Wednesday, April 24, 2024

From elected officials to planning staff and NCDOT, preparing for growth is multifaceted

New Hanover County Commissioners will vote on approving a new policy to help guide leaders when selecting nonprofit organizations to fund. (Port City Daily Photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
(Port City Daily Photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

WILMINGTON — What role does New Hanover County play in local development and infrastructure improvement? The question is not as simple to answer as it might seem; from planning and zoning boards to the Board of County Commissioners, elected officials and county staff serve several different roles.

For example, residents of the county frequently look to local leaders for infrastructure improvements like widening of roads. But, in North Carolina, that type of work is all handled by the state, New Hanover County Planning and Land Use Director Wayne Clark said.

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“The counties don’t build roads in the State of North Carolina, so we are in the role of trying to influence and, when we think we have good ideas, working with North Carolina Department of Transportation,” Clark said.

Another way the county can help influence development is working with developers to set them up for the greatest chance of success with NCDOT after plans are submitted for county approval, he said.

The geography of New Hanover County is also playing a role in how county officials plan for growth. For example, the north side of New Hanover County has more room for development and infrastructure improvements, while the south side does not.

“One of the biggest challenges that we’re going to face is on College Road and Carolina Beach Road … When you get down to the bottom of it (the county), there really are not many options. You have River Road on one side, College on the other,” Clark said.

Developments like Mayfaire were planned to create as much internal access as possible, connecting the different areas of the develpment together, while only allowing limited access into it from Military Cutoff Road and Eastwood Drive.

The relationship between elected leaders and county staff

Another challenge that county staff face is not being able to plan for how elected leaders will vote. While county staff and engineering firms can conduct months-long studies on the impact of traffic and items of concern, after which they offer recommendations to commissioners, the choice ultimately lies with elected officials.

County Commissioners can approve projects that planning staff has recommended the disproval of, and it does happen. For example, in September, County Commissioners voted to approve a 400-plus residential development off Gordon Road after both planning staff and the Planning Board said the project should not be approved.

“They (commissioners) are ultimately in charge and that’s our system, they got elected by the people … They speak to thousands of people when they are running a campaign and the more people you talk to you get a feel for what the majority wants … in effect they have a better feel for what the people want,” Clark said.

While this can present unforeseen situations, Clark believes that elected officials have the knowledge of what the community is looking for, and planning staff has to work with whatever they decide.

“I have some technical knowledge but I did not get elected to be in charge of this community … at some point the guys in charge have to do what they believe and we will find a way to make the best of that,” he said.

Michael Praats can be reached at

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