Wednesday, February 8, 2023

What to expect with Pender County’s future Coastal Residential zoning district

A sign for Blake Farm and developer Trask Land Company sits off U.S. 17 just north of the New Hanover-Pender county line. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
A sign for the mixed-use Blake Farm project, which has been held up in court for years, sits off U.S. 17 just north of the New Hanover-Pender county line. The future Coastal Residential zoning district would incentivize environmental perseveration in developments within a half-mile of the Intracoastal Waterway and nearby tidal creeks. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

PENDER COUNTY — County planners are currently redrawing Pender County’s land use ordinance, including the drafting of a new zoning district that could impact an overwhelming majority of the county’s residential development projects along the densely populated coast.

Details of the Coastal Residential zoning district will be presented to the public after planners finish the code-writing process, which is currently scheduled to last the remainder of July and into early August. A public meeting is tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Thursday, September 5, in the Hampstead Annex.

RELATED: Pender County commissioners’ response to call for building moratorium highlights growing pains

The new coastal land use classification would apply to residential developments within a half-mile of the Intracoastal Waterway and nearby tidal creeks, incentivizing environmental preservation including stormwater controls, low-impact development, the clustering of residential development, habitat connectivity, and the creation of permanent open space.

At a Board of County Commissioners meeting in June, Commissioner David Williams said all but two of the 1,700 homes and businesses approved by the county’s planning department lie within the Topsail Township, an area that encompasses the county’s entire coastal corridor surrounding U.S. Highway 17. 

Last week Planning Director Kyle Breuer said the establishment of the new district came as a response from top public priorities gathered during the creation of the Pender 2.0: Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which was adopted last August.

The first public priority was to “preserve, enhance, and maintain Pender County’s coastal habitat and agricultural landscape.”

According to Breuer, the new district’s most significant changes to development patterns will be seen in how developers address issues with stormwater runoff, tree preservation, and the alterations of coastal landscape. 

“So we want to try to preserve and protect, as much as we can, what makes Pender County, Pender County,” Breuer said. “That’s why we see the influx of growth as people think there is something special here and all of our coastal habitats — and making sure that’s there in the future.” 

According to 2018 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Pender County’s population has increased by 18.6 percent since 2010, the fourth-fastest growth rate among all North Carolina counties over that period.

Breuer said the biggest challenge moving forward will be to communicate to coastal residents what the zoning change actually means. At the early September meeting, he said planners will show comparisons to current zoning districts like Residential Performance (RP), including district requirements, lot sizes, and setbacks.

He said many residents may not understand why these changes are occurring, but expects most to not feel any real impacts.

Their day-to-day life won’t be impacted  we don’t think  with that change,” Breuer said. “But other vacant properties out there that are being eyed for development. We’ll have to communicate what that change will be, what the difference is between current and future zoning.”

He said a crucial component of the new district will be incentivizing clustered development on a smaller footprint of land to reserve maximum space for stormwater runoff and natural habitats. In turn, this will require less infrastructure construction including roadways and water and sewer lines than if units were spread out over a larger area.

It’s not like we’re discouraging development, but if there’s a better way that we can do that more efficiently by increasing our resiliency, those are the types of overarching goals that we’re trying to focus on,” Breuer said. 

The new district is part of the county’s long-term project to adapt land ordinances to its Comprehensive Land Use Plan in order to “incentivize certain development outcomes across the County,” according to a memo sent by Breuer to the Board of County Commissioners on July 8.

Following September’s public input meeting, the draft Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) will be presented to the project’s steering committee and the county’s planning board, which will then be presented to commissioners on October 21.

According to Breuer’s memo, adoption of the UDO is expected to take place on November 18.


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