WILMINGTON – The Avenue will get a public hearing this week as Wilmington’s Planning Commission considers The Carroll Companies’ request alongside a planning department staff report that voices several concerns, including a minimum 30 percent increase in traffic caused by 16,000 more cars on Military Cutoff Road each day.
On Wednesday, May 2, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to consider rezoning 44-acres of mobile home park into an Urban Mixed-Use development, as well as a Special Use Permit to allow increasing building height up to 75 feet. This is the second time the planning commission has considered a proposal for this development.
The Avenue developer Roy Carroll first submitted plans in July of 2017 but withdrew the proposal several months later in early October, after Planning Commission staff voiced concerns about traffic. In March, Carroll resubmitted plans to the city.
Carroll had promised a lower-impact project; the resubmitted project – which features the same number of apartments and rooms in the proposed Westin hotel – features one third less office and retail space, reducing the total square footage available from 320,000 square feet to about 245,000 square feet. The resubmitted project also features approximately $2 million dollars in traffic improvements near the entrance to the development.
According to the Traffic analyis, The Avenue is expected to add an additional 16,359 Trips daily…In other words, The Avenue would push Military Cutoff ROAd to nearly twice its capacity.
According to the planning staff report, decreased development density and traffic improvements won’t be enough to fully mitigate traffic on Military Cutoff Road.
“Based upon the previous TIA (traffic impact analysis), including estimates of internal capture (trips within the development), the volume increase on Military Cutoff will be no less than 30%, even with the reduced development program as proposed,” the staff report stated.
Traffic to reach twice capacity on Military Cutoff
As with the previous submission, the staff report notes that Military Cutoff Road is currently rated as F, the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s worst grade for road traffic. On the stretch of road directly in front of The Avenue, between Old MacCumber Station Road and Station Road, the average volume is 34 percent over volume – 39,474 trips daily trips on a road designed to handle 29,300.
According to the TIA, The Avenue is expected to add an additional 16,359 two-way weekday trips on Military Cutoff. That would raise the average volume to 55,833.
In other words, The Avenue would push Military Cutoff to nearly twice its capacity.
As planning staff note in the case summary, “While the project includes substantial improvements to the Military Cutoff Road corridor, the site has limited points of access directing all traffic to and from Military Cutoff Road.”
The main access points to The Avenue will be a new traffic light on Military Cutoff Road, and an entrance-only access point at the traffic light at Station Road. The case summary notes that all traffic too and from the development – as proposed – will have to enter from and exit onto Military Cutoff Road.
The Carroll Companies is considering two other connections to neighboring developments, including one to the private Aboretum Drive into Landfall. However, the planning commission will not consider those on Wednesday, as they are considered “off-site improvements.”
More importantly, staff note that regardless of interconnectivity with neighboring developments – for example, a rear entrance for Landfall residents – the development still has access to only one major road; for this reason staff issued “strong non-support” for the project’s retail land use.
“Given the strong destination aspect of the Avenue, staff considers the project as a development with regional impacts; such developments may be retail, institutional, medical, a mixture of uses, or otherwise. Uses of such scale and intensity should ideally have access to at least two major roadways,” staff write in the case summary.
Lastly, staff note that while The Carroll Companies has pointed to proposed NCDOT road improvements in the area as mitigating factors for future traffic, the actual impact is unknown. Staff point out that the future impact of the Military Cutoff Extension is “unknown” and that it may “feed additional traffic from rapidly growing areas to the north,” like the Hampstead area of Pender County.
Other concerns: size, scale and afforability
Staff also voiced “strong non-support” for the lack of integration of The Avenue, in some ways hampered by the private street system of Landfall, which nearly surrounds the project on the eastern side. Staff notes suggest avoiding dead ends, implying that – in essence – The Avenue is one large cul-de-sac.
The case summary also gives The Avenue poor marks as a “neighborhood node,” the city’s preferred style of mixed-use developments. Staff note that the size and scale of the proposed buildings are not appropriate to the neighborhood and that the proposed parking lot inhibits rather than enhances the walkability of the development. Wilmington City Council recently turned down a Kerr Avenue development for similar concerns about walkability and interconnectivity.
Staff did give the project high marks for promoting economic development and for planned use of greenspace and waterways. However, staff also noted that while the project was well-designed and aesthetically pleasing, with adequate parking, that it lacked affordable housing units.
Wilmington’s Planning Commission will hold a hearing for The Avenue at 6 p.m. on May 2 meeting, in City Hall, 102 North 3rd St. If approved, the proposal will be heard by City Council.
Note: Transportation Planning Manager Mike Kozlosky and Planning Director Glenn Harbeck initially agreed to answer questions about proposed road improvements for The Avenue. Harbeck later said staff are still evaluating the proposal — but suggested the staff report cited in this article would answer many questions. The complete staff report is included below.
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