Both city planning staff and conservation groups have spoken out against requested changes; the Wilmington Planning Commission is trying to find a middle ground.
WILMINGTON — More than one year after a request was submitted to loosen City of Wilmington restrictions in the conservation overlay district (COD), city staff along with the city’s Planning Commission are working to reach a compromise.
The request comes from Daniel Shirley of Overbeck Marine who claims that the city’s regulations to the conservation overlay district, which were changed in 2017, have had a negative impact on property owners by limiting their ability to fully utilize their property to the extent allowed by the state.
“In or around Fall 2017, the City of Wilmington Zoning Department began applying City of Wilmington Land Development Code Section 18- 341, Conservation Resource Regulations, as the basis for approving CAMA permit applications,” according to the applicant’s summary. “This arbitrary change has resulted in the denial or mandatory revision of CAMA permits. As a condition of approval, applicants are required to exclude structures that are rightfully and legally permitted under State and Joint City-County CAMA plans.”
What does the applicant want?
The request, in summary asks the city to, “Allow the construction of bulkheads or other shoreline stabilization structures below the normal high water level, the construction of gazebos and platforms up to 400 square feet in area on pier and dock structures, the construction of docking facilities (t-heads, finger piers, platforms and decks) up to a maximum area of 800 square feet, and the dredging of navigational channels, canals, and boat basins.”
Related: Wilmington Planning Commission will consider reducing regulations in conservation districts
These requests are being made because the 2017 changes have made it difficult for property owners on the water to construct things like docks and piers, and are more strict than state requirements, according to the applicant.
According to the request, “This change has had a substantial and detrimental impact on waterfront property owners and waterfront communities in the City of Wilmington, in terms of:
- Limiting the scope of project design for applicants
- Processing delays and increased costs
- Upholding and protecting the riparian property rights conferred on waterfront property owners by the state of North Carolina
- Environmental impact on shoreline stabilization and marine habitat
- Jeopardizing the right to rebuild like structures in the aftermath of a catastrophic event”
Despite resistance from city staff along with other organizations, the applicant claims that the amendment will help enhance waterfront properties and the request would help protect and enhance resources.
“We strongly disagree with the policy analysis and ratings outlined by staff. They are evaluating the construction and existence of the structures covered by this amendment as though they are destructive when in fact they serve to protect and enhance our conservation and water resources by encouraging living shorelines and providing structures that enhance growth in the marine environment,” according to the application.
Not there yet
Those who have kept up with monthly meeting agendas for the city’s Planning Commission has likely seen the application appearing nearly every meeting — only to be continued to another since July of 2018.
Assistant Planning Director Ron Satterfield explained the timeline of events for Port City Daily.
“There have been two public hearings by the Planning Commission regarding this particular text amendment. The first public hearing was held in July 2018 and the most recent public hearing was held in April 2019. The Planning Commission held a work session on May 14 and will conduct another work session at a meeting date to be determined, but most likely during the last week of June. The Planning Commission understands that as a waterfront community it is important to research and consider this amendment in a timely fashion, but also spend the appropriate time to review and understand all relevant information to make an informed recommendation,” he said.
The work session that was held in May lasted two hours — and it turns out, that still was not enough time for the Planning Commission to reach a decision due to the potential impact of the request.
“The Planning Commission, held a two-hour long work session on May 14to discuss CAMA regulations and permitting, consider property rights, listened to and included environmental scientists in the discussion, and reviewed staff’s report on existing conditions along the waterways. I believe they want to spend the appropriate time on this issue and not make a hasty decision in light of the importance of this issue,” Satterfield said.
Resistance from staff and other organizations
While the applicant obviously sees the request as beneficial for the city, not everyone agrees with it.
According to the city staff’s own consistency report on the request, the approval of the request is not supported by city policy.
“The proposed amendment is not consistent with the recommendations of the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan. The plan calls for the protection and preservation of environmentally sensitive areas that are vital to the city’s quality of life and economy and identifies fishing, shellfishing, and water-related activities as important components. The plan states that one of the primary reasons the Wilmington area has experienced considerable, sustained growth is its favorable location encompassing the Cape Fear River, tidal creeks, and salt marshes. The plan recognizes the difficulty in managing growth in a way that respects ecological systems, but that it should be a primary goal of the city,” according to the staff conclusion.
It’s not just city staff that disapprove of the plans though, the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Tracy Skrabal submitted a letter on behalf of NCCF recommending the denial of the application as well.
The New Hanover County Soil and Water Conservation District also have voiced their opposition to the request.
“The Board’s opposition to this proposed amendment is simple. The District is actively involved in applying public resources to acquire and conserve land parcels upstream in Wilmington’s watershed, implement best stormwater management practices and conduct education and outreach programs as part of the city’s Heal our Watersheds program … [the] Proposed amendment to the Conservation Resource Regulations would run counter to the effects of our efforts …” William Hart, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors for the New Hanover County Soil and Water Conservation District wrote.
A timeline of the request process
The following timeline of the application and subsequent meetings was provided by Satterfield.
- April 2018 – An application to amend the conservation regulations in the city’s land development code regarding shoreline stabilization regulations and pier and dock regulations is submitted.
- July 11, 2018 – The Planning Commission held a public hearing and decided to continue the item to their September 5, 2018 meeting to provide time for the applicant and staff to work through information. A total of 13 citizens spoke at this hearing with four speaking in favor of the amendment and nine speaking in opposition to the amendment.
- September 5, 2018 – At the request of the applicant, the Planning Commission continued the case to the October 3, 2018 meeting.
- October 3, 2018 – The meeting was canceled due to the inability to adequately advertise the meeting with city offices closed for Hurricane Florence.
- Because the amendment was continued to a time and date certain (October 3, 2018) and that meeting was canceled, the amendment had to be processed as a new case. Due to impacts associated with Hurricane Florence, the applicant was not in a position to work with staff on the amendment and asked that it not be scheduled for a Planning Commission meeting until they had time to consider the amendment again.
- February 6, 2019 – At the request of the applicant, the Planning Commission continued the text amendment to the April 3, 2019 meeting.
- April 3, 2019 – The Planning Commission held a public hearing and ultimately decided to continue the item to the June 5, 2019 meeting. The Planning Commission also requested a work session on the amendment. A total of 14 citizens spoke at this hearing with 13 speaking in favor of the amendment and one speaking in opposition to the amendment.
- May 14, 2019 – Planning Commission held a two-hour long work session on the manner and requested a second work session, which could not be scheduled amongst all parties until late June.
- June 5, 2019 – A continuance by the Planning Commission will likely be granted to allow for the 2nd scheduled work session to be held.
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