Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Wilmington to consider allowing retail in office and institution districts

Currently, in Office and Institutional zoned districts retail stores are prohibited, but that could be changing soon (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
Currently, in Office and Institutional zoned districts retail stores are prohibited, but that could be changing soon (Port City Daily photo / MICHAEL PRAATS)

WILMINGTON — If you work in one of the city’s office buildings, soon you may not have to get in your car to grab a snack or a coffee break.

There are reasons why cities have zoning ordinances, ranging from keeping factories out of the backyards of homes to the convenience of having similar types of businesses in one place. But as the city continues to push the idea of mixed use developments, zoning uses are adapting.

“Zoning is the process of dividing an area, in this case the City of Wilmington, into districts, such as residential, commercial, industrial, etc. These established zoning districts are a tool to help regulate how land can be used and developed,” Associate Planner Megan Upchurch said. “For example, without zoning districts, there would be no established regulation on what could be built on the land next to residences and uses that don’t work well in close proximity, like factories and homes, might be developed close together.”

The City of Wilmington’s Land Development Code could see a change to its office and institutional (O&I-1) districts if a proposed amendment passes. The proposed change would allow a limited amount of retail in the office and institutional districts. Currently, the Land Development Code does not allow any sort of retail within the O&I district.

If approved, the amendment would allow for neighborhood-scale retail within such districts.

According to the application, “Neighborhood-scale retail establishments are small businesses that meet local, convenient retail needs, drive-through windows and loud speakers are prohibited, and retail uses cannot exceed 3,200 square feet. This narrowly proposed amendment is in compliance with the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan by promoting walkable retail options, reducing single occupancy automobile travel, and encouraging mix of uses.”

Office and Institutional District

“The Office and Institutional District-1 is established primarily for institutional, office, and limited commercial uses. The O&I-1 district already allows limited mixed-use development, known as commercial district mixed use, where offices, residences, and other uses can be developed on the same site,” Upchurch said.

“Since retail sales are not currently permitted in the O&I-1 district, they are not permitted within these mixed-use projects within the O&I-1 district. This is a narrow amendment that would allow limited, small-scale retail uses within the mixed-use developments already permitted in the O&I-1 district,” she added.

Some of the current uses allowed by right in the Office and Institutional districts include assembly halls, banks, funeral homes, golf courses, hospitals, professional offices, and more.

“Staff is recommending approval of this request because it encourages a full mix of uses. By allowing small scale retail in O&I-1, retail options could be closer and more accessible to the residents and workers in or near these mixed-use developments, making it easier to walk or bike to daily goods and services, thereby helping to reduce traffic impacts,” Upchurch said.

The Planning Commission was supposed to vote on the topic at a meeting on Jan. 3, but winter weather caused the meeting to be postponed until Jan. 29.

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