Monday, June 17, 2024

Pender’s long-delayed Blake Farm development approved for private wells to support buildout

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 Blake Farm and developer Trask Land Company sits off Highway 17 just north of the New Hanover-Pender county line. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

PENDER COUNTY — The Pender County Planning Board has approved three private wells to support the buildout of a massive mixed-use development in Scott’s Hill that has been held up in court for nearly three years — and first gained approval from county planners in 2006.

Pender planners had recommended approval of the wells because the county’s own public water provider, Pender County Utilities, currently has distribution limitations that “restrict the flow of water capacity to the eastern side of the county where demand is increasing,” according to a report from Interim Planning Director Travis Henley.

RELATED: Long legal dispute over Pender’s massive Blake Farm development approaches May hearing

“The proposed private water wells would support the buildout of the previously-approved Blake Farm Master Development Plan through providing on-site water capacity,” Henley’s report stated.

Henley took over the county’s planning office when former director Kyle Breuer accepted Surf City’s town manager position in December. He said specific technical plans for the wells are still required to obtain approval from the planning department, which has not yet occurred.

The Planning Board’s approval came after a public hearing held last Wednesday.

Preliminary plans for Blake Farm include three private wells, depicted above in circles, to support the buildout of mixed-use development. (Courtesy Pender County Planning Department)

A long history of delays and litigation

County commissioners first approved a rezoning of the land in June 2006 so that it could be developed. Later that summer the Planning Board approved the East Haven Master Plan, consisting of 4,096 residential units, future commercial development, a school, a fire station, and an onsite wastewater treatment facility. But the land sat idle.

In 2011, developer Raiford Trask began discussions with a group of investors led by NDCO, LLC, a firm represented by a Colorado Springs attorney named Michael Cook. These discussions led to the creation of Pender 1164, an equal partnership between NDCO and Trask’s Pender Farm Development to own and develop 1,164 acres of land located on the west side of Highway 17 just north of the New Hanover-Pender county line.

In June 2014, Trask sold 28 acres of the property to a local water utility company named Pluris for use as a wastewater treatment plant, a move that is now central to an ongoing lawsuit.

That following July, the Planning Board approved a new five-phase development known as Blake Farm, then consisting of nearly 3,000 residential units and 250,000-square-feet of commercial space. But again the land sat idle.

Trask redesigned the proposed project in the spring of 2015 after he realized the costs of development were higher than first expected, according to court documents. Blake Farm obtained preliminary approval for 58 lots in June 2016, but because Trask Land Company did not meet certain requirements within a two-year time frame, those plans expired in June 2018. Preliminary reapproval for the 58 lots was granted in March 2019.

Litigation between the two parties commenced when Trask filed a lawsuit in May 2017 against NDCO, declaring that a “deadlock” had resulted from a defaulted loan by one of NDCO’s members and from an unwillingness to work towards a resolution.

In January 2018, NDCO filed its countersuit, alleging contract fraud and seeking “rescission of the contract underlying the parties’ dispute,” according to court documents. NCDO argued that Trask did not in good faith pursue the development of the property and — without NDCO’s consent — Trask had sold the 28 acres to Pluris. That litigation is ongoing.

In February 2018, the Planning Board approved two major site development plans, one for commercial uses including office space, a restaurant, and an aquarium, and the other for a multi-family development containing 240 units in 10 separate buildings. These projects are now pending approval from the county’s planning department, although the controversial aquarium project has been replaced with plans for office and retail space.

In May 2019, the Planning Board approved plans for a 111,900-square-foot storage facility as well as plans for 126 townhomes. These projects are also waiting approval from planners.

Although the private wells have the ability to be tied into the county’s water system in the future, according to Henley’s report, there are no current plans to do so.

[Editor’s note: Stay tuned for a closer look at the latest in ongoing litigation around the Blake Farms development.]


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