Thursday, July 25, 2024

Amid fears of an overcrowded Pender School system, developer offers to build new preschool

Bay Ridge Commons is a proposed commercial development with three buildings, one of them guaranteed to be an expansion of a local private preschool. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Pender County)

PENDER COUNTY — The overcrowded Pender County school system has made local officials wary about green-lighting proposals for dense residential developments. Next week, the county’s planning board will hear a new application for a commercial complex located near the future entrance of the Hampstead Bypass. The project has an attractive edge: The developer will build a new preschool. 

READ MORE: Growing pains in Pender County are putting local politicians and multi-family developers at an impasse

Bay Ridge Commons is a proposed three-building development on Highway 17 in Topsail. One building would house restaurants and possibly medical facilities, according to developer Kenneth Lloyd. Adjacent to that structure, Lloyd hopes to build a nearly 12,000 square-foot preschool. It would be an expansion of Creative Minds Preschool, which currently leases space from Lloyd in Scotts Hill. 

“Having seen the way their business has grown, they’ve been a very important tenant of ours,” Lloyd said. “They came to me and asked for new space.” 

Lloyd, 67, said he’s nearing the phase of his life in which he wants to “relax a little and ease back,” but he decided to launch this bid for the benefit of Creative Minds — and for the chance to build commercial structures in a vehicular hotspot. 

“I really didn’t feel like getting into all that to be honest,” Lloyd said, referencing the long process of procuring approvals from local government and regulators.

“The only reason I did it is because of my relationship with the school, knowing that they could never do it. And I figured I’d give it one more swing of the bat and do it.” 

Travis Henley, Pender’s planning director, said planning staff have recommended the project be approved. 

“I believe that the proposed uses of the site, including the educational facility, are things that the Community wants to see as evidenced by Pender 2.0 [Comprehensive Land Use Plan] and conversations I’ve had with community residents in the past,” Henley wrote to Port City Daily in an email. 

Creative Minds’ current facility is about 1 mile north of the New Hanover County line, while the proposed development is 10 miles further north: It’s a 4.21-acre undeveloped site at the corner of Bay Ridge Road and Highway 17. 

The private preschool currently has a student capacity of 245 and employs a staff of 48 people, according to the development application. It services infants through 5-year-olds and offers after-school and summer camp programs for school-aged children. The new facility would support 256 new students and a staff of 53. 

“Creative Minds Preschool is one of the only Five Star rated child care facilities operating in Pender County,” according to the application. “They wanted to open another similar facility in northern Hampstead to meet the high demand for quality childcare. 

The site plans also call for a third building of 5,800 square feet, a “future expansion,” that could house various industries — like retail, medical, restaurants, bowling alleys and many others — approved for planned developments such as this one. “We intend to construct all these buildings to be architecturally attractive combining element[s] of brick/stone and natural stucco,” according to the application. 

Bay Ridge Commons, Lloyd’s proposal, would be located just over a mile north of a future interchange that will funnel into the Hampstead Bypass. The N.C. Department of Transportation Bypass project is expected to finish by 2030. 

While this proposal is for strictly a commercial center, two residential proposals have been stymied this year by planning staff over concerns of an overcrowded school system — various Topsail schools are operating over capacity. 

An expanded preschool center won’t relieve crowding in the county’s public school system but would provide a convenient location for parents in the area for their childcare and afterschool needs.

“This preschool not only services the normal citizens of Pender County, but it also works with Pender County itself and they have children they place there for after school,” Lloyd said. “It’s a tremendous need that we’re going to try to help satisfy.” 

The Pender County Planning Board will meet Tuesday, July 6, at the Pender County Public Assembly Room. Read the full agenda here

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