Tuesday, July 16, 2024

County Commissioners approve mini-storage warehouse on North College, after voting against it in the past

The project had been rejected in the past, prompting one commissioner to lament that developers could just keep applying until they wore down the board's resolve.

Located on North College Road in Northern New Hanover County, a new storage warehouse has been approved by county leaders (Port City Daily/Ben Schacthman)
Located on North College Road in Northern New Hanover County, a new storage warehouse has been approved by county leaders. (Port City Daily/Ben Schacthman)

WILMINGTON  — In one of the first moves as New Hanover County Chairman, Democrat Jonathan Barfield voted along with Republicans Patrica Kusek and Woody White to approve another mini storage warehouse on College Road — a project Barfield had previously voted against.

Despite the board’s recent flip to a Democrat majority, Barfield sided with Republicans — Democrats Julia Olson-Bosman and Rob Zapple both opposed the approval.

The property in question is located in the 2600 block of North College Road, near Laney High School, and was previously rezoned to allow for an 88-unit apartment complex; now, commissioners approved the rezoning to a conditional B-2 district.

The applicant suggested a total of 10 different uses it would potentially be zoned for: restaurants, retail, banks, barber shops, printing services, funeral home, personal services, businesses for private and professional activities, and mini-warehouse.

But the intent is clear, the property owners plan on building a mini-storage warehouse.

Northern New Hanover County is one of the few places in the county that remain undeveloped and according to the 2016 Comprehensive Land Use Plan the property is classified as community mixed use.

“This place type focuses on small-scale, compact, mixed-use development patterns that serve all modes of travel and act as an attractor for county residents and visitors,” according to county documents; a mini-warehouse is not mixed-use.

In April 2017, a request was denied to rezone the property to allow for a mini-warehouse storage.

According to meeting minutes, planning staff opposed the plans last year stating, “Staff finds that a mini-storage development would not be consistent with this place type at this location because it does not serve as a commercial attractor for residents and visitors and does not support multi-modal travel. This type of low-density commercial operation also does not capitalize on existing and planned services such as sidewalks and trails, and increases the distance between nearby residential neighborhoods and services that can be accessed by foot or bicycle.”

A change of tune

A rendering of what the new storage warehouse could look like, abandoning the typical storage unit look for a facade more akin to office space (Port City Daily/Courtesy NHC)
A rendering of what the new storage warehouse could look like, abandoning the typical storage unit look for a facade more akin to office space (Port City Daily/Courtesy NHC)

In 2017, when the initial request was made, planning staff and the Board of Commissioners, including Barfield, said it was not consistent with the plans for community mixed-use.

According to meeting minutes, “[Barfield] could not support this request as he does not see how the project fits in the area. He stated while he understands that sometimes cost dictates a project’s course, aesthetics do matter and he feels this project does not fit with the surrounding area.”

In fact, Barfield made the motion to deny the request.

The reasons Barfield gave when he made the motion to deny the request specifically stated that the application is: “Inconsistent with the purposed and intent of the community mixed-use place type in the 2016 Comprehensive Plan because the proposed development of a mini-warehouse does not contribute to the creation of small-scale, compact, mixed-use development patterns …”

So what changed?

Michael Lee spoke on behalf of the applicant for the new mini-warehouse storage on North College Road (Port City Daily/Courtesy NHC)
Michael Lee spoke on behalf of the applicant for the new mini-warehouse storage on North College Road (Port City Daily/Courtesy NHC)

The applicant was being represented by Design Solutions and Cindee Wolf in 2017, this time it was presented by Michael Lee.

The developer does have plans to improve the aesthetics of the warehouse by improving the facade, and mimicking a non-warehouse use like office or retail.

In other words, the development will not have office or retail, only a false facade designed to look like it does.

“The last time we heard this I was in opposition to it, and my big concern was the aesthetic appeal and coming back with a modification making this look like a retail establishment versus your traditional storage units has given me a different take on this,” Barfield said.

Aesthetics aside, the land use has not changed and, in Barfield’s words from 2017, a mini-warehouse,  “… does not contribute to the creation of small-scale, compact, mixed-use development patterns.”

Resistance from some

Zapple and Olson-Boseman both voted against approval of the project. Zapple, in particular, was concerned with the same developer asking for permission time and time again after being told no.

“It seems as this keeps coming up and they just keep on asking until they wear us down essentially,” Zapple said.

Ultimately, resistance proved futile and the request was approved.


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