NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The Sidbury Farms subdivision will cover nearly half a square mile, bringing over 2,200 bedrooms to the northern part of the county. County planners are preparing — because it’s probably just the beginning of a new wave of development in the area.
Preliminary plans for the subdivision were delivered to the county over the summer, and call for three phases of development that will ultimately include 655 single-family homes and 103 townhouses (a total of 2,274 bedrooms) on over 300 acres of property. The 758 units, at approximately 2.5 units per acre, is the maximum density allowed without a rezoning — but the project is providing considerably more open space then county regulations require.
The subdivision is located on Sidbury Road, a back road that travels from the CFCC North Campus through about 7.5 miles of largely undeveloped forest and connects with Market Street (Highway 17) just across the Pender County border. Sidbury Farms is a large project but it’s part of what county planners expect will be an even larger move to start development in the 10 to 15 square-mile area.
There are thousands of acres in the region that could see development. In part, development has been stoked by the end of the Map Act, which allowed NCDOT to freeze development in potential roadway corridors, and finalized plans for the Military Cutoff Extension and Hampstead Bypass, which will help dictate where connecting roads will go. A coming boom of development in the northern part of the county means managing stormwater, wetlands, utilities and — of course — roads.
According to Planning and Land Use Director Wayne Clark, the county hopes to avoid planning for developments like Sidbury Farms piecemeal, and to take a more “global perspective.”
The northern part of the county is home to a number of waterways and wetlands, which means as development increases, impervious surfaces (asphalt, roofs, and other surfaces that don’t absorb water) will push additional runoff into creeks and streams, which can cause flooding. Similar issues have plagued the Ogden area, which the county is working on addressing, recently receiving over $4 million in federal grant money to help clear waterways.
The county is also currently exploring a new stormwater utility, which would help to mitigate this kind of issue.
A considerable portion of the northeastern county is also a Wetland Resource Protection Area, which Clark said does limit the density of development. While the county is looking at options to encourage mixed-use development in ‘mini-downtown’ hubs (areas of mixed residential and commercial use), much of the northern county will probably be less densely populated — under 2.5 units per acre in protected areas.
County regulations require 22.7 acres of open space (with half of it being active, meaning residents can use it). Sidbury farms is planning around 85 acres of open space — which would help considerably to manage stormwater.
Utilities are another issue. Clark said the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority was working with land-owning families — including the Camerons, Trasks, and Corbetts — to work on predicting where force mains, lift stations, and other utility infrastructure will need to go. Clark said the Camerons, in particular, had worked with CFPUA to help lay out what kind of development they are planning, and what needs CFPUA might need to meet.
Then there are roads, or rather the lack of roads — which is a wholly different story.
In North Carolina, county governments aren’t authorized to build or maintain roads — only the state or federal Department of Transportation and municipalities can do that. So, for development that falls outside of Wilmington but doesn’t rise to the level of a state-owned road, it’s nearly impossible for the county to handle transportation issues on its own.
Clark said that potential projects to enhance the roadways in the northern part of the county hadn’t scored as well as other projects for the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO), which directs state and federal funding streams to local transportation projects. Still, he said he hopes continuing conversations with transportation stakeholders can help move projects forward.
Clark said county planners hope to avoid the kind of congestion that can occur on Gordon Road, a two-lane road that has been overwhelmed by development and surrounded by neighborhoods with haphazard connectivity. (Of course, it doesn’t help that an expansion of Gordon Road planned over a decade ago was mysteriously defunded by the state. But that’s another story.)
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001