WILMINGTON –– The developer behind Cottages at College Acres secured four more properties bordering UNCW. It intends to demolish and expand the student living community, finalizing the complete overhaul of a block once lined with single-family homes.
Approved Wednesday night by the Wilmington Planning Commission, the third phase of the project would add 36 three-bedroom units, growing the student-oriented complex to 500-plus tenants. Local land-use consultant Cindee Wolf, who represents the developer, called the third phase the “last piece of the puzzle.”
Over the past three years, the Wilmington Planning Commission slowly approved the three segments of The Cottages complex. The incoming housing, stretching from College Road to Racine Drive, is next door to campus and convenient for the surge of students enrolling at UNCW.
For the first two phases, millions were spent accumulating single-family homes to raze and replace with the new multi-family housing. Most of the properties were either rentals or had deteriorated from storms, Wolf told commissioners.
Construction of the first phase of the Cottages is complete, with students expected to move in next month, paying around $800 per month for one of the 150 bedrooms within the 45 townhome units. The second phase of the complex, to the north, will house around 250 tenants once complete.
Just six detached homes on the block remain. Two of those are owned by the university and operated by hospitality services. A UNCW spokesperson wrote in an email there are no plans to sell the properties, and Wolf reported the university declined its request to purchase.
The four other lots are owned by three individuals, only one of whom is a permanent resident, according to Wolf. The owners are choosing to move on from the neighborhood, Wolf told the planning commission, opening up 2.13 acres to round out the Cottages community with three, three-story apartment buildings.
“These last couple owners, they’ve watched everything working around them,” Wolf told the commission. “They’re ready to get out, and we’re trying to accomplish that for them.”
The 36 units would house up to 108 residents. Site plans include 100-plus parking spaces, mainly situated between the structures and the UNCW property line. It equates to one space per bed, Wolf explained. Throughout the entire complex, there would only be 462 spaces for 505 beds. Wolf said planners considered about 68% of students living at the university have a car when planning the earlier phases.
During previous public hearings, neighbors on and near Colleges Acres Drive opposed the construction of student housing on the block. Concerns arose about traffic and crime intruding the single-family neighborhood as a result of the project.
Yet, at Wednesday’s hearing for the third phase, no one spoke in opposition or in favor of the project, possibly signaling an acceptance of the new characterization of the neighborhood. Wolf said she believes a distinct separation now exists between the multi- and single-family areas.
“It has created its own neighborhood,” Wolf said. “We are no longer affecting the character of a neighborhood.”
City staff still recommended the commissioners reject the apartments. Associate planner Patrick O’Mahony explained the city is “generally supportive” of higher densities in the college area, but the three-story multi-family project was “not in keeping with the theme of the street.” The staff was attempting to maintain a “residential feel” along the block. Wolf argued after a line of duplexes, “a little variety makes sense.”
“Not to say it has to be duplex, but triplexes, townhomes might be more appropriate,” O’Mahony said.
Wolf added building apartments further back on the property –– instead of lining the street –– would save existing vegetation on the land: clusters of crepe myrtles, a magnolia, a “nice oak.”
Commissioner Al Sharp attempted to follow staff’s recommendation and deny the application, stating it was inconsistent with the development patterns nearby. He received a second from commissioner Candy Cortes, but it failed.
“We’re fundamentally changing the character of this street, and I’m not sure that three trees and a bush are really a good trade-off,” Sharp said.
Member Bruce Bowman moved to approve the rezoning of the four parcels from the residential district, limited only to single-family houses, to a multi-family conditional district. It passed 4-3.
City council is tasked with giving the final say on the plans during its Aug. 3 meeting.
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