WILMINGTON—After a year of controversy, Wilmington City Council gave The Carroll Companies the final go-ahead to build The Avenue, a 44-acre mixed-use development on Military Cutoff Road.
Despite traffic concerns voiced by staff and residents, as well as the uncertainty of whether future road improvement projects would alleviate or aggravate that traffic, council voted to approve both rezoning and Special Use Permit requests from Roy Carroll, owner of the Carroll Companies.
On Tuesday, June 5, council voted 5-2 to approve the rezoning and 6-1 to approve the Special Use Permit (SUP) that would allow buildings as high as 75 feet tall.
Because The Avenue proposal involves a (SUP), city staff did not make an official recommendation; staff did, however, make a presentation of its findings on the project.
Senior Planner Brian Chambers reiterated to city council what he had presented to the planning commission in May, including that The Avenue proposal fails to mitigate vehicle traffic and does not integrate well with the neighboring properties.
Concerning traffic improvements offered by The Carroll Companies, Chambers noted that there would “not be a significant improvement” to several of the surrounding intersections, despite the claims of Michael Davenport, who performed the Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) for The Avenue.
Chambers also noted again that, while developer Roy Caroll has argued that future road improvements–including the Military Cutoff Road Extension–will mitigate traffic, city staff consider the impact of those extensions an “unknown.”
Staff did, again, give positive marks for The Avenue’s layout and connectivity with public transit, and pedestrian and bicycle access, as well as the potential to promote tourism and increase the city’s tax base.
Michael Kozlosky, the executive director of the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Wilmington’s transportation director, also gave a presentation about planned NCDOT improvements. Kozlosky met with Attorney and State Senator Michael Lee, who represents The Avenue, in October of last year to discuss The Avenue’s proposed traffic improvements in conjunction with regional road projects.
Under questioning from City Council, specifically Councilmembers Paul Lawler and Kevin O’Grady, Kozlosky admitted that these improvements had not taken into consideration a project of The Avenue’s size — meaning the ability of those improvements to mitigate the development’s impact would be unknown.
Carroll introduced The Avenue project, acknowledging that the main concerns would be about traffic. Carroll told council he would not have spent “one penny” on the project if he didn’t believe traffic conditions would improve on Military Cutoff Road after the development was complete.
Davenport then addressed council and showed a video visualizing The Carroll Companies proposed $2.5 million in road improvements; this was presumably the same video Lee and consultant Livian Jones showed Koslosky and members of city council last year, between the time The Avenue’s initial rezoning request was withdrawn and then resubmitted.
Davenport argued that “logically” NCDOT projects at Military Cutoff Road and Eastwood Road and Market Street would improve traffic flow; Davenport also explained why the developer was only adding an additional lane on one side of Military Cutoff, saying “the developer doesn’t own land on both sides of the road.”
Davenport again told councilors that “all the intersections” along the property would work better if The Avenue was approved.
Lee then spoke to the financial benefit of The Avenue to the local economy, citing an economic study that suggested The Avenue would create between 1,800 and 2,600 jobs, paying $41,000 on average. The study also suggested The Avenue would generate between $1.97 and $2.48 million in annual property taxes for the city of Wilmington, as much as 4 percent of the city’s revenue.
Lee and Davenport also claimed, as they had during May’s planning commission meeting, that although the TIA for The Avenue still indicated a daily trip generation of 16,000, changes to the site plan would lower that number to 10,000 or lower.
Mayor Bill Saffo allowed 30 minutes for public comment. (Note: you can watch the complete public comments on the Wilmington City Council video archive here.)
Christopher Boney, former chairman of the Wilmington Planning Commission, called the project exciting and spoke in favor of it. Boney said Military Cutoff Road was the right location for The Avenue.
Natalie English, president of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in favor of the project, calling it a “public-private partnership.”
Terry Reilly, a Wilmington resident, came prepared with his own presentation. When told by Saffo he had only three minutes Reilly pointed out the audience had, at that point in the evening, listened to the developer’s representatives for over an hour.
Reilly presentation drew attention to the numerous negative ratings on The Avenue in Wilmington’s planning department staff report. He also presented a broader picture of traffic on Military Cutoff Road, including recently approved projects.
William Shell, who lives in the Sea Spray neighborhood near the proposed The Avenue site, objected to lack of “due process” of the public hearing. Shell called Davenport’s claims about traffic trip numbers “a bunch of bull.”
Shell also referenced the proposed the nearby CenterPoint project’s TIA, saying “if you approve this project I know you’re gonna approve CenterPoint.”
City Council vote
Lawler and O’Grady both expressed concern over the fact that Military Cutoff Road was the only road providing main access to the project. Councilman Neil Anderson pointed to the value of the Westin hotel proposed as part of The Avenue as pushing the project “over the top.”
Councilman Charlie Rivenbark made a motion to approve the rezoning request, which passed five to two, with O’Grady and Lawler dissenting.
City Council then heard the SUP request for The Avenue, which would allow the developer to build four buildings up to a height of 75 feet.
Council heard sworn testimony, including from several residents of neighboring areas, with the primary concern being the impact of the sightline by the 75-foot buildings planned for The Avenue.
When public comment concluded, Riverbark again made the motion to approve; council voted six to one to approve, with O’Grady as the only dissenting vote.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at email@example.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001