Saturday, February 4, 2023

Three years later, Wrightsville Ave Galleria developer hasn’t paid fine or replanted trees

City Council made a deal with the developer in 2015 to help it avoid paying fines by planting new trees -- but no trees have been planted and the violation case is still active.

Photograph of oak trees being taken apart after they were cut down with out a permit on the State Street Companies' Galleria property. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy City of Wilmington)
Photograph of oak trees being taken apart after they were cut down without a permit on the State Street Companies’ Galleria property. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON — Three years after being fined $13,000 for chopping town oak trees without a city permit, the developer of the Wrightsville Avenue Galleria project does not appear to have paid the fine or made good on a promise to plant new trees on the property.

RELATED: City Council vote is latest step in paving the road for Wrightsville Ave ‘Galleria’ project

In late April of 2015, Wilmington’s code enforcement office became aware that State Street Companies, which purchased the property two years earlier, had cut down six trees, originally recorded as five laurel oaks and one oak. Because State Street did not have a permit, the city shortly afterward fined State Street $13,100.

Email from Wilmington city planner Jeff Walton to Chief Code Enforcement Officer Williane Carr, as well as City Arborist Aaron Reese. (Port City Daily photo | City of Wilmington)
“All the huge live oaks have been cut down.” Email from Wilmington city planner Jeff Walton to Chief Code Enforcement Officer Williane Carr, as well as City Arborist Aaron Reese. (Port City Daily photo | City of Wilmington)

In November, Wilmington’s City Council brokered a deal with State Street.

During council’s November 2 agenda briefing, Mayor Bill Saffo requested a motion to waive the rules for a closed session to address the issue.

According to meeting minutes, city council unanimously approved a “motion to authorize the City Attorney and the City Manager to settle the matter of City Code Enforcement Citation #14-02426 issued to State Street/Galleria LLC.”

The details of the settlement weren’t immediately revealed, but the city later stated that the settlement waived the fine provided State Street Companies plant 63 new trees under the guidance of Wilmington City Arborist Aaron Reese.

Nearly three years after the settlement was reached, new trees have not yet been planted.

From the city's file on the Galleria oaks. (Port City Daily photo | City of Wilmington)
From the city’s file on the Galleria oaks. (Port City Daily photo | City of Wilmington)

What’s going on now?

The city, which has gone to what City Manager Sterling Cheatham acknowledged as “unusual” lengths to support the Galleria project, has been tight-lipped about the tree fine issue.

Both Williane Carr, Wilmington’s chief code enforcement officer, and Reese, declined to comment on the Galleria trees, directing questions to the City Attorney’s Office, where City Attorney John Joye would say only, “As a policy, we do not offer public comment on legal claims by or against the City.”

However, according to city emails, Carr responded to the city clerk’s office concerning a recent public records request on the Galleria fine, saying there was “no mitigation documentation” on file.

In response to the same request, Kathryn Thurston, the city’s zoning administrator, wrote “the case number is 14-2426 and it still shows active.”

State Street Companies and President Jeff Kentner did not respond to several calls and emails asking for comment. State Senator Michael Lee, who was the registered agent for State Street Galleria in 2015 confirmed he is not currently representing State Street or the Galleria project.


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

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