Tuesday, August 9, 2022

After two denials, redesigned Hooker Road development gets green light from Planning Commission

At a location off Hooker Road, developers hope to rezone a mobile home community to make room for new single-family homes. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — Persistence does not always pay off when it comes to fighting development in Wilmington. But in the case of residents living next to a mobile home neighborhood off Hooker Road who protested the rezoning of the property multiple times, it seems that it has.

Plans have been in the works for some time now by property owners to rezone the Timberlynn Village mobile home community. Initially, property owners of the 10.7-acre plot of land wanted to put multifamily units where the mobile homes sit.

However, resistance from neighbors along with two denials from the Wilmington Planning Commission, property owners were forced to rethink their plans and have resubmitted a new plan for the land.

Some background

Earlier iterations of the redevelopment had the property serving as high-density development. (Port City Daily/File)

The developers of the land initially wanted to put 106 townhome units on the property but the Planning Commission unanimously denied that request in 2019.

When that request failed, property owners then decided to lessen the development impact and submitted plans for an 86 single-family ‘cluster housing.’ But neighbors pushed back against these plans as well and city staff was also not supportive of the plans.

“The proposed rezoning is not consistent with the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan growth strategies for this area and conflicts with the policies for infill development within an existing residential neighborhood. Redevelopment should be compatible with the existing residential neighborhood. The site is located within an established low-density, single-family neighborhood. The existing R-15, Residential District typically yields roughly 3 units per acre and the proposed R-5, Residential District allows for nearly 9 units per acre,” according to a staff report from 2019 in regards to staff’s opinion on the request.

Related: Hooker Road developer not done yet, files appeal against Planning Commission despite receiving little support

Again, the Planning Commission denied the request — a denial that the property owners would appeal and eventually withdraw from the City of Wilmington.

Neighbors to the mobile home park were adamant in their concerns with the request from the property owners. That was, in part because of the fact that the request was twofold. First, there was a rezoning request and then there was a special use permit application that would have further loosened the rules of the rezoned district, according to neighbor Greg Reed.

“His [Howard Penton III, the property owner] request to rezone from R-15 to R-5, and then get approval on a Special Use Permit(SUP), which will further relax the requirements of the R-5, amounts to him getting approval to build apartments, regardless of the official language. These are free-standing, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 700-sq-ft units, hardly what anyone would call a ‘single-family development.’ This is an end-run around his original proposal, which was denied,” Reed wrote in an email regarding the request in 2019.

The fact that the surrounding neighborhoods are all single-family residential subdivisions, adding multi-family residential units did not seem to fit with the area, according to neighbors. This was just one of the many complaints that were voiced during planning sessions, however, it does appear that developers have learned and have changed their tact to be more in sync with the community.

What’s changed?

Suzanne O’Bryant is listed as the applicant for the latest proposal for the property which will rezone the land from R-15 to R-7 CD (Conditional District). The purpose will be to construct a 56-lot, single-family planned unit development, however, once again, this is a two-step request requiring a special use permit as well.

An R-15 district is a residential district with low intensity, this means single-family homes on typically larger lots, a change to R-7 would allow for a more moderately dense development.

“This district is established for moderate density residential development and other compatible uses. It is intended to recognize areas of moderate residential density located outside the 1945 corporate limits. The protection and rehabilitation of viable neighborhoods within this district shall be encouraged to ensure the continued existence as a major housing resource,” according to the city staff report for the new request.

The next step for the landowners will be to have a special use hearing to designate the land as PUD-R or a ‘planned use development — residential.’

However the City of Wilmington is currently working to rewrite its Land Development Code.

“The Land Development Code (LDC) is a compilation of City regulations that control how land may be developed within Wilmington,” according to the City of Wilmington.

Within these new changes city staff has already proposed the elimination of the PUD districts (along with SHOD, Special Highway Overlay District, NB, Neighborhood Business Districts, and more) so it is not clear what role this will play in the request’s process.

According to the City of Wilmington’s current LDC, a planned unit development is defined below.

“The purpose of this provision is to encourage more creative and innovative design for development than is possible under the general district regulations. It is designed to promote the efficient use of land with an economic arrangement of structures, circulation systems, land use, and utilities. The provision is also intended to encourage the preservation of existing natural features and site amenities in a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing manner. Planned unit development, residential (PUD-R) are available in all residential districts …”

Less dense development

While density issues were a problem for the neighbors of the property in the past, it appears that the property owners have listened and have even lowered the number of units from what is currently on the land. As it stands now there are 69 mobile home units on the property, this new request would reduce that to 56 units.

O’Bryant said that after the two previous denials the development received from the city she was confident the new plans were very different than those previously requested.

“I’m confident that what we’re bringing before you now is a plan that is both consistent with the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan and also in line with what the adjacent neighbors have asked for … It became clear to us that the neighbors would support nothing less than a single-family for sale product,” O’Bryant said. “So that is what I have brought to you now.”

The plans that the developers have presented to the city, while still not R-15, are more along the lines of what neighbors would like to see. For Reed, who has a home that directly abuts the mobile home park, he is cautiously optimistic that the new plans will be more in line with what the community wants as a whole.

The next step for the applicants is to take their special use permit request in front of City Council in June.


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