Thursday, June 13, 2024

Houseboat developer gets dealt ‘stop work order’ over CAMA permitting issue

Plans for the houseboat community call for 75 floating homes on the two southernmost docks of Port City Marina. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality served a “stop work order” to the developer of a planned houseboat community in a downtown Wilmington marina. 

In a July 26 letter, an official in the Division of Coastal Management concluded developer Chuck Schoninger did not disclose plans to move three floating homes into Port City Marina in accordance with the Coastal Area Management Act permitting process. 

According to the DEQ, major development in “designated areas of environmental concern” — in this case, the marina basin adjacent to the northeast Cape Fear River — requires a CAMA Major Development Permit. 

Schoninger and his company, NRMH Holdings LLC, applied for a modification to their existing CAMA permit last December. The DEQ levied the stop-work order because three floating homes were recently moved into Port City Marina — installing “floating structures” was not an authorized activity under the specific CAMA permit granted to the developers, according to the DEQ. Meeting the DEQ’s definition of major development, the houseboat installation required permit approval in the sensitive estuarine area before work was conducted. 

The houseboat community, The Strands, was designed a few years ago to include 75 floating homes on the two southernmost docks of Port City Marina. The boats would come in customizable models with septic tanks and power connections — and equipped with motors suitable for traversing the Cape Fear River. 

PREVIOUSLY: Wilmington’s new houseboat neighborhood: What it will look like, how it will work

Schoninger’s plans have long been known, and some models were unveiled at the marina at the Wilmington Boat Show last October. 

The Division of Coastal Management official was on site at the marina July 22 “to investigate unauthorized development of the installation of floating structures within Estuarine Waters and Public Trust Areas of Environmental Concern.” 

“You are hereby requested to STOP WORK immediately and file the necessary application with this office for a CAMA Major Development Permit modification by August 13, 2021,” according to the DEQ’s letter to Schoninger. 

NO WORK MAY PROCEED UNTIL THE PERMIT MODIFICAITON (sic) IS ISSUED. If you comply voluntarily, no further action will be necessary beyond the issuance of a permit modification.”

The CAMA permit modification from December requested authorization to use land across the Cape Fear River as a dredge spoil site for a “maintenance excavation event.” According to the permit, the project involved approximately 10,000 cubic yards of material.

The location where the sand was slated for deposit belongs to Atlantic Coast Industrial; it’s the same location where some of the development’s houseboats have been constructed, according to an internal New Hanover County email. 

In an email statement Schoninger wrote: “We are working to schedule a meeting with NC DEQ officials to discuss the stop work order.”

“Our team is not in receipt of all the details involved in this order and hope to gain further understanding in the following days,” according to the statement. “At this time, we have no further information to provide until we receive clarity from officials at NC DEQ and DCM.”

Port City Marina's southernmost docks will host 75 houseboats known collectively as The Strands. (Port CIty Daily Photo | Courtesy Atlantic Houseboats)
N.C. Department of Environmental Quality issued a stop work order to Chuck Shoninger after he failed to get a CAMA Major Development Permit for a downtown houseboat community. (Port CIty Daily/ Courtesy Atlantic Houseboats)

City of Wilmington officials previously fretted over the houseboat development plans in 2018, according to previous Port City Daily coverage

Planning director Glenn Harbeck wrote in a May 2018 email to city officials: “I do not believe our community wants a ‘Sausalito’ in downtown Wilmington… but this question needs to be addressed post haste I would think. This ‘community’ appears to be advancing rapidly.”

North Carolina Administrative Code lays out the differences between a “boat” and a “floating structure.” Boats are “designed to be self-propelled” and are “used to travel from place to place by water.”

Floating structures, in turn, are “used or intended for human habitation or commerce.” 

“A structure will be considered a floating structure when it is inhabited or used for commercial purposes for more than thirty days in any one location,” according to the code. “A boat may be deemed a floating structure when its means of propulsion has been removed or rendered inoperative and it contains at least 200 square feet of living space area.”

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