CAROLINA BEACH — On the tract of land in Carolina Beach previously at the center of a drawn-out legal duel between Publix and Harris Teeter, developers are proposing to build a large mixed-use project.
The dozen acres on Lake Park Boulevard include the undeveloped 6.5-acre site associated with Harris Teeter, and a neighboring 5-acre site under separate ownership.
Located in the midst of a well-traveled commercial corridor, a branded “coming soon” sign from the grocery giant faded over the years as grass grew unruly and plans never materialized. A rarity in the densely populated island, the site is among the last chunks of open space left in town to develop.
After Publix swooped in and secured a conditional use permit in 2018 from the town to operate at the old Federal Point Shopping Center next door, Harris Teeter sued, lost in superior court, and was again unsuccessful in the state’s appellate court.
The development team, which includes Cape Fear Commercial, has created a conceptual master plan that shows five buildings, with 20,000 square feet of commercial space and 334 residential units.
Four of those buildings will be four-story structures; the largest of them, shown fronting Lake Park Boulevard, is listed as containing 15,000 square feet of commercial space and 76 residential units.
The application for the development project has yet to be submitted to the Town of Carolina Beach for consideration by the planning commission and town council. First, the developers are working to convince the town to edit a portion of its land-use plan, since the conceptual layout is currently out of sync with town code.
In Carolina Beach’s business districts, mixed-use developments — those with both residential and commercial space — cannot contain buildings that are solely dedicated to residences, according to planning director Jeremy Hardison.
In these areas, mixed-use buildings must have commercial space on the ground floor, with residential units confined to upper stories.
“What they’re proposing is a little bit of both,” Hardison said. “They would like to have a building or two buildings with commercial space on the ground floor, residential above, but then also have the flexibility to allow for standalone residential.”
The developers submitted a text amendment application that applies to lots larger than 10 acres. Their proposal asks town leaders to consider allowing standalone residential buildings in mixed-use developments. The planning commission recommended denying the amendment at its Aug. 12 meeting, largely over fears that the move would reduce the amount of commercial space in areas where town leaders want it most.
Town council will hear the text amendment application, and make the final call, at its September meeting.
“Their project, how they have it designed and proposed, is dependent on whether that text amendment passes on September 14,” Hardison said. “If it does not pass, then their plan as we know it is scratched. They’ll have to do a redesign.”
If the text amendment campaign is successful, the developers can move forward with formally proposing their mixed-use project.
Cape Fear Four LLC, the group behind both the text amendment and the development, is working in conjunction with the owner of the Harris Teeter site, Jubilee Carolina LLC, which itself is affiliated with the grocery company. The owner of the neighboring 5-acre parcel told Port City Daily that her land is under contract to be sold.
The conceptual master plan, which is far from set in stone, shows a clubhouse, pool and 576 parking spaces.
The Island Gazette reported that assistant town manager Ed Parvin wrote, in an email to town department heads: “The developers are pushing to get the text amendment and site plan approved prior to the election which means we will need to stay on top of this plan review.”
Mayor LeAnn Pierce responded to a post linking to the Gazette piece, saying in part: “No one has secured votes from the outgoing members and nor will they.”
(No incumbents in Carolina Beach are running for re-election this November, including Pierce, who will run for a seat on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners).
Pierce told Port City Daily there are plenty of unanswered questions about the project at this early stage, and she hopes more concrete information will crystallize after developers hold a community meeting next week that will give nearby property owners a chance to ask questions and voice perspectives.
Acknowledging the negative opinion the planning commission took toward the proposed text amendment, Pierce said council will have to examine how the rule change would apply to the town’s highway business district as a whole, not just this specific site.
She added the project’s merits include the potential to increase long-term rental availability in Carolina Beach.
“There’s a lot of people who say, ‘There’s nowhere to rent on the island long-term. Everything is short-term rentals.’ And this is a long-term project,” Pierce said.
Hardison said if council approves the text amendment, the development’s rezoning request would likely be heard by the planning commission in October, and then by council in November.
Update: The development team is hosting a meeting for neighbors on the property Aug. 26 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m, according to a press release. Brian Eckel of Cape Fear Commercial is a partner with the company that owns the site.
“My partners and I are excited to begin what we believe is the most important component of a high-quality project – engaging in productive dialogue with community members who have insights and ideas that will add value to our planning efforts,” Eckel said in the press release. “We are eager to collect feedback and work with the community to ensure that The Proximity is the best project it can be. We are grateful for the preliminary comments from the Technical Review Committee and Carolina Beach citizens, and we have made meaningful changes to improve the walkability and bike-pedestrian friendliness of the plan.”
Send tips, comments and criticisms to firstname.lastname@example.org