BURGAW — Approximately 1,600 acres of land near Burgaw and Watha are a step closer to returning to a rural agriculture land classification in order to remove residential construction hurdles for property owners.
On Tuesday the county’s planning board unanimously recommended approval of the zoning map amendment and set a public hearing for March 18 before the Pender County Board of Commissioners.
Planning and Community Development Director Kyle Breuer said the two swaths of land, containing 197 parcels, were zoned as rural agriculture districts before the county rezoned them as general business districts in 2003.
“But infrastructure is not there to support non-residential development, and there has been no interest in commercial development in those areas,” Breuer said.
He said current zoning doesn’t allow for the construction of single-family homes, and typical demand in the area is for that type of construction.
Lifting limitations for residential construction
According to a report compiled by Breuer’s planning staff, a third of the subject properties are located along N.C. 53 between Burgaw’s northern boundary and the Northeast Cape Fear River, in the vicinity of the highway’s intersections with Murray Town Road and White Stocking Road. Another two-thirds of the properties are located north of Watha along U.S. 117 near the Exit 390 interchange.
The report said the rezoning proposal comes “in recognition of the predominantly residential and agricultural land uses in these areas and the frequent issues that the current zoning classification brings about for current residents and property owners.”
When the county’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) was adopted in 2010, according to the report, the zoning district changes resulted in a “number of residential homes becoming nonconformities.”
“This zoning district has subsequently significantly limited the ability of property owners to construct new residential structures, which has been exacerbated by the flooding experienced during and after Hurricanes Matthew and Florence,” according to the report.
As part of the county’s long-term project to adapt land ordinances to its Pender 2.0 Comprehensive Land Use Plan – “a roadmap for growth” adopted in August 2018 after two years of research and public discussions — Breuer said his staff is currently working on updating proposals to the 2010 UDO.
Tuesday’s discussions among the planning staff and planning board also focused on the establishment of a new coastal residential zoning district and increased development regulations for areas within the county’s floodplains. But for now, according to Breuer, the rezoning of the 1,600 acres is the most concrete item moving forward.
Protecting wetlands, preserving a rural heritage
According to the report, much of the subjected land near the Northeast Cape Fear River and its adjacent creeks contains preliminary wetlands.
Parcels of land north of N.C. 53 and I-40 are rated by the state’s Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) as “high conservation priority” areas, the report said. Other areas near Exit 390, east of U.S. 17 and I-40, are rated as the “highest priority areas to conserve for the protection of biodiversity and habitat.”
The rezoning request “supports the preservation of biologically diverse habitats” due to less intense allowable land uses compared to those allowed within a general business zoning district, the report said.
Additionally, the report shows the predominant land uses on the subjected land are low-density single-family homes, agriculture, forestry, and uninhabited areas. In compliance with the county’s new future land use plan, the reclassification would “support and protect the agricultural areas of Pender County, an essential part of the county’s heritage and economy,” and encourage the preservation of “prime farmlands”.
According to the report, property owners were notified of the rezoning proposal on January 25, including instructions on how to opt out of the reclassification if they wished for their property to remain as a general business district.
Breuer said only five to six property owners have made such requests, including one man who builds picnic benches on his land that once contained a general store for approximately 100 years.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com