Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Wilmington Planning Commission will consider reducing regulations in conservation districts

Under current regulations development is limited within conservation districts, but an amendment to city code has been submitted for consideration.

Current regulations have strict rules for developing docks and other marina related items located in conservation districts, but a new amendment could change that (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
Current regulations have strict rules for developing docks and other marina-related items located in conservation districts, but a new amendment could change that (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington’s Conservation Overlay District (COD) was adopted to help preserve environmentally sensitive and economically important areas by limiting development. But an amendment request to the city could potentially ease these regulations and allow for the development of piers, docks, bulkheads, gazebos, and more in conservation districts.

The City of Wilmington’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Wednesday during the regularly scheduled commission meeting. Anyone who wishes to speak for or against the proposed changes may do so during the public hearing.

The request comes from Daniel Shirley of Overbeck Marine, a marine construction company based out of Wilmington. Overbeck Marine is the company that constructed the Figure Eight Island Yacht Club, The Docks at Two Marina Street, and New River Marina, according to the company website.

The request, in summary asks the city to, “Allow the construction of bulkheads or other shoreline stabilization structures below the normal high water level, the construction of gazebos and platforms up to 400 square feet in area on pier and dock structures, the construction of docking facilities (t-heads, finger piers, platforms and decks) up to a maximum area of 800 square feet, and the dredging of navigational channels, canals, and boat basins.”

Currently, these items are not permitted in the COD.

Conservation district

The COD dates back to 1996 when the City of Wilmington adopted the New Hanover County Conservation Overlay District. According to the city, this was done to “provide an added layer of protection for the environmentally sensitive and economically important areas that would be annexed by the city in the coming years …”

Docks and bulkheads located in conservation districts must follow CAMA regulations, regardless of city ordinances (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

In 2009 City Council repealed the existing COD and replaced it with updated Conservation Resource Regulations. Then, in 2011 regulations were loosened after City Council adopted amendment to the Conservation Resource Regulations that allowed for some development provided low impact development techniques were used, according to the Planning Commission summary of the request.

Current regulations

There are eight different areas that fall under the Conservation Resource Regulations:

  • Headwater Swamp/Swamp Forest
  • Pocosin
  • Savannah
  • Natural Pond
  • Fresh Marsh
  • Brackish/Salt March
  • Primary Nursery Area
  • Animal and Plant (Natural) Area of Special Significance

According to the purpose of statement for the Conservation Resource Regulations the purpose for the regulations is for the, “protection of these resources is necessary to maintain the city’s diverse and ecologically important natural systems; to preserve the city’s estuarine systems important for fin fishing and shell fishing; to preserve natural open space; and to protect the resources critical to the city’s economic development and tourism industry …”

For property located within these conservation districts, the amendment would allow more construction, provided the development was in compliance with CAMA regulations.

According to the review by city staff, the proposed plans are not consistent with the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)
According to the review by city staff, the proposed plans are not consistent with the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)

Staff’s opinion

The City of Wilmington’s staff recommendation for the amendment is denial.

According to the staff’s consistency statement, “the proposed amendment is not consistent with the recommendations of the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan. The plan calls for the protection and preservation of environmentally sensitive areas that are vital to the city’s quality of life and economy and identifies fishing, shell fishing, and water-related activities as important components.

“The plan states that one of the primary reasons the Wilmington area has experienced considerable, sustained growth is its favorable location encompassing the Cape Fear River, tidal creeks, and salt marshes. The plan recognizes the difficulty in managing growth in a way that respects ecological systems, but that it should be a primary goal of the city,” staff concludes.

But according to the applicant, the plan is consistent with the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan because it would be giving residents access to public waters as more development occurs.

At the time of publication Shirley did not respond for a request for comment as to the reasoning for the request or what project, if any, he had planned.

The Planning Commission meets at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 11, in City Hall, 102 N. 3rd St.


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