Monday, July 4, 2022

A split planning board turns down car wash next to… another proposed car wash

Wednesday night, the Wilmington Planning Commission narrowly recommended denial of a conditional district modification to allow for a new car wash at Independence Boulevard and Carolina Beach Road. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands)

WILMINGTON –– Though council will have the final say on the matter, the city’s planning commission struck down plans for yet another car wash, this time at one of Wilmington’s top up-and-coming intersections.

In a 4-3 vote Wednesday night, the commission narrowly recommended denial of a rezoning request for the purpose of an H2 Turbo Express Car Wash on a 1.5-acre site at Independence Boulevard and Carolina Beach Road.

Members John Lennon, Candy Cortes, and Al Sharp were the minority votes in the car wash’s favor.

Plans for the facility at 3819 Carolina Beach Rd. would complete the grocery store-storage unit-car wash trifecta at the Independence Boulevard intersection. The vacant lot neighbors Monkey Junction Storage and sits adjacent to the incoming Harris Teeter. Designed to be 92,000-square-feet, the grocer is expected to be the brand’s largest store in southeast North Carolina, set to target the growing Riverlights community and Echo Farms.

RELATED: Why Wilmington is flooded with car washes and storage units, and what local government could do about it

Some planning commissioners saw the need to cater to those populations but still rejected the plans largely due to the potential for another car wash to come in next door.

The adjacent vacant lot at 3821 Carolina Beach Rd. is zoned specifically for a car wash. The land owners would need to undergo another planning process for any other use.

“That property can only, at this point in time, be used for a carwash,” Wilmington senior planner Brian Chambers clarified.

Cindee Wolf of Design Solutions applied for the change of zoning request on behalf of the property owner. She said the owner of the adjoining lot, which is sandwiched between the proposed H2 Turbo and the existing storage facility, expressed no interest in moving forward with developing a car wash during a recent conversation.

“If we knew definitively he wasn’t going to do that, I would have to say that this isn’t such a bad plan,” commissioner Cortes said.

Wolf spoke briefly to the commissioners about the success of the car wash industry. She previously helped gain approval for the H2 Turbo on Oleander Drive, and reported “business is booming” at that location.

She attributed the growing market for car washes to heightened concerns of water preservation, customer demand for convenience, and increased multi-family housing.

“This meets the policies for encouraging successful local businesses and fostering a prosperous and thriving economy, and it will provide a now lacking commercial service to this vicinity for a multitude of users in the proximity,” Wolf said.

Since June 2020, the parcel has been zoned for a 10,450-square-foot commercial building, allowing for uses including retail, office, personal service or a drive-thru restaurant – but not a car wash.

“I think this use compared to what had previously been submitted – with a 10,000-square-foot retail space – certainly is less impactful on the traffic at that intersection,” Lennon said. “And to me, it fits with what’s going on on all four corners.”

However, opponents of the modification — and even one member who recommended approval — found the “sticking point” was the vacant sliver of land between the storage units and the land in question.

“You had me at: there’s a car wash next door,” Chair JC Lyle said. “That would be the biggest barrier I would see at this time before even considering the rest of it.

The city is in the process of overhauling its 40-plus-year-old land development code. Once in effect – and if passed as written – the updated ordinance would impose new conditions on future vehicle washes. Such standards would prevent the proposed H2 Tubo from receiving approval as submitted.

“This would be a no-brainer if the new land development code was already in effect, but it isn’t,” Cortes said.

The new regulations would prohibit car washes from locating within one-half mile of another. Some of the closest washes to the intersection include the Splash-N-Dash further up Carolina Beach Road, which is just across the throughway from Coastal Car Wash of Monkey Junction.

Wolf defended the site against the newly proposed code. She argued the only criteria the plan would not meet is the new rules about the orientation of the carwash tunnel.

In the plan, the open bays are visible from Carolina Beach Road. Under the proposed code, the open bays would need to be parallel to the street.

The code would also prohibit any future car washes from being built on a corner. Though the parcel is not technically the corner lot –– there is a neighboring vacant parcel closer to the intersection –– city planning staff is arguing it functions as one.

Yet in the design, the car wash backs the Food Lion-anchored shopping center, and a pond on the property fronts Carolina Beach Road.

“It’s pretty well removed from the Carolina Beach Road frontage,” Wolf said.

Staff took issue with other elements in the plan as well, including the lack of tree preservation and vegetative screening.

“It’s a vehicular-oriented use at a shopping center so it’s not really drawing the mix of uses that we would deem appropriate,” planner Chambers said. “The building design, the building type, doesn’t really fit with the design of one of our most highly visible intersections. We think there could be a better design.”

Commissioner Bruce Bowman moved to deny the request to allow for a car wash at 3819 Carolina Beach Road. Commissioner Winslow Goins seconded.

City council is expected to vote on the matter June 1.

The H2 Turbo car wash conditional modification plan submitted to the City of Wilmington.

Email tips and comments to alexandria@localdailymedia.com.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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