. 

“I don’t think we’re asking a lot,” Zapple said. “We’re trying to suggest, in a cost-effective way, let’s start preparing for this.” 

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield was initially in favor, chair Bill Rivenbark was not; he cited car dealerships closing because they can’t meet EV demand goals. According to CNBC, General Motors is offering to buy out nearly 2,000 Buick dealerships that are refusing to invest in electric vehicles sales and maintenance.

Vice chair LeAnn Pierce was not in favor of the move; she suggested developers should be encouraged to install conduits for future EV spaces but not require them.

The potential ordinance update was led by county staff in anticipation of the rising number of EVs. There were 1,120 registered in New Hanover County in 2023, with a more than 230% increase expected by 2026.

Roth explained even though the business community is taking some initiative to install stations or prepare with conduits within new developments, it doesn’t mean they’re accessible to all residents. She said the county should take charge in creating centralized locations as the forecast number of electric vehicles is anticipated to increase threefold in the next three years.

There are currently 55 EV charging stations spread across New Hanover County, which as Brad Schuler with Paramounte Engineering pointed out, “the private market is currently keeping up with demands for EVs.”

Schuler cited changing technology as a possible issue for developers. He said EVs can now travel more than 200 miles without needing to charge, a jump from the roughly 80 miles batteries were built for a decade ago.

He also said, since EV charging is not “tied to the safe operation of a business,” it should not be included as a land ordinance.

Schuler was one of three representatives to speak in opposition to the amendment at Monday’s meeting. Many also spoke out against the EV-ready mandate in November during the planning board’s hearing, and asked the county to tweak its amendment as written.

Tyler Newman, president and CEO of Business Alliance for a Sound Economy, said he received mixed feedback from builders. His nonprofit advocates for businesses and industry in the region.

“There were some of them that are already putting these EV charging stations in their developments and others are concerned with changing technology and cost and just the general issue of a government mandate,” he told commissioners.

McKay Siegel with East West Partners told PCD in November he installed four two-sided charges recently costing $40,000 plus annual operating fees of $2,500 per year.

In November, Newman told PCD developers already face challenges designing a site plan, such as having to accommodate for landscaping, open space, utilities, building height, trees, stormwater, sidewalks, zoning and more. 

Newman said a 20% mandate is a “challenge” for some developers, especially those incorporating affordable housing — an added expense because there’s less return on investment per unit.

He said the county setting standards for EV-ready spaces and charging stations is one thing that could be palatable but agreed with vice chair Pierce that requiring them is an overstep.

Eastern Carolinas Commercial Real Estate Vice President John Hinnant, who is also running for a commissioner seat in 2024, told the board incentivizing EV-ready spaces would be a better path forward.

“You’re carrying a stick when you probably need a carrot,” he said.

Hinnant used the example of allowing increased density for developments that set aside a percentage of residential units as workforce housing. He also encouraged the board to table the discussion, reconsider its language to be more clear and see what is dictated by the market.

To the point of some developers, Scalise asked if the county installed EV-ready spaces at its new government center, which opened in April 2023; Roth responded it did not. County manager Chris Coudriet said designs began in 2019, prior to executive orders and a more zero-emission focused region.

However, the county intends to incorporate EV-ready spaces in future county projects.

Chief Facilities Officer Sara Warmuth noted Cape Fear FD Stonewater, building a mixed-use private development next to the government center, intends to install EV stations on its side of the parking lot.

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Warmuth also said she intends to ask in the upcoming budget cycle for two electric vehicles for county electricians to drive.

Newman also brought up the City of Wilmington’s ordinance in comparison. The city requires 2% of parking spaces to be EV-ready and 2% to be fully outfitted with charging stations. However, the Wilmington Planning Commission is discussing possible changes to its EV ordinance Wednesday, Newman said.

“It’s something the city is having to correct and we should be mindful of that before we tread into these waters,” said Scalise, who called the text amendment “onerous.”

City spokesperson Lauren Edwards confirmed the ordinance will clarify current code requirements for EV stations but no substantive changes are expected.

Barfield suggested the county wait until the city amends its ordinance before making any decisions.

Zapple made a motion to approve the text amendment, which failed for a lack of a second. Scalise then made a motion to deny the amendment, and Barfield offered a supplemental motion to table the discussion.

“I don’t want to see this thing go away,” Zapple said. “Staff has put a lot o f time into it and it doesn’t strike me as controversial.”

Scalise said denying the motion would not “kill it in perpetuity,” but he did not think it should move forward as written.

Ultimately, the board voted 3-2, Scalise and Pierce dissenting, to table a vote until June and advised staff to collaborate with the community and make changes to the text before its approval.

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