Monday, March 27, 2023

Take a first look at how Wilmington is working to update its zoning ordinances

City of Wilmington. (Port CIty Daily photo / File)
City of Wilmington. (Port CIty Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — Wilmington’s Land Development Code (LDC) is ready for a makeover after nearly 30 years. Among the first items to be replanned will be the city’s zoning districts which will, in turn, help guide the rest of the LDC update.

On Monday, city staff offered Wilmington City Council the first look at some of the proposed changes. Some of the changes would have little to no impact, like the elimination of zoning districts that are not currently in use; others would have some more significant changes that could lead to less use of the city’s special use permit process.

Although the planning staff did present some of the changes that could become part of the city’s rules, there is still lots of time before any concrete decisions have to be made.

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

“This item will not be reviewed in a public sense for discussion and debate until the planning commission work session in April,” Planning Director Glenn Harbeck told City Council.

Proposed Changes

Senior Planner Christine Hughes gave City Council a first look at some of the proposed changes to the LDC on Monday. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

Senior Planner Christine Hughes explained some of the proposed changes on Monday morning. The first of the changes would be the implementation of legacy districts, which simply means, ‘these districts may remain on the zoning map and properties may stay in that zoning district, but there would be no new rezonings to those districts.’

The proposed legacy districts would be: R-20; mixed-use; AI or Airport Industrial; UMX urban mixed-use; MF-MH multifamily medium-high density; and MF-H multifamily high density.

One of the things Hughes mentioned was the fact that Wilmington as a whole is almost built out meaning there is very little developable land left. It also means that future development will likely be in the form of smaller, infill developments — something the current zoning ordinances do not necessarily take into consideration.

Because of the fact development is changing in Wilmington and no longer fits the mold of the 30-year-old LDC, the city has seen an increase in the number of special use permits (SUP) — something updating the LDC could help fix.

“Also proposed is a reduction in the number of special use permits … adding these uses back as conditional uses. As special use permit, as you know, is intended to add flexibility to the zoning code where we might say a use is not quite right for a district but maybe with some conditions, it could be appropriate … it also requires a quasi-judicial hearing. It is quite time consuming for the applicant, for the council, and for the staff. We believe that we can come up with some conditions that will eliminate the need for the quasi-judicial hearing,” Hughes said.

Special use permits are a tedious process, that, because of their quasi-judicial nature, make it difficult for residents and concerned neighbors to speak out against projects. They also have led to a number of lawsuits for towns across the region after developers were not happy with the outcome of a SUP request.

Missing middle housing

The City of Wilmington planning staff wants to work on addressing the ‘missing middle’ housing in out area. (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)

The lack of affordable housing in Wilmington is one of the city’s biggest and most talked-about problems. Programs have been put in place to help people become homeowners with low-interest loans, rehab affordable housing, and more, but there is still a major shortage of affordable housing in Wilmington.

The city itself is not responsible for what developers choose to build, but zoning ordinances do make it difficult for anyone to construct what Hughes calls ‘missing middle’ housing.

“We also are attempting to encourage what we call missing middle housing and that simply means alternative housing types between a detached one-family home and an apartment or highrise/midrise concept. We are looking at other ways to allow duplex, triplex, and quadplex … In another chapter, we will talk about alternative lot layouts,” Hughes said.

Residents can follow along with the LDC update online, and watch Hughes’ presentation to City Council as well. The update to the LDC is a lengthy process and will consist of plenty of time for public input, discussion amongst the Planning Board as well as City Council.

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