Wednesday, April 17, 2024

City looking into legal and zoning issues around ‘houseboat community’ plan for downtown marina

City officials question whether they have the authority to regulate the types of boats at the marina

The Port City Marina, adjacent to the Marina Grill, could be home to as many as 75 houseboats -- if the city doesn't take issue with the plan. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)
The Port City Marina, adjacent to the Marina Grill, could be home to as many as 75 houseboats — if the city doesn’t take issue with the plan. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON—After Riverwalk developer Chuck Schoninger released plans to construct and sell up to 75 houseboats at the Port City Marina, city staff are now trying to catch up to see if the plan should be allowed by Wilmington.

Schoninger’s plan apparently caught city staff somewhat off guard, according to city emails. Last week, Planning Director Glenn Harbeck emailed City Attorney John Joye and others suggesting that the city look into it “post haste.”

Hardbeck expressed some concern over the houseboat plan.

“I do not believe our community wants a ‘Sausalito’ in downtown Wilmington… but this question needs to be addressed post haste I would think. This ‘community’ appears to be advancing rapidly,” Hardbeck wrote in an email.

An email sent from Wilmington Planning Director Glen Hardbeck expressed concerns over the planned houseboat 'community' at the Port City Marina. (Port City Daily photo | City of Wilmington)
An email sent from Wilmington Planning Director Glen Hardbeck expressed concerns over the planned houseboat ‘community’ at the Port City Marina. (Port City Daily photo/City of Wilmington)

City Attorney John Joye responded, pointing to the city’s code for recreational vehicles, which includes boats. Joye recommended the issue be taken up in a meeting with Assistant City Attorney Amy Shaefer as lead legal representative.

In an email to Joye, Harbeck, and others, Zoning Administrator Kathryn Thurston called it the “most interesting question I’ve had all week.”

Thurston delved into the specifics of the issue, arguing that the city’s land development code section 18-553, which regulates the parking and storage of boats, does not apply, because Port City Marina is located in the city’s central business district.

According to Thurston’s email, “the Central Business District allows all uses not prohibited by code.”

Thurston pointed out that the code regulates “structures,” as “anything constructed or erected with a fixed location on the ground, or attached to a fixed location on the ground.” She questioned, “whether the pier is considered to have a fixed location on the ground.”

Thurston wrote, “since this is a properly permitted marina and we permitted it with the understanding that boats would be moored there, I don’t believe we can regulate the style of boat utilizing the slips.”

Hardbeck stressed the need to act quickly, as Schoninger has promised to have as many as 50 houseboats constructed and ready for move-in by the end of the year.

Harbeck wrote, “if we wind out going down the path of this use not being allowed by code, we need to act quickly. Not as urgent an issue if we find the use to be permissible, obviously.”

A complaint, filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, against the Port City Marina for not having ADA compliant facilities. (Port City Daily photo | File)
A complaint, filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, against the Port City Marina for not having ADA compliant facilities. (Port City Daily/File photo)

Aside from the zoning issue, the city is also looking into a potential federal Americans with Disabilities Act complaint against the Port City Marina.

The complaint was filed Aug. 1, 2017, through the Department of Justice and transferred to the Department of the Interior, which began investigating the complaint in late October 2017.

The complaint alleges that the Port City Marina does not have ADA compliant showers, bathrooms or lift devices to get from the dock to the Riverwalk.

Joye acknowledged the complaint was “active,” and that the city was “looking into it,” but had no comment “beyond that acknowledgment.”

Harbeck and Schoninger did not respond to requests for comment.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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