Monday, June 24, 2024

Resident group argues infill amendment will encourage overdevelopment

The county is seeking to revise its density and infill guidelines for more efficient planning, but some residents are concerned the update would encourage overdevelopment and environmental degradation. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The county is seeking to revise its density and infill guidelines for more efficient planning, but some residents are concerned the update would encourage overdevelopment and environmental degradation.

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In a May 9 email to commissioners, county manager Chris Coudriet said the county asked planning staff to create a tool to provide the planning board options when considering infill or increased zoning density requests. He cited concerns applicants sometimes asked for too much density, and believed the guidance would help board decisions in the interim before the comprehensive plan is updated next year.

The draft amendment focuses on the use of undeveloped land within built-up areas. It states much of the county’s development has a low-density pattern because projects took place before widespread water and sewer availability, and planning should be updated to account for new infrastructure.

The current comprehensive plan encourages higher density across the county. The new draft amendment notes new infill projects may have higher density than surrounding areas and emphasizes the importance of transitional buffers to preserve the character of existing communities as new, high-density projects are built nearby, such as stormwater ponds, barriers, and trees.

Development review planner Amy Doss presented the new guidelines to the planning board on May 2. She described the amendment as an immediate tool to guide the board’s consideration of rezoning applications.

After Doss’ presentation, planning board members Clark Hipp and Colin Tarrant said they thought the guidelines would be useful as the county considers high-density proposals. 

“The amendment is intended to provide specific guidance for rezoning requests, addressing concerns about higher density development,” planning and development director Rebekah Roth told PCD. “We encourage residents to visit our website for more information and to provide feedback. While there will be opportunities for public comment over the next few months, the sooner feedback is received the more it will allow for consideration as the amendment is being developed.”

Member Pete Avery requested more time to consider the update. He told Port City Daily Tuesday he wants to ensure the document has specific and comprehensive language and will review it in more detail ahead of next month’s meeting. It’s looking to come back before the board June 6.

Resident Kayne Darrell, the leader of local organization Citizens for Smart Growth, also requested an extension for the public comment period. Darrell previously led Citizens Against Titan, the activist group that opposed Titan Cement plant’s proposed facility in the county. The company pulled out of its plans in 2016 after public pushback.

“We just want smart growth overall,” she told Port City Tuesday.

Darrell said she opposed the density and infill amendment because she believes the county is already approving excessive development without adequate infrastructure and environmental preservation. She took a break from environmental activism after her involvement with Stop Titan, but said clear-cutting and bulldozing of environmentally sensitive areas in Castle Hayne inspired her to reorganize with community members to address overdevelopment concerns.

She cited proposals such as Hilton Bluffs in Castle Hayne and the Island Creek Basin as examples of excess development inspiring her to take action. 

“Every time they see an open space, they think they have to put a building on it,” she said. “The frustration just seems to grow because nobody feels like they’re being listened to.”

Darrell noted the Sierra Club has raised higher-density urban infill as a strategy to increase housing affordability while preserving greenspace. But she believes the influence of the development industry will prevent NHC’s infill policy from being in accordance with this approach. She cited research by environmentalist Andy Wood, which found a majority of the county’s sensitive environmental areas have already been developed.

“We are where we are with these budget shortfalls because development does not pay for itself,” Wood told PCD, arguing developers should pay for  infrastructure demands their projects put on the public.

In her public comment to the planning board, Darrell argued the amendment is excessively vague as it does not contain specific density metrics. She said it fails to address the negative impacts of high density development next to existing neighborhoods, such as taller structures blocking views, increased noise and light pollution, and congested roads, schools, and medical facilities:

“While I understand that continued growth is inevitable, this amendment appears to open the door and encourage high density/high intensity development in inappropriate areas. Stating that much of New Hanover County’s existing development pattern is low density and ‘makes less efficient use of land resources’ is not a mindset that encourages smart growth, but that makes a lot of developers rich.”

Public comment for the amendment is open until May 27 before the board reviews it at its June 6 meeting. 

[This article has been updated to state the county’s comprehensive plan encourages new high-density development rather than planning staff. PCD regrets this error.]

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at

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