Monday, August 15, 2022

Castle Place: An affordable mixed use development. But will city leaders go for it?

A rendering of what the mixed-use development could look like at Castle Street (Port City Daily/Hipp Architecture)
A rendering of what the mixed-use development could look like at Castle Street (Port City Daily/Hipp Architecture)

The proposal is a near-perfect match for what city and county leaders have said they want to see in an affordable housing development — now it’s up to city council to approve it.

WILMINGTON — The sole proposal for the City of Wilmington’s Castle Street property, formerly home to a WAVE Transit facility, was announced earlier this week. Now, it’s time to take a closer look at just what exactly is being suggested for the land.

The City of Wilmington along with New Hanover County leaders have spent plenty of time and energy on addressing the affordable housing shortage facing the city, going so far as to recently approve joint committee on workforce housing.

City Council has approved thousands of new apartments in Wilmington over the past few years, including its own public-private River Place project downtown, the bulk of which are described as ‘luxury’ apartments. Council has also approved several large mixed-use developments over the same time period, none of which catered to affordable housing.

The property located off Castle Street which currently houses two large buildings that were used by WAVE Transit in the past is owned by the city and has remained vacant for years.

Related: Despite initial excitement over Castle Street property, Wilmington received only one proposal for the land

City Council put out a request for proposals (RFP) in early April, and while there was much initial excitement for the property, only one proposal was submitted.

Surprisingly, the newly formed non-profit organization Tru Impact, founded by George Taylor of Tru Colors was not the team to submit plans for the property — despite forming the organization for the purpose of acquiring the property. According to a city spokesperson, Taylor never submitted a formal proposal.

Castle Place

The property is located on Castle Street, and is a former WAVE Transit facility. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Wilmington)
The property is located on Castle Street, and is a former WAVE Transit facility. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Wilmington)

The project’s working name is appropriately named ‘Castle Place’ and is the creation of a development team consisting of Hipp Architecture and Development, Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, and the Cape Fear Community Land Trust.

Castle Place would be a mixed-use development, according to the proposal, consisting of retail, residential, office space, and greenspace. It would consist of two different phases or sections, the first being a new mixed-use structure including 7,200-square-feet of new commercial space along with 18 to 20 new affordable housing units.

Section two would be the redevelopment of the existing structures on the property to allow for commercial lease space, according to the proposal.

Castle Street has seen a rejuvenation recently with new stores, coffee shops, and artists opening on the corridor and the eclectic nature of the area is something the developers want to keep in mind.

“Castle Street has historically been a mixed-use area that has a strong focus on the arts, culture, and community. The corridor holds a diverse mix of businesses, people, and events that draws locals and tourists throughout the year … Any real estate development in the area needs to consider this uniqueness and deliver something that fits into the fabric of the community,” according to the proposal.

The proposal also claims that along with revitalizing a decrepit industrial location, it will also keep in lockstep with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“Our vision of the prior Wave Transit Maintenace Facility is to provide a community redevelopment project that fits into the City of Wilmington’s Comprehensive Plan for the area and meets the criteria of the RFP. With both housing and commercial uses, Castle Place will revitalize this existing industrial remnant in the community,” according to the proposal.

Affordable housing options

Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity would be not only a partner in development but the purchaser of the 18 to 20 new affordable housing units. The early plans would be primarily two-bedroom units with about 1,200-square-feet of living space.

Of these 20 units, about a dozen of them would be sold to qualified purchasers and the remaining units would be placed in Habitat for Humanity’s rental pool.

But not just anyone can buy or rent the units, the would be reserved for those meeting the affordable workforce housing threshold of 60-80% the area median income (or roughly in the $25,000 to $35,000 range for annual household income, before taxes).

The proposal cites the region-wide recognition of the desperate need for affordable housing.

According to the proposal, “Currently, 40-50% of the Wilmington workforce is employed in the commercial service sector and only a fraction of the needed housing is available/affordable to this demographic. The simple issue is that housing prices are going up rapidly and wages are not increasing at nearly the rate needed to afford the available housing so there is a widening gap in affordability.”

What is needed for this to happen?

Land prices in New Hanover County are on the rise which makes it difficult for builders to even consider affordable housing.

This situation presents a unique opportunity for the city to actually help provide affordable housing through the donation of the property to the Cape Fear Community Land Trust. CFCLT would then, in turn, provide a 99-year ground lease to the development team.

The City of Wilmington was only recently presented with the proposal and it will likely take time before City Council gives approval or denial to the plans.


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