Sunday, July 3, 2022

You’re building where? A closer look at the document guiding Wilmington’s growth

"In the next 25 years … Wilmington is going to grow 50 percent, and the three-county area of Pender, Brunswick and New Hanover is going to grow 100 percent."

Nearly 60,000 new residents are expected to come to Wilmington over the next 25 years, to keep up with the needs of residents, developers continue to build. (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
Nearly 60,000 new residents are expected to come to Wilmington over the next 25 years; to keep up with the needs of residents, developers continue to build. (Port City Daily photo / MICHAEL PRAATS)

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a two part look at Wilmington’s comprehensive plan for future development.

WILMINGTON — Development is a symbol of progress and a thriving economy for some, for others, it’s a burden. That’s why the City of Wilmington crafted the “Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan” to help guide the growing city.

The comprehensive plan process began in 2013 and was adopted in 2016 after years of steering committee meetings, public hearings, and data analysis. The plan acts as a guide for the city’s future for the next 25 years regarding new growth, development, best practices, and place-making.

According to the plan, the City of Wilmington is expected to see an increase of nearly 60,000 new residents in the next 25 years.

“The plan was probably five years in the making, we had a citizen-based steering committee, and we had hundreds of public input meetings to collect input from folks to kind of find the community’s voice and vision for what the future should look like,” Senior Planner Christine Hughes said.

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Recently, the city has seen an influx in new development requests for large developments including the most recent announcement of a 1 million square-foot mixed-use development.

When requesting new development privileges, developers must answer questions corresponding to the comprehensive plan. The answers show city leaders how proposed developments will follow the general guidance of the plan.

The plan is best described as a guide to help everyone involved with development and growth, as opposed to an unchanging law; there is room for interpretation when it comes to the comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan consists of five different elements, each contributing a unique perspective to create the holistic plan. These elements are outlined in an overview pamphlet provided by the city.

Plan Elements

The Growth Factors Report is a “…snapshot of what Wilmington looks like today and tells the story of how the city has evolved over time. It provides the context, or starting point, from which the community has moved forward to created a shared vision for the future.”

The Foundations Report “serves as a guide to the community input received from residents, students, professionals, and organizations throughout the listening phase of the plan.”

The policies, the third plan element are, “The core document of the plan. They are preferred practices and priorities surrounding physical development, quality of life and livability in the city…”

A map of the areas in Wilmington with potential for development (Port City Daily photo/ COURTESY CITY OF WILMINGTON)
A map of the areas in Wilmington with potential for development (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY CITY OF WILMINGTON)

The Growth Strategies Maps is a series of maps that depict preferred growth patterns and displays how future growth could affect the city in different ways.

The final element is the Growth Strategies Report, which “…looks forward and works with the Growth Strategies Maps to describe how future development could affect the city in unique ways.”

The complete comprehensive plan is accessible online for those who are interested in viewing the plan in its entirety, Hughes said.

Pending growth

City Council Member Paul Lawler has a unique perspective when it comes to the comprehensive plan, he first served on the steering committee that help develop the plan and, in 2016, he was a part of the City Council that voted to approve the plan.

“The comprehensive plan is a vision for how Wilmington could develop — how we could develop and keep what we like about Wilmington. Probably most importantly, it identifies that we are going to get a great number of new people living in Wilmington in the next 25 years … Wilmington is going to grow 50 percent, and the three-county area of Pender, Brunswick and New Hanover is going to grow 100 percent,” Lawler said.

The importance of the growth outside the city limits means more people will be traveling to and from Wilmington to shop, eat and work, Lawler said.

Undeveloped land in the City of Wilmington is something that the city has very little of; that is why the comprehensive plan calls for the implementation of mixed-use developments, or locations where residents can work, shop, and eat all in one place – an example of this style of development would be Mayfaire Town Center.

The theory of mixed use

By combining aspects of retail, office, commercial, and residential into one location, in theory reducing traffic and the need for vehicles on the roadways.

Mayfaire is an example of Mixed-use development where residential meets retail (Port City Daily photo/ HANNAH LEYVA)
Mayfaire is an example of mixed-use development where residential meets retail (Port City Daily photo/ HANNAH LEYVA)

Several proposed developments have introduced similar concept plans for new developments that would include hotels, restaurants, retail and office space. When city council members make decisions to approve or deny any rezoning requests, the adherence to the comprehensive plan is one of the factors members look for.

The city is also encouraging the redevelopment of older properties that have the potential to be redesigned to serve as something entirely new, Hughes said. There are several locations around the city that have the potential to be redeveloped – the old K-Mart is one of the examples Hughes presented.

Traffic concerns are a part of reality for any city that experiences growth and city staff and elected officials are aware of these concerns. That being said, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has final say when it comes to road improvements. To put it into perspective, the NCDOT has about $15 billion to invest in infrastructure while having identified $60 billion worth of projects, Lawler said. This means the state decides where to put funding based on feasibility studies and need.

While the comprehensive plan offers guidance to developers, citizens and city officials, the implementation and interpretation of the plan can be seen manifesting in several ways.

In part two of this article: a look at how this plan is implemented, and how it can be used to plan for traffic, urban density, and other issues that arise from significant growth.


Michael Praats can be contacted via email at Michael.p@localvoicemedia.com

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