300-unit apartment complex in Hampstead faces uphill battle, planning staff recommend denial

Headwaters Apartments is a proposed complex in Hampstead that would bring 294 units and various retail options to the Highway 17 corridor. Due to overcrowding in local schools, staff has recommended its denial. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Pender County)

PENDER COUNTY — Developers proposing to build a multi-family project of 294 units in Hampstead are likely to face pushback due to the overflowing populations of many nearby schools. 

Hawthorne at Headwaters, a 24-acre project that includes space for restaurants and retail, is being spearheaded by Evolve Companies. Seeking a conditional rezoning, the applicants will face the Pender County Planning Board on Wednesday, and the board of commissioners at a later date. 

The subject site comprises four separate parcels located on the eastern side of the Highway 17 corridor. The current landowners appear to have involved the services of Swain & Associates, a real estate company that was previously involved in a Hawthorne project on Oleander Drive in Wilmington. 


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The project’s estimated build-out is at some point in 2023, contingent on county approvals. 

The sticking point of the project likely will be its effect on the local school system. County planning staff have recommended the plans be denied for this reason. 

“Pender County Schools communicated to Planning Staff that the school system does not currently have the capacity to serve the proposed development, nor are there any plans currently adopted to increase capacity in the system at this time,” according to staff notes. 

Steven Hill, Pender County Schools superintendent, wrote to planning staff that out of 18 total schools, three are over capacity and eight are hovering at 85% to 90% of total capacity. 

“It appears that [board of education] members and in my opinion the general public understand that [Pender County Schools] are becoming crowded,” Hill wrote to county officials, “and without new school construction in the very near future will be over capacity at several additional school sites.” 

Planning staff noted 294 residential units would lead to a noticeable impact on the school system, and cite those ramifications as a central reason to their recommendation of denial. 

Abutting the site to the north is the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Headwaters site was previously rezoned in 2017 to facilitate the commercial development of Headwaters Town Center. “Due to the project failing to move forward in a manner to extend the validity of the Master Development Plan, the Plan expired on October 3, 2019,” according to planning staff notes. 

In exchange for an increase in allowable density, the developers are proposing a robust stormwater management system designed to control the effects of a 100-year storm. County law compels them to plan for at least a 25-year storm. A multi-use path and bikes lanes have also been included in project plans. 

During a community meeting, locals fretted over the possibility that Section 8 housing would be constructed on the site. Developers assured nearby residents that Section 8 housing will not be on the table.

Representatives from Evolve Companies, Swain & Associates, Pender County Schools, Pender County Planning and the current landowners did not immediately return requests for comment.

A Traffic Impact Analysis estimated Headwaters would generate 3,813 daily trips. Road connections and potentially a traffic light will accompany the site, while a N.C. Department of Transportation project to convert Highway 17 — from Washington Acres Road to Sloop Point Loop Road — is projected to commence construction in 2029. 

Headwaters Apartments abuts a Mormon church on Highway 17. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is located a mile-and-a-half to the east. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Pender County)

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