NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a rezoning to make way for Estrella Landing, a three-building, 84-unit apartment complex off Gordon Road that will provide lower-than-market rates to renters.
The fast-growing, heavily congested area is overdue for road improvements. Rated as having a failing or near-failing level of service, Gordon Road is set to be expanded to four lanes between the I-140 interchange and Market Street as early as 2024, per the latest N.C. Department of Transportation plans.
Five acres of low-density, R-15 land was conditionally rezoned to medium density multifamily with the approval.
Commissioners greenlit plans submitted by Terrior Development LLC despite staff’s finding that the project was inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan. They did so to attempt to fill the area’s depleted stock of affordable housing (defined as living arrangements that cost 30% or less of an individual’s income).
Earlier in the meeting, the board heard the results from a commissioned report by Bowen National Research: There’s a county-wide vacancy rate of 0.7% for all non-student rentals, which cost an average of $1,650 — requiring an income of $66,800 to be considered affordable. Meanwhile, more than 60% of rental households in the county earn less than $40,000.
Stephanie Norris told the board she builds “capital A” affordable housing developments. Estrella Landing will utilize Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to provide affordable rates to each unit. Fifty-three units will be leased to households earning 60% or less of the area median income (AMI) as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing Urban and Development ($48,600 for a family of four); 21 units will be reserved for renters earning 30% AMI ($24,300); and 10 units will be set aside for renters earning less than 80% AMI ($62,800).
Terrior Development recently finished Bennet Village, a 72-unit apartment complex off Piner Road — a project Norris said would be nearly identical to Estrella Landing. Demand for affordably priced units is high, she explained.
“For a 72 unit complex, we literally have to limit 12 units per day in terms of lease signing just to manage what could be chaos,” she told the board.
Planned just before the I-140 interchange, renters will have to enter and exit the apartment through a 60-foot easement Estrella Landing shares with Buy Quick convenience store. “It is an unorthodox location,” Norris said. “There’s no arguing that point.”
Representing Joe McKinney, co-founder of the development firm Evolve Construction, attorney Steve Coggins argued the project’s density exceeded local plans for the area.
“We’re trying to stick a size 16 foot in a size eight shoe,” Coggins told the board. “It is to my knowledge the most intense development that is proposed and that would exist on Gordon Road.”
The project is bound by two new densely packed developments. Just behind Estrella Landing, construction recently wrapped up at Smith Creek Village, a 318-unit apartment complex offering market rates. Across the street, work on 250 units is still underway to complete the 439-unit, mixed product development, The Landing at Lewis Creek, this year. First approved by a split vote in 2017, Lewis Creek got permission to add 17 new homes in November.
At 16.4 units per acre, the new zoning is more than double its general residential assignment in the county’s comprehensive plan. Coggins argued state statutes require county boards to “heavily consider the comprehensive plan and discard it only in the most unusual and compelling circumstances.”
“What compels the deviation in this particular case?” Coggins asked.
Staff, commissioners, and the planning board endorsed the project because it will provide affordable housing. “I do believe that there are unusual and compelling circumstances here,” vice chair Deb Hays said.
The board approved with two conditions: 1. the 60-foot access easement must be marked by no parking signs and include striping to delineate two lanes of traffic and 2. the project must be approved for low-income tax credits.
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