Wilmington is backtracking on proposed rule that would have limited car washes

H2 Turbo Express Wash currently operates one location on Oleander Drive. It is looking to expand to a property on Carolina Beach Road, but the neighboring land is also zoned exclusively for a car wash, an issue that previously created hesitancy around the rezoning application. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands Williams)

WILMINGTON –– Hearing concerns about unaesthetic corridors and the proliferation of car washes, the City of Wilmington’s planning staff has considered in recent months cracking down on the land use. One proposal included blocking developers from building the facilities too close to one another. Now, ahead of the anticipated adoption of the city’s development code rewrite, the staff has backpedaled on that idea.

Monday morning, the city council and staff briefly discussed its decision to do away with a proposed “separation requirement” that would prohibit new car washes from being built under a half-mile radius of an existing car wash.

RELATED: After staff and planning commission denial, council OKs car wash on Carolina Beach Rd.


The staff is concurring with a sentiment raised in a meeting last month, where some council members suggested capitalism (not local government) should and would prevent two car washes from becoming neighbors.

“They believe the market will take care of that,” said council member Neil Anderson, summarizing the conclusion of a recent meeting with staff.

As drafted, the new land development code includes specific guidelines for future vehicle washes. It requires the open tunnel to face away from the road and prohibits the use on corner lots. Up until Friday, it also included the separation requirement.

​​The stripping of the penned language comes just as the city council considers a rezoning for a proposed, 4,160-square-foot H2 Turbo Express Wash on Carolina Beach Road. In addition to being located along a high-interest, up-and-coming intersection, the lot is also adjacent to a property already zoned exclusively for another car wash.

The neighboring piece of land was rezoned in February 2018 specifically for an auto wash, but today it still sits undeveloped. Its owner told city staff he still intended to build a car wash, but the neighboring parcel’s consultant said he “alluded” to being interested in building something else, according to discussions last month.

Leading up to the planning commission’s denial of the H2 Turbo in May, discussions circulated around whether the city would wind up with two, side-by-side car washes if it greenlit the H2 Turbo plans.

Staff has explicitly recommended denial of the zoning application, for reasons reportedly unrelated to the neighboring lot and more so to do with promoting an attractive city. In documents related to the rezoning application, the city staff detailed its vision for a future separation requirement. However, assistant planning director Ron Satterfield explained, including such was merely for transparency purposes.

“That was not an emphasis on our recommendation for denial on this,” Satterfield said.

In the spring, a split planning commission sided with the staff and rejected the application 4-3.

Still, the rezoning passed the council’s first reading in early June with a four-person majority; council members Margaret Haynes and Kevin Spears dissented in the last vote. The application is now up for a second reading on Tuesday night, during which the council will get their final say on the matter.

During the last debate, council members Anderson and Charlie Rivenbark fought for the applicant’s property rights.

Since three years passed from the initial zoning approval for the neighboring property, council could initiate a rezoning of it to put to rest any concerns about repeat car washes. Anderson initiated this attempt, but after learning from staff council could only zone it to a commercial business district (with multiple by-right uses) as opposed to a conditional district as it was before (with one specific, pre-approved by-right use), he is likely to drop the proposal.

Only a property owner can request a conditional district zoning. For that reason, staff is recommending the city leave the zoning as it is.

Most lots at the Carolina Beach Road and Independence Boulevard intersection underwent conditional district zoning, meaning developers revealed their detailed intentions for the land before receiving approval from the city, Anderson reported. The council member said staff’s position is that reverting the land to its original zoning wouldn’t be fair to the other businesses that recently underwent an extensive approval process.

“It’s a bit unfair to the Harris Teeter people, to all the other people who have had to go through the [commercial district] process,” Anderson said.

Satterfield also recommended the city maintain the current conditional district zoning. He said if one property owner pursues the car wash development, he doubts the neighbor would go through with building one.

“Let the market take its course,” Satterfield said.

A public hearing and update on the land development code is scheduled for Friday, starting at 8:30 a.m., in the Wilmington Convention Center, located at 10 Convention Center Dr.


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