Monday, June 27, 2022

Larger than Wilmington’s The Avenue, massive development ‘The Preserve’ could be coming to Hampstead

The proposal includes 255,000 square-feet of commercial space and 891 single-family residential units, but is held up in a 5-year legal battle with the NCDOT and WMPO because a portion of its land sits within the corridor designated for the $113 million Hampstead Bypass project.

A vicinity map of the proposed Preserve mixed-use development on land northwest of Topsail High School in Hampstead. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Davenport Transportation Consultants)
A vicinity map of The Preserve mixed-use development proposal on land northwest of Topsail High School in Hampstead. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Davenport Transportation Consultants)

HAMPSTEAD — Despite an ongoing five-year legal battle over the state’s right of eminent domain on its 684-acre property — located just northwest of Topsail High along U.S. 17 — national developer Jamestown L.P. seems to be pushing forward a mixed-use development proposal that would be considerably larger than The Avenue in Wilmington once completed.

The proposal includes 255,000 square-feet of commercial space and 891 single-family residential units, according to a letter sent last November by the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) to Davenport Transportation Consultants.

Details in the letter showed 150,000 square-feet of retail space, 70,000 square-feet of office space, 25,000 square-feet of restaurant space, and a 10,000 square-foot bank — nearly double the commercial space proposed for The Avenue, which was approved in June 2018. The letter also showed 135 more single-family residential units than The Avenue, including apartments, townhomes, and homes. This figure does not take into account a proposed 231-room hotel for The Avenue, which would have a fluctuating seasonal effect on traffic conditions.

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The WMPO letter was sent regarding the approved scope for a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) conducted by Davenport. Its preliminary findings revealed The Preserve could generate as many as 32,000 daily two-way vehicle trips to the congested U.S. 17 Hampstead corridor — at least double the added volume to Military Cutoff Road expected by The Avenue.

Meanwhile, Atlanta-based developer Jamestown L.P., who purchased the property in 2006 to develop it for residential and commercial purposes, is still embroiled in a lawsuit that it filed in 2014 against the WMPO and North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). At the center of the litigation is Jamestown’s claim of inverse condemnation – when the government takes private property but fails to pay just compensation – after the two agencies informed Jamestown that a portion of its land sat within the corridor designated for the $113 million Hampstead Bypass project.

In the lawsuit, Jamestown argued that NCDOT’s refusal to purchase or condemn the property while also preventing any development – effectively freezing the land use – was an unconstitutional taking of its land, according to Jamestown Pender, L.P. v. NCDOT and WMPO case files.

“These actions have deprived Jamestown of all reasonable use of the property and have deprived the property of all reasonable value,” argued Jamestown’s attorneys in a filing to the North Carolina Superior Court in 2014. “NCDOT consequently already has effectuated a taking of the property, for which Jamestown is due just compensation. Absent just compensation, NCDOT has caused an unconstitutional taking for which Jamestown seeks judicial relief through this lawsuit.”

The General Concept Plan for The Preserve development includes 150,000 square-feet of retail space, 70,000 square-feet of office space, 25,000 square-feet of restaurant space, and a 10,000 square-foot bank — nearly double the commercial space proposed for The Avenue in Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy WMPO)
The General Concept Plan for The Preserve development includes 150,000 square-feet of retail space, 70,000 square-feet of office space, 25,000 square-feet of restaurant space, and a 10,000 square-foot bank — nearly double the commercial space proposed for The Avenue in Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy WMPO)

Court documents show the WMPO originally filed the “protected corridor” map as an acting agent for the NCDOT. In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, attorneys for the defendant argued that the Hampstead Bypass project was protected by the North Carolina Transportation Corridor Official Map Act, and that Jamestown failed to properly prove inverse condemnation.

But in April 2015, Superior Court Judge Gary Trawick ruled “there has been an inverse condemnation of Plaintiff’s property by NCDOT, that NCDOT has exercised its power of eminent domain, and that the same constitutes a taking of the plaintiff’s property.”

The WMPO office and attorneys for the WMPO and Jamestown all declined to comment on the case because it is still in litigation.

According to Jamestown’s website, the company functions as a real estate operator with approximately $10.3 billion of assets under its control as of June 2018.

While Pender County officials confirmed The Preserve project has officially lapsed since its initial application, the developer appears to be moving ahead. Recent emails to the WMPO concerned establishing the scope of a TIA, performed by Davenport. This is generallly part of the process of officially proposing site plans for by-right development that will generate significant traffic increases.

Editor’s Note: Part 2 of this story will explore the long legal battle between Jamestown (the plaintiff) and the WMPO and NCDOT (the defendants).

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