Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Trask family moves forward on 500-acre project, approved for max 2,617 units

The 500 acres of land, owned and managed by the Trask family, are situated in the lower right quadrant of this photo, which shows the intersection of I-40 and N.C. Highway 140 in northern New Hanover County. (Google Maps)

After securing an endorsement from the New Hanover County Planning Board, a Trask company is one step closer to developing 500 acres of what used to be family farmland in the northern region of New Hanover County. 

Two different parcels, located on either side of N.C. Highway 140 at its intersection with Interstate-40, were included in the approved request for rezoning. While  current zoning laws  allow for 867 total dwellings to be built on the two sites, the rezoning application would allow the land to be developed to the tune of 2,617 dwellings — a total increase of 1,750 units. The project proposal will be heard by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 16.

At the Oct. 1 planning board meeting, residents who live near the land voiced concerns over the Trasks’ request for a “blanket rezoning,” which doesn’t include any contingencies for the land use, and allows the developer the option to sell the land under the new zoning code at a later date. In its application materials, Trask Land Co. stated the project will consist of “a broader mix of residential units (e.g. single-family, townhomes and multi-family) to create a more vibrant and diverse residential community…” 

Nathan Allen, who lives directly south of the property, near Murrayville Elementary School, said he is worried about the vagueness of the proposal and how it will affect the surrounding community.

“One of our biggest issues is the traffic,” Allen said. “Murrayville Road in that area is horrible, and the problem is that the planning commission and the county knows about it. They’ve known about it for a long time, but yet they’ve continued to keep allowing more and more developments along Murrayville Road.”

Allen said, when school is in session, the traffic on Murrayville Road is congested for a mile due to the influx of cars heading to the elementary school and Laney High School. 

The plan submitted by Trask Land Co. identifies Murrayville Road as a means of access to the site. Allen worries it will further clog up the area’s roads. 

“They’re showing a connection coming through that road at Murrayville Elementary, which is a complete nightmare every morning and afternoon, with the pickup and drop-off already,” Allen said. “That’s really our biggest problem with it.” 

New Hanover County staff determined that, in total, the proposed development could add 426 vehicle trips during the peak morning hour and 610 trips in the peak afternoon hour, though a formal traffic analysis was not required for this stage of the process.

“That’s kind of one of the gripes I believe, is the blanket rezoning; it really allows the developers a lot of room to do whatever,” Allen said.

Ken Vafier, New Hanover County planning manager, said additional details will be ironed out when the project proposal is heard by the county’s Technical Review Committee.

“The respective agencies will address, amongst other items, traffic impacts, stormwater management, and sedimentation and erosion control to ensure compliance with current regulations,” he wrote in an email. “During the development review and permitting process, the applicant will be subject to all other applicable agency regulations.”

Gardner Noble, a representative of Trask Land Co., presented the proposal to the planning board. He said the first step likely would be the construction of townhomes, followed later by single-family housing and multi-family housing closer to Highway 140. Noble did not respond to a request for an interview.

One of the first action items, he said at the meeting, will be a collaboration with Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, with the goal of getting water and sewer infrastructure out into the area.

Carel Vandermeyden, deputy executive director at CFPUA, said there has been a push in recent years to add water and sewer lines in the county’s northern regions. When projects are proposed in areas not served by CFPUA, the usual protocol is for developers to pay for water and sewer line additions, then convey the lines back to CFPUA to manage and operate in perpetuity.

“The way it normally works is that growth pays for growth,” he said.“The existing ratepayers do not pay for extending these lines. It’s the future customers that through development pay for extending lines. While we develop the overall master plan of how to serve the area, it’s typically the developers that extend the lines.”

Members of the planning board empathized with the residents who showed up to oppose the project in the public hearing. Some members said they were apprehensive about the lack of a comprehensive site plan, and aware of the reality that the Trasks could make significant alterations to the site plan down the road. The first proposal, regarding the 158-acre parcel, was approved 5-0. The second proposal, for the 350-acre parcel, was approved 4-1.

“I just wish there had been a little more detail, but I understand at this stage in planning, and the requirements and the law, they don’t have to,” Allen said. “So that’s just the way it is.”

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