SURF CITY — A month after delaying approval of the luxury Surf City Crossing apartment complex, the town’s councilmembers gave the development a green light after city leaders agreed to regulate future traffic through the nearby Dogwood Lakes community.
The 346-unit complex was initially approved by the town’s planning board on May 16. In response to residents’ concerns of increased traffic on Dogwood Lakes’ narrow streets, on June 4 Councilman Jeremy Shugarts voted to postpone the development until an appropriate entrance was determined. The vote was seconded by Teresa Batts before gaining unanimous approval from the rest of Council.
A new road is planned to be built from the northeastern boundary of Dogwood Lakes through the future Terraces subdivision and the Arbors subdivision, which is currently under construction, before connecting to Alston Boulevard where the apartments will be built (see the map below).
During a special meeting Monday night, Mayor Doug Medlin said the town’s acting planning director, Steve Padgett, agreed to limit the connection between the new road and Osier Drive — connecting Dogwood Lakes to the Terraces and ultimately Surf City Crossing — to allow only police, fire, EMS, and city vehicles.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has estimated that Surf City Crossing will produce a daily average of 1,560 vehicles while the adjacent Terraces home development would add more than 800 daily vehicles.
Facing litigation pressure
But Town Manager Ashley Loftis said nothing was yet set in stone because the town’s ordinance must be amended before regulating the interconnectivity of the town’s neighborhoods. She said the apartment’s developer, Evolve Companies out of Greensboro, had followed all necessary state and local regulations; as such, they were forced to approve the preliminary plat within a 30-day window from the time of the initial delay.
“By law, if they adhere to all the rules and regulations, then we have to approve it,” Loftis said.
The town’s current ordinance regarding the regulations of streets in subdivisions states that “streets shall interconnect with a development and with adjoining developments.” Street interconnectivity, it explains, “encourages alternative modes of transportation to the automobile, improves traffic safety through slower speeds and potentially reduces vehicle miles traveled.”
Councilman Shugarts, a resident of Dogwood Lakes, vowed he would push hard to get this ordinance changed. He argued a security gate or some sort of road block is a win-win for all parties — providing the necessary connectivity while preventing traffic from the new developments from driving through Dogwood Lakes.
“It’s not so much about Dogwood, it’s about any situation of any development that this may happen in,” Shugarts said. “We’re growing exponentially. We have to change our ordinances to meet the needs of our community.”
Shugarts said he recently met with Evolve’s attorney, Michael Lee, who also met with Batts and Mayor Pro-Tem Buddy Fowler, to discuss what needed to be done to approve the apartment complex. Because Evolve had conformed its preliminary designs to all state and local development requirements, including water and sewer specifications and fire code, he said Lee would likely pursue litigation if it wasn’t approved within the 30-day window after the June 4 delay.
Lee, a Wilmington attorney and former state senator who lost a tight November race after a recount, was present Monday evening alongside Evolve’s director of acquisitions and development, Matt Rogers.
According to Shugarts, the developer of the Terrace has agreed to pay for the security entrance.
Rubber stamping development
Jim Conway, who chairs the Surf City Beautification Committee and is a resident of Dogwood Lakes, has led the community’s efforts to prevent through-traffic on its roads. The group has argued that the neighborhood’s roads are too narrow and an increase in traffic would present a danger to their children.
Although he expressed confidence that the town would “do what they agreed to do, which is make [Osier Drive] an emergency exit only,” he also stressed that nothing yet has been agreed to in writing.
“Actions speak louder than words and I’m not going to believe it until it actually comes to fruition,” Conway said.
He said the ultimate solution would have been the construction of a separate entrance from U.S. 17, but various obstacles presented that from happening: the existence of wetlands, high costs, and a property owner unwilling to sell his land for the construction of a road.
“There were a bunch of challenges; I believe [the town] in all of that,” Conway said. “And they’ve done their homework. It’s just a matter of now making sure the ordinance gets changed and they follow through with what they say they’re going to do.”
Shugarts argued that although the verbal agreement was a victory for Dogwood Lakes, the Planning Board’s initial approval pointed to larger problems.
“Because what happened at the end of the day: the Planning Board rubber stamped that,” Shugarts said. “Instead of actually doing their diligence and making sure that all the options were taken there, I just feel they didn’t spend the time and diligence on that. They just said, ‘Okay we’re going to approve this.’ And the Planning Board is doing this way too much in this city.”
He argued the planning board needs to either find new board members or perform its work with more diligence; and the fact that Surf City does not have an official director of its planning department — former city planner Todd Rademacher left the post after Hurricane Florence — worsens the issue.
“We’re at this point where, for years, everything’s just moved through the channels instead of people taking a look at things and figuring out how to get things done right,” Shugarts said. “I hate to say this, but I feel the system’s broke.”
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