Sunday, September 24, 2023

Townhomes could straddle I-140 on banks of Cape Fear River

The Northeast Wastewater Treatment Plant, which discharges treated wastewater into the Cape Fear River visible from the I-140 Bypass, is consistently operating critically near its state-permitted capacity. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
Alongside the I-140 bridge that crosses the Cape Fear River, developers have proposed a townhome project that avoids onsite wetlands. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– The eastern banks of the Cape Fear River north of downtown Wilmington have attracted a development team that submitted a proposal to build riverfront townhomes. 

Totaling nearly 120 acres, the land is east of the I-140 bridge that runs over the river. The developers’ territory runs along either side of I-140 — it was bisected during the bridge’s construction — from the uplands further inland down to the swamps and wetlands closer to the river.

A concept layout shows residences on either side of I-140. On the northern side of the bridge, plans call for six condo buildings, totaling 60 units. There are seven buildings planned for the southern side, with 44 collective units.

The current landowners purchased the tract in 2010, according to property records. It’s enclosed on its mainland edges by other residentially-zoned land: Cameron family timberland and two subdivisions. The tract’s neighbors have denser zoning than what’s allowed at the riverside site; the rezoning request filed by the developers intends to increase the site’s density on par with its neighbors. 

James Yopp, a member of the development team, said a lack of sewer and water infrastructure in the area impeded development of the site in the past. Since newer developments in the county’s northwest corner have installed utility networks, Yopp said the prospect seems more viable.

“That’s a big reason why it wasn’t developed early on back in the 2000s, was because it didn’t have infrastructure or water and sewer supply,” Yopp said. “Initially that area was well and septic, and we went through a period in 2008 where a lot of projects got delayed and stalled, and basically taken over.”

At this time, the I-140 improvements have made the northern end of the county more traversable, and the Castle Hayne area is growing with a continued expansion of utility infrastructure. Land west of the Cape Fear River, across from downtown Wilmington, was recently targeted in a different rezoning request. 

READ MORE: Developers eye prospects of Cape Fear River’s western banks

Yopp said the townhome development is planned only for the upland areas on the tract, which were diminished when the parcel split after the building of I-140. 

“You’re only looking at taking areas into consideration that are uplands in the rezoning process, not areas that are below the mean high water mark,” he said. “There’s nothing that set, from a development perspective, to be done in any of the wetlands. There’s still a considerable portion of area that is upland. But it is a lot less than the overall tract.”

The concept layout of the proposed townhome development near the Cape Fear River. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County)

The rezoning request asks New Hanover County to boost the allowable density from 1.9 units per acre to 2.5 units per acre, which would allow “more residents to enjoy this area with enhanced amenities and diversified products and pricing,” according to the application. 

“The construction of I-140 not only divided the tract, but limits the highest and best use product type,” according to the application. “The rezoning to R-15 is consistent with the surrounding zoning areas. Accessibility to water, sewer and other utilities has made the zoning change appropriate.”

Townhomes, rather than single-family lots, make more sense on this tract given the environmental factors common on riverfront land like this, Yopp said. With the rezoning, the developers could isolate the construction on targeted spots of buildable land, avoiding the wetlands, while still maintaining a hefty enough unit count. 

The current trend seen in this area of the county involves relatively low-density residential development, said Rebekah Roth, New Hanover County planning director. Single-family projects nearby came in and boosted the road interconnectivity and utility networks.

The county’s future land use map — “intended to be a general representation of the 25 year vision for New Hanover County,” Roth said — delineates this area as “conservation” and “general residential.” There are some known environmental constraints at this subject site, Roth said. 

“Allowing increased density will improve the form and function of an underutilized site, maximize land use efficiency, and is a good economic development opportunity,” according to the application.

The planning department has not completed its review of the application, which will be considered on October 7 by the planning board. The board of commissioners makes the final decision on approving or denying rezoning requests. 

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