Thursday, July 25, 2024

City approves amendment to RiverLights development plan

Aerial of the RiverLights tract and bed for a to-be-relocated segment of River Road (the dirt line at center, with northwest and southeast connections to River Road as it is currently). Image by Google.

Work toward a long-planned, major mixed-use development off River Road in Wilmington continues following permission from Wilmington City Council for a possible increase in its residential density and for a payment plan regarding the associated relocation of part of River Road.

The plan for RiverLights, on a 1,300-some acre tract that may see construction in 2015 or early 2016, is to encourage a relationship with the outdoors and the water with multi-use trails and access to the Cape Fear River among other recreational amenities, representatives said. Green building would carry throughout the residential, retail and office spread. Planned are more than 2,200 residential units–single- and multi-family.

“A key here is there is almost 700 acres of open space,” said Wilmington attorney Michael Lee, representing the developer, Newland Communities. “To put that in context, that is significantly larger than a Mayfaire,” the large commercial and residential development off Military Cutoff Road.

Newland has spent more than $100 million on RiverLights so far, Lee told council Tuesday in a presentation about his client’s request. It wanted council to amend an existing development agreement to allow for more residential space and density, making for possible decreases in available commercial space there. That approval came unanimously.

Specifically, the previous plan called for no more than 2,290 dwellings. The amendment approved Tuesday allows RiverLights to include as many as 2,790. But for every unit beyond the 2,290 mark, the available commercial space would shrink–by 500 square feet for every single-family home and by 300 square feet for every townhome.

‘River Road Realignment Project’ site off River Road south of Independence Boulevard. Photo by Ben Brown.

To observers, the more dramatic change to the area as planned may involve the relocation of about two miles of River Road, for which Newland will pay the city a total of $2.75 million in three installments related to the abandonment of what would become the “old” River Road.

Council’s favorable vote Tuesday included a schedule for those payments, reflecting Newland’s plan to pave the new River Road, south of Independence Boulevard, in three segments.

The developer has already cut the road’s new alignment, swinging it away, easterly, from the Cape Fear River to allow RiverLights to settle on the riverside property.

The plan also involves the relocation of a nearby city-owned outdoor firing range that wouldn’t mesh with the spirit and vibe of RiverLights, according to the development plan. Used by the Wilmington Police Department, the range is off River Road, north of Barnards Creek, adjacent to the Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Lee on Tuesday said the development plans are back on aim following time on the bench in light of the economic downturn of recent years.

In his “State of the City” speech in 2010, Mayor Bill Saffo touted RiverLights as a bringer of “millions of dollars” to the local economy. He also pointed out it represented the “largest voluntary annexation in city history,” in 2009, and that the developer wanted it to become part of the city in admiration of its development standards.

Lee on Tuesday pointed out, for one, the city’s flexibility with impervious surfaces in addition to street-related factors.

An associated public hearing about RiverLights’ amendment request Tuesday drew one voice of opposition. Jonathan Deputy, a neighbor of the new River Road bed, perceived a number of negatives, for one with the reduction in commercial space in the development.

Expanding the residential base there would burden the city in terms of services, he argued, while the reduction of commercial space would cut into potential job creation and business growth.

“I think the commercial development is a much better deal for the city and the county,” said Deputy.

Ben Brown is a news reporter at Port City Daily. Reach him at or (910) 772-6335. On Twitter: @benbrownmedia

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