Friday, August 19, 2022

Preservation Point makes a rare ask: a rezoning request involving no new development

Developers behind Preservation Point would like to have 71 acres of their land rezoned for residential use, even though the land is bound by a conservation easement and is un-developable. (New Hanover County staff)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY—Preservation Point, an under-construction subdivision along the Cape Fear River, submitted a rezoning request to New Hanover County involving 71 acres of land connected to the project on Castle Hayne Road.

Unlike most requests heard by the planning board, this one, pitched by Frank Braxton of Coastal Land Design at the Thursday meeting, asserted that no new lots would be built on the land if rezoned.

The acreage owned by Preservation Point is marshlands and wetlands, and directly south of the existing framework of the subdivision. As it stands now, the land is tagged for heavy industrial use, with an I-2 zoning designation. The surrounding area stemming out from Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway is similarly zoned industrial, whereas the land further up Castle Hayne Road is slated for residential use. 

“This request will expand the existing subdivision without creating additional lots,” New Hanover County planner Gideon Smith told the board. 

Braxton said the subdivision is seeking the rezoning request — which, if eventually approved by the board of commissioners, would redesignate the land with a residential zoning tap. It would expand the lot size of Preservation Point’s existing homes, particularly those that abut the marshland.

“This is a project that’s been a long time coming for us,” Braxton said at the meeting. “We started in 2007. It’s been on again off again with the economy.” 

Braxton added the project is now “well under construction.” 

The 71-acre subject site is locked in a conservation easement, meaning that development of any sort is barred on the territory. Protective measures have been put in place to keep the land undisturbed.

That conservation easement, Braxton said, was crafted alongside county staff and attorneys, and written in a way that “gives a recourse and a way to put teeth in the easement if someone was to overstep their boundary.”

“It doesn’t really affect the use — the use is restricted,” Braxton added. “It just gives those lot owners the feeling that they’ve got control of what’s behind them and how they’re building the house to associate it with their views.” 

It would be a selling point for the project to have lots that extended far out into the marshland; that draw, the views, and allowing the property owners to feel a sense of “control,” are all at the core of the rezoning request. A residential zoning, if approved, could allow the acreage to be tacked onto other lots, while that option is unavailable for industrial-zoned land.

“If I were to own that funny-shaped lot that’s really long, what could I do?” board member Ernest Olds asked. He was referencing a graphic provided by Braxton that showed lots extending from the subdivision to incorporate the marshland.

“Virtually,” Braxton responded. “Look at it. It’s a protection and perception.”

According to its website, Preservation Point is managed by Lakewood Capital Group and was originally approved for 98 lots. In 2017, the project secured an additional board approval for a community boating facility. In 2019, a separate rezoning request was granted that boosted the subdivision’s capacity up to 150 lots. 

Jeff Petroff, who was appointed to the planning board in 2018, oversees the engineering department at Braxton’s firm, Coastal Land Design. He recused himself from the discussion and decision-making regarding the rezoning request. 

The request passed unanimously, and will be heard by the board of commissioners for final approval at a later date. 

Donna Girardot, the board chairwoman, gave a full-throated endorsement.

“It’s very seldom that we get something before us that produces no students and no traffic,” she said at the meeting.

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