Monday, August 8, 2022

Heirs to New Hanover County land hope to increase sale value through rezoning application

The subject site of a NHC Planning Board application is unincorporated land enclosed within the City of Wilmington, and borders a 40-acre parcel behind a last-minute letter to the board before its Thursday meeting. (Courtesy New Hanover County staff)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY—Heirs to a 8-acre piece of unincorporated land, tucked within the boundaries of the City of Wilmington, are hoping to rezone their parcel to multi-family use.

At a New Hanover County Planning Board meeting Thursday, an Intracoastal Realty agent representing the owners said the heirs are not developers; they want to sell the land and seek a rezoning to make the parcel more attractive to developer buyers.

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Typically, assumptions of increasing value via local government approvals are more implicit in land use change requests. In general, land owners take on the headache of facing local boards and obtaining government approvals, which in turn can mean developers may be (and often are) willing to pay a higher price for land to avoid a sometimes complicated and lengthy process.

In this case, developers could build 21 single-family units on the property as is, but with the requested zoning, 83 multi-family units could be built.

Members of the Raines family inherited a chunk of land at the southeast corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and N. Kerr Avenue. Most of it is New Hanover County land, though a portion is within city limits.

According to county staff, the applicants’ efforts to procure a similar rezoning with the city stalled after city staff urged the Raines family to submit a conditional zoning application and a development plan. A county staffer also said during the meeting that the city had discussed a potential annexation.

After county staff presented the fundamentals of the request, Hicks stood to address the board. 

“I have no comments,” he told them. “I’ll be glad to answer any questions.”

“Alright,” chairwoman Donna Giradot responded. “No presentation or anything you want to make?”

Hicks declined again. Giradot asked him what was going on with his parallel requests to the city, and why Hicks was pursuing a rezoning through the county before ironing out his ongoing application with the city. 

“Because the zoning request was considered by the county without the need for a development plan,” Hicks responded. 

“To enhance the sale-a-bility of the land, multi-family is the way to go,” he added. “I’ve had discussions with two single-family developers. Neither one of which were too enthused about building single-family homes in that particular area. Multi-family was mentioned as a good possibility.”

Directly east of the Raines parcel, there is a 40-acre tract that approaches Market Street, with Target to the south and MLK Parkway to the north. Attorneys representing those landowners submitted a last-minute brief to the planning board just hours before the meeting started. It said a road extension through the 40-acre tract — which is under city jurisdiction — was previously approved to ease Market Street traffic conditions and promote road connectivity. 

Hunters Trail, the road in question, is planned to reconnect with New Center Drive partly via the Raines’ property. The applicants did not disclose this in their submittals to the county, according to Shipman and Wright, the firm representing the neighboring parcel. 

Read More: City considering condemning land for road behind Target

“I just want the county to understand what’s coming and how many years of planning have gone into this to improve traffic conditions,” said David Novotny, who spoke on behalf of 5016 Hunters Trail, LLC, the owner of the 40-acre tract. Novotny was previously involved with the Galleria project on behalf of State Street Companies.

The letter spoke of a 2009 City of Wilmington measure that approved a Hunters Trail extension jetting through 5016 Hunters Trail, LLC’s property eventually connecting back to New Center Drive through the applicant’s property. 

According to the letter: “It is important to note that Council’s decision in April 2009 to reconfigure the western extension of Hunters Trail was based on recommendations from the NCDOT and WMPO, which concluded that the western extension of Hunters Trail would disperse traffic away from Market Street and distribute that traffic to a widened and reconstructed Kerr Avenue.”

Attorneys submitted a last-minute brief to the planning board, claiming the applicants failed to acknowledge a roadway project involving the applicant lot and its neighbor, previously approved by the City of Wilmington. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County staff)

“They want exclusive reservations for the extension of the road at the top, and I applaud that,” Hicks said. Though he added “this was not the time” to nail down details on who was responsible for road projects. 

Hicks said in an interview that when the Raines family applied for a rezoning request through the city, the questions that eventually led to the project being held involved a roadway plan that included the Hunters Trail extension, among other projects. He added that road projects were not material to this stage of the process, and should be ironed out later.

The dispute over the road concerned at least one member of the planning board, but in total it did not amount to a reason for rejecting the application. Members and staff said at the meeting issues like these are scrupulously reconciled in later phases of the process — in this case, there’s still no developer — including the Technical Review Committee and other opportunities for developers to interact with government staff. 

Stephen Culbreth, an attorney for members of the Raines family, cautioned the board on thinking too much about the approved road projects and talked about the history of the Raines parcel between MLK Parkway and New Center Drive. 

“It’s making this piece of land subservient to everything that’s behind it, which is owned by one developer,” Culbreth said, referring to the Shipman and Wright request to make acknowledging the on-site road project a condition of the Raines rezoning application.

The Shipman and Wright letter stated its clients were not opposed to the proposed land use change, they just wanted to make sure the Hunter Trail project would still continue, and that the applicant acknowledged its existence.

Planning board members favored the application; as a straight rezoning request, it would have been impossible to levy conditions on the applicant. Further, planning board members emphasized New Hanover County has no authority to build roadways — that power rests with the city and the state — so the limited jurisdictional scope should be kept in mind. The application was recommended, meaning it will carry the board’s stamp of approval when the board of commissioners make the final call at a later date. 

Planning board member Jordy Rawl shared some cautionary thoughts during board discussion, suggesting the land owners were trying to boost property values by taking advantage of the incoming road work in the area.  

“To me that looks like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to increase my cost-per-acre so that when DOT comes and does condemnation, you know, we get more per acre when DOT writes us a check,” Rawl said. “I just don’t think that’s a good facilitation of, ultimately, what is taxpayer money.”

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