WILMINGTON — The intersection of Market Street and Kerr Avenue could change dramatically in the coming years, becoming a new center of residential and commercial development. But what will that new center look like? It depends on how the area’s first big project shapes up – and whether city council approves it.
The property in question is the Kerr Station Lofts, located at 125 South Kerr Ave. It’s the first major development proposed for the stretch of Kerr Avenue since the Aspen Heights complex on Randall Parkway. It’s also the first to explicitly seize on the benefits of road improvements along the Kerr Avenue corridor, an area that been largely abandoned by tenants and customers alike.
Cindee Wolf, who represents the Kerr Station Lofts project, said years of “traffic headaches” and “urban sprawl” had driven customers to “go elsewhere” in the city. Earlier this month, Wolf told City Council she hoped the Kerr Lofts would kick off a new “boom” of activity in the area.
However, while City Council didn’t disagree with Wolf’s enthusiasm for the renovated Kerr Avenue area, they postponed a vote on the project.
Setting the right tone?
Some of the council’s issues with the project included whether the artist’s rendering would match the final product – a point of contention with past projects, reiterated by Councilman Neil Anderson – and whether the apartments would be affordable – a concern raised by newly-elected Councilman Clifford Barnett.
But a broader point, made by Councilman Paul Lawler and echoed by Mayor Pro-tem Margaret Haynes, was that the Kerr Station Lofts would heavily influence the development of dozens of acres along South Kerr.
As Lawler put it before the council, “this will set the tone for the rest of the street.” Lawler pointed out that City Council expects the five blocks on either side of Kerr Avenue to re-develop to capitalize on road improvements; there are dozens of properties in the area, making it one of the largest potential area of new commercial and residential development in the city.
Wolf seemed to agree with that assessment.
“The imminent changes that will occur with road widenings, the new pedestrian facilities, and smoother traffic circulation has the adjacent owners finally looking to rebrand, the facelift, to infill their centers,” Wolf said
Wolf cited letters of support from the owners of two nearby properties – the North 17 Shopping Center and Market Street Plaza shopping center – who commented favorably on the Lofts project.
However, it is with Kerr Station Lofts’ non-traditional design that City Council members took issue. Kerr Station Lofts is closer in style to a college dorm than a typical apartment building and would feature many units with multiple rooms attached to a single communal living space. Because of that, the development proposed adding parking spaces based on the number of rooms, not the number of apartments – thus, a project that was only required to have around 150 spaces ended up proposing 436. This created what Lawler described as an “island in a sea of parking.”
A lofty goal
Lawler later elaborated that at least some members of council want to see a version of the Kerr Station Lofts development that organically connects with its neighbors. It’s a design element sometimes called interconnectivity, or what Lawler called a “lower-case ‘m’ mixed-use development” philosophy.
“I don’t necessarily mean urban mixed-use as defined by the city code, I mean more that you can have residential here, and next door come commercial, a restaurant, shops, and you can walk from one to the next,” Lawler said. “Walking through a parking lot – or, as in the current plan for Kerr Lofts, walking out to the street and down to the next development – that’s just not as conducive to creating a neighborhood.”
By comparison, Lawler cited the geographic and property constraints that isolate several mixed-use developments on Military Cutoff Road, preventing someone from walking from the proposed CenterPoint development to neighboring Mayfaire.
“But here (at Kerr and Market), we’ve got an opportunity to experiment with something different,” Lawler said. “This could be a new city within the city if we steer it in the right direction.”
It remains to be seen how the developers of Kerr Station Lofts handle the councilmembers’ suggestions – which have less to do with technical requirements for the project and more to do with a more general design philosophy.
And, of course, it also remains to be seen if City Council continues to push developers to embrace that philosophy as more properties on Kerr Avenue seek to redevelop.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.