Friday, April 19, 2024

Wrightsville Beach aldermen oppose Galleria de-annexation

The now vacant Galleria shopping center at 6800 Wrighstville Ave. Photo by Ben Brown.

Wrightsville Beach is not ready to let go of the Galleria.

A developer’s proposal to see the large but vacated former shopping center and surrounding property de-annexed from the town–in a greater plan for its annexation into Wilmington, whose code book would better suit a mixed-use redevelopment vision for the 12-acre site–failed to win support from the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen Thursday night.

The town’s endorsement wasn’t essential for the property plan–only the N.C. General Assembly has the power to de-annex–but the developers noted Wrightsville’s perspective would be important to the legislators who would vote on the matter.

Following a public hearing Thursday that brought only voices opposed to the de-annexation idea, the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen voted 4-0 for a resolution on those lines.

“I’d have to object to us relinquishing this property, because of the income,” Pelican Drive resident Jim Smith said, kicking off a run of similiar comments from neighbors over the hour-long discussion.

The shopping center was developed in 1986 and included Harris Teeter and Eckerd Drug store as original tenants. Photo by Ben Brown.

While officials said the 6800 Wrightsville Ave. property is presently worth about $7,000 in annual ad valorem tax revenue to the town–a figure one member of the development team said was barely a drop in the bucket when compared to the town’s $10.58 million annual budget–Smith remarked that he’s seen the town’s aldermen argue at length over even $5,000 spending requests, and that he appreciated that prudence with town money.

If the town de-annexes the Galleria site, “that’s year after year forever that we’re giving up all that revenue,” said Smith.

Former board of aldermen member Lisa Weeks said that annual revenue might be important–especially for a beach town–as the years go by and supportive financial streams from the state and federal governments shrivel.

“We’re going to have to face paying for sand more and more in the future,” she noted.

Said another former alderman, Bill Golder, “Don’t give our money away.”

Instead, he proposed the town try to work with the developers to bloom the Galleria redevelopment into something acceptable and tax-lucrative for the town, as opposed to blessing the de-annexation wish and watching the property become part of Wilmington.

The property’s owner, Equity One Inc., requested the support from Wrightsville Beach for the de-annexation, reasoning in part that a buyer under contract wished to redevelop the property for mixed use.

That would have to include residences, said Jeff Kentner, president of State Street Companies, which hopes to redevelop the site.

But currently, he noted to the board of aldermen Thursday, Wrightsville Beach’s commercial zoning over the property won’t allow that, adding there has been no appetite from the town for a large, new residential presence west of the island’s bridge. Traffic concerns and voter influence from that area were among the factors.

Wilmington’s mixed-use zoning, however, does allow that sort of commercial-and-residential development, which is why the Galleria’s owner wants to pull away from Wrightsville Beach.

“To have mixed use, we have to have residential,” Kentner said.

Michael Lee, representative for the buyer, said his client would have loved to remain part of Wrightsville Beach, but the zoning and residential clash prevent it, if the project is to move forward as envisioned.

Even if Wrightsville Beach compromised on the residential component as a way to hang onto the property tax revenue, the town would have a new service burden–including police and fire-rescue–with the new residents, which officials noted would cost the town money.

The complexity fed into a sense from the aldermen that they’d need to schedule a workshop or charrette to carefully go over ideas for the property.

They were also not overjoyed at the thought of the City of Wilmington having control over the site. They pointed out heavily residential developments nearby, such as along Eastwood Road, and said this particular property–on a “gateway” to small Wrightsville Beach–should perhaps remain in the island’s hands until a smart idea surfaces. Traffic congestion toward the beach could be a serious concern, aldermen said.

“We need to slow the process down,” said Alderman Bill Sisson. “We need to consider all of our options.”

Thursday’s decision from the aldermen not to support the de-annexation is likely to feed into conversation Friday morning at Wilmington City Hall, where the Wilmington City Council is scheduled to meet about the annexation prospect and legislation to facilitate it.

The nearly 98,000-square-foot, two-story Galleria was developed as a shopping mall in 1986 and housed a Harris Teeter and an Eckerd Drug store among original tenants, according to its listing with Cape Fear Commercial.

A news release from the company noted that its non-urban surroundings these days just aren’t conducive to the two-story retail center it was built to be.

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

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