Thursday, August 18, 2022

Despite lawsuit with developer, Belville moves ahead with riverfront plans, new apartments

After years of litigation against a development company and developer that promised to deliver a one-million-square-foot, $200 million multi-use redevelopment project, Belville has continued collaborating with both parties on realizing the 10-year-old plans.

Belville continues working toward plans to deliver a riverfront redevelopment project with a lengthy legal history. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
Belville continues working toward plans to deliver a riverfront redevelopment project with a lengthy legal history. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

BELVILLE — Though Belville is inactively suing a developer, the town is still working with him to bring new apartment units to River Road.

In 2015, Belville opened a suit against Urban Smart Growth and Michael White, who at the time was the director or development for the company, alleging the company breached its contract.

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The initial 2007 contract between the town and Urban Smart Growth involved a $200 million large-scale mixed-use development, including a 22-acre riverfront park, boardwalk, and marina.

Over a decade into the agreement, the plans never came to fruition.

Background on the case

By 2013, Belville notified Urban Smart Growth it was in default of its contract. The suit was filed two years later, alleging breach of contract, non-performance, anticipatory repudiation and wrongful interference with contract against Urban Smart Growth and its developer, Michael White. Urban Smart Growth hit back months later, including a counterclaim alleging breach of contract and breach of duty of good faith against Belville.

In August 2017, the North Carolina Supreme Court denied reviewing a Court of Appeals decision made earlier that year. The decision re-affirmed a Brunswick County Superior Court Judge’s ruling in favor of the company, stating Belville waived its right to arbitration.

Earlier this month, all parties agreed to move the case into an “inactive” status.

According to a Jan. 17 court order provided by Belville’s attorney, the case is administratively closed. However, the order states it can be reopened at any point, if any party so chooses.

Working together

Despite the legal background, Belville is still working with the man and company it tried to sue.

Belville’s town administrator, Athina Williams, said the town still wants a project similar to what it agreed to in 2007. “This order indicates that the case was recently moved to an inactive status so that the parties can continue collaborating towards, hopefully, a project similar in scope to that earlier proposed,” Williams wrote in an email.

Several months after Belville first accused Urban Smart Growth of defaulting on its development agreement, the town initiated plans to steer the riverwalk aspect of the park by itself. Belville asked Brunswick County to deed back over 22-acres it handed over in the early 2000s. The county approved the transfer in December 2013.

Ever since, Commissioner Joe Breault has initiated big-picture plans for the riverfront park, including a $2 million raptor center, amphitheater, outdoor classroom, riverfront boardwalk, and restaurant. The overall project, as of May 2018, was ahead of schedule.

In December, Belville approved White’s application to demolish two buildings on property owned by the company: 152 Main Street and 12 River Road. Both buildings were located where Urban Smart Growth’s initial plans were set to take place.

The demolitions, according to Michael White, are part of the overall redevelopment project. (Redevelopment plans are still available on the company’s website.)

Urban Smart Growth's $200 million redevelopment plans, left, compared to Google Maps satellite imagery of the riverfront Belville site. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Urban Smart Growth and Google Maps)
Urban Smart Growth’s $200 million redevelopment plans, left, compared to Google Maps satellite imagery of the riverfront Belville site. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Urban Smart Growth and Google Maps)

Meanwhile, a separate project is underway to bring new apartments by the same developer across River Road. In July, Belville’s Planning Board approved a site plan application for Urban Smart Growth’s River Road Apartments 4-1. Though Commissioners have not yet voted to approve the plans, no major zoning changes are required.

River Road Apartments, planned at 245 River Road, will feature 114 “fairly high-end” apartments, White said. A majority of the two bedroom, 1,100 sq. ft. units will be rented at a range between $1,375 to $1,430.

White said the apartments will be the first actual construction his company will work on in Belville. Though he said he looks forward to the project, he would prefer to see the redevelopment project through.

“I mean, I’d much rather be involved in the whole redevelopment project but this really is a standalone project that’s been set aside for us,” he said. 

White could not specifically address the suspended litigation. Among ongoing talks and negotiations, he said, “We’re hoping to find a solution with the town.”


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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