Friday, February 3, 2023

RiverLights developer asks City Council for 20-year extension on development agreement

The proposal would be another change to the original agreement. Previously, City Council allowed more residential and less commercial development

The developer behind RiverLights is requesting an updated development agreement that would reset the 20-year timeline originally agreed upon almost 10-years ago (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
The developer behind RiverLights is requesting an updated development agreement that would reset the 20-year timeline originally agreed upon almost 10-years ago (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

WILMINGTON—Nearly 10 years have passed since the City of Wilmington and the developer of RiverLights entered into a development agreement to set guidelines for the construction of the 1,369-acre development.

According to the original development agreement, the developer, Newland Real Estate Group was to have, “commenced and substantially completed the MX-CD District and commenced development of at least half of the remaining areas.”

Now, Newland is petitioning the City of Wilmington to consider adopting a restated development agreement that would completely reset the 20-year time frame set on the development agreement.

According to Vice President of Operations for RiverLights Jim Henry, since opening in 2016, RiverLights has sold 260 homes and has approximately 450 lots on the ground.

In the mixed-use side of the development Smoke on the Water and the Magnolia Social Cafe both opened in 2016. More mixed-use development is in the works, Henry said.

Development agreements

When it comes to large projects that are expected to take significant time to complete, the city can elect to approve a development agreement.

According to a recently approved policy from City Council regarding these agreements, “Development Agreement is a unique tool that may be useful for large projects that will be built over a period of years. A Development Agreement provides the developer a level of certainty about what it can build and what mitigation measures will be required, if agreement is reached.”

The development agreement between RiverLights and the City of Wilmington have 1,156-acres zones for residential use, and 204-acres for mixed-use conditional district.

The developer offers City Council several reasons for the restated agreement including:

  • Removal of references to all items which have been completed over the course of the Project, clarifying the document. These include such things as language associated with the annexation of the property, the relocation of River Road, and the relocation of the Police Department’s firing range.
  • Addresses the relocation of the proposed fire station to an area that will be more beneficial for service provision in light of the previously overturned Monkey Junction annexation.
  • Clarifies the issue of the public park dedication, maintenance, and location.
  • Includes reference to all previously approved amendments regarding phasing of the project.
  • Resets the original 20-year timeline for completion of the project to the date of passage of the “Restated Agreement.”

City of Wilmington Spokeswoman Malissa Talbert said the need for clarification on multiple items throughout the development agreement was necessary since changes have been made to it since its inception.

This is not the first time the developer has requested changes be made to the original development agreement, first recorded in New Hanover County on June 15, 2009.

The agreement was amended on March 19, 2013, and again on March 10, 2016.

In 2017 the city approved an amendment to its Land Development Code at the behest of Attorney Michael Lee.

That change to city code gave developers an additional six years to meet phasing requirements. Prior to the amendment, mixed-use projects like RiverLights were required to include a minimum mixture of uses within four years.

“The current development agreement between the City and Newland Communities for the RiverLights development requires the (mixed use)-zoned portion of site to be substantially complete within 10 years,” according to City Manager Sterling Cheatham’s narrative to City Council. “The proposed amendment would allow Newland Communities to provide for the minimum mixture of uses prescribed by the (mixed use) district within this 10-year timeframe as opposed to the four years prescribed in the (mixed use) standards.”

In addition to extending the time period in which there must be substantial completion from four to 10 years, the new request would also reset that time period from 2009 to the date the request would be approved.

RiverLights originally planned for 1-million-square-feet of non-residential use, but as time went on the developer wanted to add more residential and less commercial buildings. (Port City Daily/ File photo)
RiverLights originally planned for 1-million-square-feet of non-residential use, but as time went on the developer wanted to add more residential and less commercial buildings. (Port City Daily/ File photo)

What’s changed?

When it was first approved, the plan for RiverLights was to create a mixed-use community consisting of no more than 2,290 residential units and 1-million-square-feet of office, institutional, and retail space.

But as time went on, the developer wanted to add more residential and less retail.

In 2013 the City of Wilmington agreed to an amendment to the agreement allowing RiverLights to construct a total of 2,790 residential units. Because of the additional 500 units, the developer also agreed to reduce non-residential density proportionate to the number of residential units added.

City Council will hold a public hearing during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting to decide on the revamped development agreement.

RiverLights updated DA by Michael James on Scribd


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