Apartments planned at Starway Flea Market site, multi-family rezoning slated

The Starway Flea Market could soon be redeveloped into apartments, should a proposed rezoning get approved. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands)

WILMINGTON –– Plans are underway to redevelop the city’s longest lasting flea market, once home to the iconic Starway Drive-In Theater. 

In an application submitted to Wilmington’s planning department, the property owner is proposing to rezone 15.6 acres from commercial to multi-family residential. 

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The Starway Flea Market is still hosting vendors and shoppers every weekend. The indoor-outdoor market has operated for decades, opening shortly after the closure of the Staryway Drive-In, which was open from 1955 to 1985. The drive-in was designed to accommodate 700 vehicles, with remnants of the theater operation still on site. 

City council turned down a planned reopening of the drive-in in 1996, unswayed by a proposal to operate later than 11 p.m., according to a 2010 StarNews article. Charlie Rivenbark was the lone dissenting vote, indicating support for the proposal.  

The rezoning

A collection of five adjoining parcels in the application are zoned community business and commercial services. If approved for the rezoning, the property would be zoned multi-family medium density residential, allowing for a maximum of 25 units per acre. 

Each parcel was solely granted to Ellan Hibbard in October 2005 at no cost from Doyle Penley who purchased the properties with Hibbard from various owners in the ‘90s, according to New Hanover County Property records. 

Hibbard is being represented by land-use mogul Cindee Wolf of Design Solutions. 

Reached Wednesday, Wolf said the project is a joint venture between Bradley Housing and Kelly Development for “affordable workforce housing developers active across North and South Carolina.”

The project will include apartments, Wolf confirmed. “We think it’s more appropriate not to be commercially zoned,” she said. Citing the current use of the flea market, Wolf said a denser project on the site is warranted: “Certainly, it’s underused for that amount of land.”

A planning staff memo shows the site, if rezoned, would generate half the vehicle trips if it was developed by-right commercially. With multi-family medium residential zoning, the site could create a maximum of 2,908 vehicle trips. Traffic would arrive and depart from Carolina Beach Road –– rated by the N.C. Department of Transportation with a failing level of service –– and Adams Street in the back, with an “A” rated level of service. 

Staff is recommending approval, despite a review dotted with numerous red half-circles, used to indicate the city’s modest non-support of certain elements. 

Rezoning the property is consistent with in-filling parcels in existing urban service centers and providing location-efficient housing. 

Wilmington Planning Commission will review the proposal at its next meeting July 7.

View the proposal below:


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