NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Amid the maze of hundreds of streets and dozens of neighborhoods along South College Road between Shipyard Boulevard and Monkey Junction, one spot stands out: An area just south of the Lansdowne neighborhood and Cape Fear Academy is a rare find in Wilmington — nearly 65 acres of undeveloped land.
That might not be the case for long, if the New Hanover County Commissioners accept the recommendation of the county’s planning board to approve a request to build up to 460 residential units and commercial space on the land. Part of the Cameron family’s portfolio, it’s the last large undeveloped parcel in that busy stretch of South College.
The site sits to the west of an existing development, Whiskey Branch, which was previously developed by the same applicant with 156 residential units.
Developers walked away from the project plans last year after securing a previous 4-3 approval from the planning board. After taking community input and revising the plans, the project once again came before the planning board, earning an unanimous recommendation Thursday after board members were pleased with the new application, which included a more discreet impact to traffic, vegetative buffers and tree preservation.
The final approval is now up to the board of commissioners, who will decide on the rezoning at a future meeting.
Last year, the developers sought to rezone only 20 acres of the entire 64-acre site. They were given unanimous approval for a special use permit in June 2019, allowing 324 apartment units. That application was withdrawn.
With this move, the applicant is now trying to rezone the entire 64 acres to a planned development community, which requires a master plan. Of the 460 units slated, 40 will be residential units within a mixed-use building, 250 will be multi-family apartment units, and 170 will be single-family, townhomes, duplexes and triplexes.
The adjacent parcel, the existing portion of Whiskey Branch, will only be connected to the proposed development with an emergency vehicle access.
The developers hope to complete build out by 2024, but noted the date was probably on the early side.
“I would much rather see it developed in this form, than in little tiny pieces over the next couple years coming before us,” board member Donna Giradot said.
Board members said the reality was that the parcel would be developed regardless of whether the applicant was successful in applying for the “planned development” rezoning or not. They were interested in hearing about mitigating hectic traffic on College Road.
The application states the development would ease traffic congestion by adding the commercial space closer to a large number of residents, allowing them quicker access to shopping and services. Upon full build-out, the entire 64-acre project will generate 8,900 additional weekday vehicle trips, according to traffic analyses.
Plans for the expansion of Whiskey Branch show its developer, Dry Pond LLC, is hoping full build-out will consist of at least 460 apartments, 50,000 square feet in general office space, and 122,750 square feet of retail.
“We see this as black and white as a zoning application, but understandably there were people in the neighborhood who were curious about, ‘What is this going to look like,’” Sam Franck, representing the applicants, told the board.
According to the application, the hope is to include a gourmet grocery store, electrical car charging capabilities, a coffee shop and an electronics store among the site’s retail tenants.
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