Friday, August 12, 2022

‘It’s the DNA of our city’: Wilmington ready to rewrite Land Development Code

The City of Wilmington's short term rental laws seem to contradict state law, but according to a local a representative (and a blog post from UNC), for now, they seem to be permitted (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
The City of Wilmington is ready to revamp its 30-year-old Land Development Code (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — When it comes to guiding development in a city like Wilmington, there are few documents more important than the city’s Land Development Code (LDC).

The LDC is updated every so often, although sometimes things are untouched for 30 years, according to Director of Planning Glenn Harbeck. For Wilmington, the current LDC is a relic of development trends of the late ’80s — but now it’s time for an overhaul.

“The Land Development Code (LDC) regulates how land may be developed within the City of Wilmington. The LDC controls zoning, subdivision of land, landscaping, signs, parking and other aspects of development,” according to the City of Wilmington’s Website.

When the City of Wilmington passed its Comprehensive Plan it addressed planning and development issues and laid out the foundation for which direction the city wanted to take. There is just one problem with it: the current LDC does not reflect these new practices, instead, they are based on 30-year-old trends.

“Wilmington’s LDC is based on development patterns and building practices that were common in the mid-to-late 1980s. Large parts of the LDC are outdated and difficult to use. The LDC hasn’t undergone a full update in 30 or more years. While the City amended its development regulations in late 2004, the code does not reflect recent policy direction or make use of many best practices of modern planning and zoning techniques,” according to the city website.

But the rewriting of the LDC has actually been underway for several years already — a major process that requires an in-depth analysis of current code and then possible revisions.

“The city began a two-phase, multi-year project to rewrite its LDC in 2015. The first step was an in-depth review of the existing code. The second phase, which began in 2016, is the development of the new LDC. To do this, we are drafting new ordinances, getting input from City Council/Planning Commission, and other stakeholder groups. In the fall of 2019, we will begin a comprehensive public input process with a completed draft of the new ordinances,” according to the city.

It appears the fall of 2019 public input process was delayed and on Monday, Harbeck offered City Council a first look at the process moving forward.

Starting this month and heading all the way into 2021, City Council, the Planning Commission, and the public will be provided with updates on the LDC and given a chance to workshop the new ideas. The adoption of the new LDC is still some time off, with Harbeck planning on a June 2021 adoption and an effective date of December 2021.

For Harbeck, the LDC is akin to the DNA of the city.

“As the DNA of our city, the Land Development Code affects the livelihoods of many and the quality of life of all. It affects how traffic moves about the region, how visitors, residents and prospective businesses view our city, the cost and quality of housing, the degree to which our city is treed and landscaped, how stormwater is managed and flooding prevented, how our history is honored, how citizens engage in their community’s growth and many other factors that shape the future of Wilmington,” Harbeck said.

Community involvement

The issues Harbeck listed in the previous statement overlap considerably with the bulk of resident complaints — overcrowding, overdevelopment, a lack of landscaping and trees around the city. That is why the city is turning to residents, civic groups, and more to help draft the new LDC.

Council briefings, such as the one that took place on Monday morning, are always open to the public, they are also presented via webcast and will continue to be where staff provides updates to City Council, Harbeck said. When drafts for the new LDC are proposed, the city will also share these with the public within 24-hours of City Council receiving their copy.

Of course, these sorts of things are great for informing the public but do little to aid in public input. That is where things like online input and public hearings will come into play.

The timeline

The first half of the proposed timeline for the updated LDC: PC – Planning Commission; CC – City Council. (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)

As previously stated, the overhaul of the LDC is a time-consuming project, that, if according to plan, will be completed and implemented by the end of 2021. Starting this month during City Council agenda briefings Harbeck and his staff will release the first ‘significant chunk’ of the proposed code — zoning districts.

“Those zoning districts form the foundation for everything else that follows,” he said.

Council agenda briefings will continue to be used as a place to release the proposed changes to City Council. Starting in the spring, work sessions will begin taking place, the majority of which will be held by the Planning Commission, but there will be joint meetings between City Council and the Planning Commission along the way.

The second half of the proposed schedule for the LDC review: PC – Planning Commission; CC – City Council. (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)

Starting next year, the city plans on holding public hearings where city leaders will possibly approve revisions of LDC text. In June of 2021, Harbeck hopes to have City Council adopt the new LDC, but it will still take about six months to take effect.


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