Monday, June 24, 2024

Two development projects in the county score wins at board of commissioners meeting

Construction hums next to already-completed neighborhoods at the Landing, where developers secured permission to build more units. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY—Two development companies secured go-aheads for their respective projects in New Hanover County at a board of commissioners meeting Monday. The board authorized a rezoning request submitted on behalf of the company that manages the holdings of the Trask family. Agents of the Trask family can now move forward with plans to construct more than 2,600 units on 500 acres of land in the county’s northern region.

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

The Landing at Lewis Creek, an in-progress residential community on Gordon Road, obtained a green light to add 17 more units to the fleet of homes. Attorney Amy Schaefer — a member at the firm of state senator-elect Michael Lee, who represented the Landing in the past — defended the development’s interests against some residents who previously bought homes at the Landing. Residents who spoke at the public hearing alleged the Landing has not been forthright in communicating long-term plans, which Schaefer denied.

Trask Land Company

In a presentation to the board, Gardner Noble, an associate at Trask Land Company, said the 500-acre project would consist largely of workforce housing options. The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and northern campus of Cape Fear Community College are near the parcels, Noble said, and this development could allow members of the county’s workforce to secure homes conveniently located close to their workspaces. 

The Trask proposal was separated into two separate and adjacent land parcels: a 150-acre parcel located in the northeastern quadrant of Interstate-40’s intersection with N.C. Highway 140, and a 350-acre parcel located in the southeast quadrant of the intersection. The initial request submitted to the planning board mentioned there would be a variety of housing options in the to-be-created community but offered no specifics. Noble told the board, for the northern parcel, the predominant unit type would likely be single-family detached homes, while also including multifamily homes and townhomes. 

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

Board members were receptive and unanimously approved the Trask requests. Potential traffic woes and issues with accessing the site were discussed but weren’t a dealbreaker. 

In a previous meeting of the county’s planning board, Nathan Allen, who lives nearby the southern parcel, opposed the Trask family requests. He said Murrayville Elementary School, located along the road network the developers intend to use for accessing the site, is already severely congested on school days. 

“One of our biggest issues is the traffic,” Allen previously said in an interview. “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.”

Raiford Trask III acknowledged the potential traffic difficulties that could arise during the construction process. Aside from his project, there is a 300-acre subdivision also in the works in the same vicinity. 

“We’re going to grow, and I can’t tell you we have a magic cure for traffic, but we will work hard with the [department of transportation],” Trask said at the meeting. “And I think we’ll be able to, along with the other developments on that road, we’ll have to improve the road.”

He emphasized this was just the beginning of a long-term project. 

“Also, it’s not like we’re going to flip a switch, and you’ll have 750 homes worth of traffic in there,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time, 10 years most likely, which we will be able to improve traffic facilities throughout the county.”

The Landing at Lewis Creek 

In 2017, then-state Senator Lee served as a face for the project in its quest to obtain initial authorizations, which put the Landing on track to construct a 422-dwelling residential community on Gordon Road, after obtaining a special use permit from the board of commissioners. Lee said he is not involved with the Landing’s current request to add new homes.

RELATED: Gordon Road development project seeking permission to boost capacity with 17 more units

Amy Schaefer — an attorney for Lee Kaess, PLLC — asked the board to grant the developers, McAdams Homes, permission to build 17 additional units on now-vacant land at the site. The builders’ initial request was for 18 new homes, but it was reduced by one at some point between her presentation to the planning board in October, and the final presentation to the board of commissioners this week. 

She introduced experts who told the board the change in traffic flow would be manageable, and she asked the board to disregard testimonies from residents, if they did not base their concerns in expert analysis and verified research. Jeff Headrick, who owns a home in the Landing, said he and other residents were not informed about various aspects of development plans in the area. Schaefer and county land use staff members said the approved site plans have always been public knowledge.

“You certainly do have the right to discredit everything I say,” Headrick said. “I don’t have a lot of initials after my name. I didn’t bring three or four engineers in.”

In 2017, there was debate over the project plans, and the Landing’s initial special use permit was approved in a 3-2 vote. Rob Zapple and Jonathan Barfield, the board members who dissented at the time, cited deteriorating traffic conditions on Gordon Road as a reason to be apprehensive about green lighting projects in the area. 

Chad Kimes, a division engineer for the N.C. DOT, said in an interview that funding was just recently unlocked for a long-awaited lane-widening project on Gordon Road. Until his announcement, the improvement project was scheduled for right-of-way acquisition in 2025 and had no verified funding source. Kimes said funding is procured, and work could start on adding and widening road lanes in June 2024.

Headrick said there was obfuscation in the developer’s communications with residents over plans to build on certain areas. He said residents were told some sections of the site would remain green space. Schaefer disputed allegations that the builders had not been forthright, and again said the site plans have always been publicly available.

Woody White, the outgoing commissioner who gave a 12-minute monologue at the end of the meeting, asked Headrick if he personally inspected the site plans approved in 2017 when he bought his home, and if he inspected the minutes of the board meeting at which the plans were approved. Headrick said he had not. 

Barfield, who was just re-elected, said since voting against the project’s interests in 2017, he had changed his stance. Infrastructure improvements in the area assuaged his concerns, he said, and the affordable price points for the Landing’s homes also worked to get him on board. The request was unanimously approved.

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